Call Of The Wilde: Montreal Canadiens fall again in Anaheim – Montreal
With two wins in their first nine games, the Montreal Canadiens needed a result in Anaheim during the last of their four-game road trip. Again, not a tough opponent, but that didn’t stop the Canadiens from losing in Seattle or Los Angeles.
The road trip wrapped up with a third loss in four games, falling 4-2. That’s only two wins in the first ten starts of the season.
The shining light offensively this season is Mike Hoffman. He has four goals in his last five games, as he continues to snipe beautifully into the corners. He’s a shooter, and he’s doing what they pay him to do. He’s not getting joined by other snipers like Tyler Toffoli who scored at better than a half-a-goal per game clip last season, but has only one so far this year in 10 games.
If Toffoli can find his game a little and Josh Anderson can also find the net as expected, with Hoffman leading the way, they surely can do better than this average of two goals per game this season. Two is simply not a good enough number to win games. That sounds grim, but it really does not take that much more from players expected to score like Nick Suzuki, Jonathan Drouin and Cole Caufield to turn this around.
The forwards on this club are good. While there is not a superstar in this group and there hasn’t been one on the Habs up front since the turn of the century, collectively, this is a good group. They don’t get much support from the back end, but there should be more Mike Hoffmans this season than there are.
The start for Jeff Petry is impossible to figure out. He must be nursing an injury. Petry plays 24 minutes per night. He should have more than a single assist this season. Petry is supposed to be the force of the team with Shea Weber all but officially retired. He was superb in the playoffs last year and that was only four months ago. He didn’t forget how to play hockey.
He is missing his defensive partner in Joel Edmundson, but that cannot be all the issue. On the power play, he plays at least a minute every time, and still not a single assist for all that activity with the extra man. Petry might be the most important player on the team, so his struggle is the greatest disappointment on the team. If anything positive happens this season, it has to be Petry that leads the way. He must find his game. If he is dominant when he gets his regular partner back, it could be transformational for the team. It is the only hope really that remains. There is no other calvary.
The Canadiens are sporting the worst penalty kill it seems since the 1980s. They are at around 60 per cent this season. In modern hockey, this is unheard of. If it were to continue like this, considering there are about six minors called per game, the club will be hard-pressed to win two of 10 the rest of the way. Special teams are one area of hockey that can be coached, so this does not bode well for the staff of the Canadiens because this team’s special teams are horrific.
Speaking of coaching, it is disappointing how little opportunity Cole Caufield is getting. It is true that you earn your own chances, but this is also a two-way proposition where one has to wonder always which comes first, the opportunity or the earning of the opportunity. Caufield got a team-low 3:01 of ice time in the first period. While he looks for his first goal of the season still, on the power play, they have him on the wrong side of the ice. With a right-handed shot, he will see more of the net on the left side. Also being on the point often in the set-up when it rotates doesn’t seem to take advantage of his rapier-like shot when he is looking at an NHL goalie from 55 feet. It is, without a doubt, true that this struggle is on him, but it isn’t just on him. Good coaches know where their players have the best chance to succeed.
In fact, a good strategy would be to have your best players on one unit. Spreading out your talent is not how this works. You got to have your best five out there, and if you want to be dangerous, give the opposition two snipers to think about so they can’t key on one. Hoffman and Caufield should be on the same unit with the left-handed shot on the right, and the right-handed shot on the left, so their angle at the net is best when they get fed the puck.
GM Marc Bergevin went into the locker room after the game to speak to them about their play. However, it has to be noted that these are his players. This is the defence that he creates every single season. It’s a blue line that is once again limited in its ability to create offensively and add to the way the ice is tilted. His corps on defence is best when they defend, but that’s not going to end the one goal per game habit. Montreal had seven shots at the halfway point of the contest.
COVID-19 caused many hockey leagues in 2020-2021 to not play a full season. The result was only two players in hockey achieved the 100 point plateau. One you know for sure was Connor McDavid. The other you probably didn’t know was Sean Farrell with 101 points in 53 games in the USHL.
Farrell’s Chicago Steel also won the championship as he was outstanding in the playoffs as well. At only 5 foot 9 inches though, everyone said the USHL was an inferior league, and as soon as Farrell faced some real talent in college hockey, this fourth-round draft choice would get his comeuppance.
The test on that theory began this weekend at Harvard. The Crimson are in the talented ECAC that has produced national champions with teams such as Union, RPI, Colgate, Clarkson and Princeton. The Crimson are ranked 15th nationally, though after a dominant weekend that will be higher on Monday morning.
The Crimson destroyed their competition on the weekend and Farrell led the way. Sometimes these small players face being told that they don’t have a chance in every league advancing all the way to the NHL. Farrell is far from that still, but he continues to pass every test that he faces with great ease.
In his first two games, Farrell scored three times and added four assists for seven points. That total makes his USHL effort look pedestrian by comparison.
One shouldn’t yet predict an NHL future for Farrell because of that size just yet, but this is already a feel-good story, and maybe we have a special story brewing as well.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.
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