Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens fall to Minnesota Wild in 3-1 home-ice loss – Montreal
The Montreal Canadiens, surprisingly, are in the middle of the pack in the NHL standings after a half-dozen games.
At home, they’ve been enjoyable to watch, and in this rebuilding year it is more about how much the young guns can entertain than it is the results.
On Tuesday night, it was the Minnesota Wild at the Bell Centre, and it was another entertaining game with the Wild winning 3-1.
The Canadiens play an exciting up-and-down-the-ice brand of hockey. They get a lot of chances, and as Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said, Montreal is one of the best teams on the rush in the entire league.
The only issue right now seems to be that not enough of that strong build-up is leading to a high degree of finish.
It feels like only four members of the team are getting on the score sheet with a fair representation of what they are creating. A lot of the scoring is coming from the one line who are outstanding night after night.
Cole Caufield in seven games already has five goals. Caufield beat Marc Andre Fleury with a bit of a flutter shot that deflected off a Wild stick and in. When you’re a goal-scorer, you get those.
On the other side on that line is Sean Monahan, who, for a reclamation project due to bad hips, sure is one heck of a hockey player. Monahan has five points already this year on two goals and three assists. At centre, of course, is the captain who leads the club at a point-per-game pace. Nick Suzuki has three goals and four assists in seven games.
Outstanding for the line, but there’s not a lot after that so far. The best of the rest is Kirby Dach who had two glorious chances in this one. Both of the chances were on the power play. The first hit the post. The second from point blank range somehow hit a defenceman. Dach has been strong. He definitely has 2C potential.
All of the forwards have produced exciting hockey, but some seem snake-bitten, confidence-wise. There are times when there is an open net or a strikingly good opportunity and they’re not even taking a shot.
The club can create. They can fly. They can entertain. It feels like it is only a matter of time before the rest of the forwards join the top line on the scoresheet more regularly. It feels like a breakout is close at hand for many of them.
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So far through this year, when the Canadiens were scored upon, it has more often than not been a missed assignment, rather than defensive skill. That’s a good thing. Forwards taking care of their assignments better as the season goes on is a relatively easy thing to correct.
What is much harder to correct from a defensive point of view is if a defender simply can’t skate well enough, or can’t make decisions fast enough, or pivot fast enough when attacked at the blue line. There are so many aspects of defending that centre around the actual talent involved.
Thankfully, so far this season this has not been a concern. The defenders have shown a lot of talent for a group that is basically a bunch of rookies and two veterans. Any issues have not been about processing the game or a lack of skillset.
That is until tonight.
This was one where the experience of David Savard shone through and the difficulty of youth came to the fore. Arber Xhekaj looked a little overwhelmed for the first time. Kaiden Guhle was chasing the puck for the first time. Jonathan Kovacevic made a cross-ice neutral-zone pass on the second Wild goal that didn’t seem to have a target.
This is natural. This has to be expected. This rookie d-corps cannot just all arrive in the NHL at the age of 20 and figure all of this out. There are very few who can do that.
It was the first night that looked like this rookie-laden defence will have some growing pains beyond the forwards not helping them by covering their man.
In the long run, expect this group to gain valuable experience and become strong.
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However, on night seven, a little of the exhaustion of the mind as well as the body having to play at a high level every two nights hit them for the first time. Physically, this is a grind, and mentally, this is a grind as well. Decisions have to be made hundreds of times per night. There’s a fatigue that comes with that.
Instinct at the NHL level doesn’t just come after a half-dozen games. These young players will be grand. It’s important to let them play through it. There is only one way to truly learn in the world and that is through the experience of doing.
Let them do this. They will get there. They are better than anyone could have hoped for this early in their efforts. They only need time and an organizational leadership who will be patient with them. They will get both and they will prosper.
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Carey Price has detailed why he left the Montreal Canadiens last October to enter the NHL’s Player Assistance Program. In an interview with The Athletic’s Arpon Basu, Price said that he was battling alcohol addiction.
Price said, “I was drinking a lot. I just got to the point where I was like, I’m not even having fun doing this. Like what am I doing? I felt like I was getting to a point in my life where I had to make a decision.”
Price also detailed in the Basu article that he feels socially awkward at times and was using alcohol as a crutch, but now he has moved to a better place.
“Lately, I feel like I’m just totally fine with just being myself, not drinking, just being comfortable, just being present,” Price said.
Price met the media on Monday, to whom he suggested that he is not ready to retire yet, but is keeping his options open for now. One of those options is a very serious knee surgery with a 50-per cent success rate.
Price has four years left on his contract with the Canadiens.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.
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