Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens blown over by the Carolina Hurricanes 6-2

The start of a four-game road trip began for the Canadiens on Thursday night against the second-best team in the entire league this season, the Hurricanes in Carolina.

Montreal was expected to have a hard time. The Canadiens kept it competitive for two periods, but then faltered in the third, allowing four in a 6-2 Hurricanes win.

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The Hurricanes did a good job of handling the Canadiens first period surge, trailing only 1-0. Montreal got out to a terrific start against a club they weren’t supposed to compete against at all.

Michael Pezzetta opened the scoring by batting his own breakaway shot out of the air. Rafael Harvey-Pinard also had a terrific chance from the crease area.

Nick Suzuki also had an opportunity flying down the left wing. It was hard to tell who were the Stanley Cup favourites and who was heading for the draft lottery.

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By the third period, though, the game had gone according to form. Montreal did have some strong moments. Second period, it was Suzuki leading a 2-on-1 rush with a well-intentioned pass to Josh Anderson, but he couldn’t complete the play.

The Suzuki line was, once again, the best on the night.

Rafael Harvey-Pinard stayed hot. What a story he continues to write this season. It’s remarkable. Harvey-Pinard scored on the power play for his seventh goal in 11 games. He has nine points in those 11 games.

It’s an extremely small sample, and there is no way that Harvey-Pinard can keep this up, but it’s the best points-per-game total on the entire club. The rookie has the seventh best goals total in the entire league in the last month. It is stunning and everyone keeps waiting for it to end, but Harvey-Pinard keeps on scoring.

The local hero deserves a spot on the roster next October.

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The Canadiens continue to play surprisingly good hockey. After three straight wins, the second-best team in hockey, Carolina, broke the streak, but Montreal still competed. They gave Carolina a scare for two periods.

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Martin St. Louis has this team playing some serious hockey. There are no miracles this season, but the building blocks have been impressive in all aspects. In a rebuild, this is the goal — to improve, to find some pieces for long-term success.

This is a good season for the organization — many players showing they got game, and the head coach showing he knows how to teach it.

It went sour in the final 20, and it was a particularly difficult night for the partnership of Jonathan Kovacevic and Chris Wideman, but for 40, it was uplifting to see such a good team managing only a 2-2 scoreline against the Canadiens.

The Canadiens have a lot of players injured. Add Kirby Dach out with an illness in this one. That they held Carolina for 40 minutes is impressive, though the 41-23 shot total in the end does show there is still a lot of work to do in this rebuild.

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It has been a most unusual season. One batch of Canadiens fans has been thrilled with the development of five rookie defenders, the emergence of a 21 year-old centre and a back-up goalie who might just be a number one. A second batch of fans has been disconsolate that all of this emerging talent is leading to winning too many games.

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It actually is impossible to have it both ways. Samuel Montembeault can’t prove that he might just be better than expected without stealing games with that .930 save percentage for a dozen.

Kirby Dach can’t be that player showing his pedigree putting in a breakout season without actually scoring the odd goal that leads to a win.

The biggest story is the defenders numbering five rookies who not only aren’t getting a lot of difficult lessons in this first try at the NHL level, but are excelling and improving game to game.

That is fantastic for the fans, but Team Tank feels that a generational player like Connor Bedard is slipping through their fingers. If not Bedard, then a top-five pick is getting more iffy, if the club keeps winning games.

Fear not, Team Tank. It’s going to get a lot harder down the stretch for Montreal. San Jose, Arizona, and Vancouver are not out of reach, allowing the club to enter the lottery in the fourth draft position.

The Canadiens have 28 games remaining this season and 19 are against competition that is presently in a playoff spot as the top-16 in the league. Of the nine that remain against non-playoff teams currently, two are against the Panthers, so a loss for either club is a win-win for Team Tank. This is because Montreal owns Frorida’s first-round draft pick.

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The Canadiens are playing terrific clubs in Carolina two more times after this one Thursday night, Boston two more times, Toronto twice more, New Jersey twice more and the Rangers as well. They also have a west coast road trip with some hard travel involved.

The Canadiens have the most difficult strength of schedule in the entire league for the rest of the season. The three clubs that Team Tank wants Montreal to catch (reverse catch, in truth), San Jose, Vancouver and Arizona, all have among the easiest schedules.

It will be fascinating. It is not just about getting Connor Bedard. It is about drafting one of the top six who it says here are Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Matei Michkov, Leo Carlsson, Zach Benson, and Will Smith.

If the Canadiens acquire anyone of these six, they will have a franchise player on their roster. And if it doesn’t work out, the upside is that this season’s Montreal players can beat terrific hockey teams, and also seven through 10 in the draft are strong players as well.

Andrew Kristall is a star who just came back from injury to notch four goals in the WHL, and Ryan Leonard for the USDP is having an outstanding second half of the season. Both would be outstanding picks.

The Canadiens are going to get a terrific player. That’s a guarantee.

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Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on after each Canadiens game.

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