Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadaiens steal a game against Arizona Coyotes
The Montreal Canadaiens are on a successful run — their longest run of the season with seven games.
And it started Monday night with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Arizona Coyotes.
Although victories are harder to come by these days, at least the positives remain for Canada’s best players. Cole Caufield continues his sensitive scoring methods.
Early in the second half, Caufield took advantage of a loose clearance, and from there, he became a pure goalscorer as usual. He was in the slot, but didn’t shoot immediately. He skated horizontally with only one goal in mind: to get the keeper to track him across the goal, so that he could shoot back into the keeper’s position. That would be a tough save to make and Karel Vejmelka wasn’t even close.
It marked another perfectly executed shot for the 19th goal of the season in 32 games for the sophomore winger. Team Canada has yet to have a player score 40 goals this century, but Caufield is on track to score 49 goals this year.
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Juraj Slafkovsky was again caught red-handed. That’s a concern because the 18-year-old rookie doesn’t seem to learn quickly how to avoid this problem. The positive thing is that even though he’s rocking with big hits, he seems to be surviving them without a head hit.
In the latest episode, Shayne Gostisbehere watched Slafkovsky come out of a neutral ice ball match with the ball, and as soon as Slafkovsky skated forward, he was shaken. He went down hard, but he got up quickly too.
This is what happens when a player is 6 feet 4 inches tall and there is no need to be careful in his career because he is much bigger than the opponent. You could call it Eric Lindros syndrome. Bigger players don’t have to learn to hold their heads high until they’re at the National Hockey League, where they don’t make this mistake.
While this is certainly suboptimal, Slafkovsky is getting through these first few months without problems with his brain. May it continue until he figures this out.
And he has to figure it out, because there’s no other choice. Either he figured it out, or he wasn’t fit enough to play hockey anytime soon, because in the long run he wouldn’t be immune to concussion, once every three or four weeks.
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The Call of the Wild!
The Arizona game feels like rebuilding has a long way to go. Skip the tight scoreline because the Canadians have given in, and only Sam Montembeault can prevent an embarrassing night.
Two centers that were supposed to be in the top six of Montreal were disqualified. Nick Suzuki’s line has 30% shot scale and Kirby Dach’s line is even worse with 15% shot scale. Not that the Canadian team is playing against the Boston Bruins. Montreal is playing a lousy hockey team and was easily the second best team on the ice on Monday night.
Only one player had a shot rate better than 50% in the first two periods and he played only his third NHL game and first game for Montreal. Anthony Richard has played well, but when a 25-year-old laner is the best player and the only one with a positive Corsi, it’s not a good thing. In fact, it is an eye-opener.
The top two were so bad in the first two innings that again, head coach Martin St. Louis was forced to change his surname. He was trying his best to get Josh Anderson to finish a game in the top lane, but failed so miserably that the test couldn’t even make it through the game.
In the third period, Dach returned to Suzuki and Caufield. At least this way, Canadaiens have a good line.
Dach was set up by Mike Hoffman to score the winning goal in extra time – a win that was only possible thanks to the excellent scoring ability of Montembeault, who stole it completely that night.
The Montreal Canadaiens have done a fruitful job so far this season of staying above the 0.500 mark.
For fans who want a playoff spot, all the wins are exciting. For all the fans wanting a high draft pick, this success has been disappointing, with too much, too soon.
In the short term, everyone will find out what the true path of the club is in the spring.
After last season’s schedule with many weak opponents, the strength of the schedule for the rest of the season for Montreal is the toughest in the entire NHL.
If Montreal is still over 0.500 in February, they may have more than what experts believe. Otherwise, the deal deadline will be quite interesting with veterans returning to top drafts.
Still, here’s great news: the second-hardest schedule in hockey is Florida’s. The Canadian owns the Panthers’ first-round draft pick. The Panthers could lose a significant number, and that could lead to picking Montreal in the top 10.
It will be interesting to see how the Panthers handle the deadline. They will be reluctant to undermine their club knowing it’s bad for them with Montreal having the first pick.
However, the Panthers must continue to strengthen their team, so they can trade their veterans for some other club’s first-round picks. They will want a first round at all costs. Surprisingly missed the knockout stage, and then got no pick in the first round – both were an embarrassing moment.
Anthony Duclair, for example, could take the first by the early March deadline. Duclair has not played this season because of an Achilles injury. He started skating last week after the surgery. He had 31 goals last year and is a free agent after the 2023-2024 season.
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One last interesting note is the power of schedules.
Canadaiens is nearing seventh place for drafts. They would love it if some of the teams below them could play good hockey to improve the position of the Canadian team. That also increases the chances of Canadians winning the lottery.
Chicago, Arizona and Vancouver in general all have very weak opponents and therefore have a good chance of surpassing Montreal in the rankings.
Imagine if Canadians won both lottery prizes. If Florida and Montreal both finish in 10th place of the tournament, the Canadaiens are likely to pick one and two. Admittedly the odds of that are very long, but it can happen.
It is a win-win outcome and good for all. If Canada wins over this extremely difficult schedule, then fans will be delighted at how quickly this young talent is growing. If they bear its weight, this 2023 draft could be the best draft of this century and the Canadian team will at least once make it into the top 10.