Call of the Wilde: Re-energized Montreal Canadiens fall to Toronto Maple Leafs...

Call of the Wilde: Re-energized Montreal Canadiens fall to Toronto Maple Leafs in 5-4 OT nail-biter – Montreal


What a completely different world than 12 months ago, and what a completely different hockey team in Montreal.

The Canadiens at this time last year were mired in the depths of the division, with nothing to watch but the clock wind down to bring mercy. Now, the club is predicted by many to win the newly-created North Division, comprised of the seven Canadian teams. Certainly, the majority have the Toronto Maple Leafs as number one, but many also see the Canadiens using all their new talent to shock the hockey world.

Only 56 games are on the schedule, starting with the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night winning a thriller 5-4 in overtime.

Wilde Horses 

Josh Anderson had only one goal last season after being a player capable of hovering around 20 for three straight seasons with a 27-goal campaign as his best.

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The reason that Anderson was so poor is that he played with a shoulder injury. It explained his 1.6 shooting percentage after doing better than 10 per cent the previous three seasons. When you can’t shoot because of shoulder issues, it’s not likely that you can score.

He’s healthy now and it’s showing not only on the perfectly-placed shot in the first period, putting the Habs up 2-1, but also obvious that he has his skating legs.

In the first period, Anderson was charging the net hard. He’s a handful when he does that. He did it twice in the first and the Leafs’ defence could not manage him. A combination of that skating and that size is extremely difficult to contain.

Third period and Anderson does it again as he charges hard to the net, this time off the left side as he schools the forward trying and failing to contain him.

It was a second goal of the night for Anderson. His teammates will learn to push in just behind that rush to the net looking for dirty rebounds, as Suzuki did on the 4-3 goal picking up his second assist. With Anderson’s shot and his health back, it’s obvious early here that this is going to be an excellent trade sending Max Domi to Columbus.

And it’s not only because he will likely be better than Domi, but also because he adds a component to the team that they lacked: size. Besides the goal, the charging hard to the net, he also added a lot of puck battles won for his line.

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All in all, a simply tremendous first game for Anderson.

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Alex Romanov looks like a veteran, like he’s 29 years of age and in the prime of his career. It’s extremely difficult to believe that this was his first NHL game.

He was completely in control. Early in the first period, he gets the puck on his stick in his own zone and immediately makes this outstanding pass up ice to free Tyler Toffoli, leading to a two-on-one rush for the Canadiens.

Also in the first period, he had a chance to play on the second power play unit and again he made all the right decisions. Second period, Romanov danced along the blue line with Mitch Marner draped on to him, and there was no sense of panic at all. Same power play: Romanov is at his own blue line, and he perfectly threads the pass to a streaking Tomas Tatar to score the goal for 3-1. A tremendous shift.

Claude Julien is already using him more than any other defender on the team at that moment halfway through the game. He would finish the night second in ice time for both teams. It was so odd to see him make such a difficult thing as your first NHL game look so easy.

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Everything just looks right: right decisions, right passes, right pinches, right assignments. What an addition he is going to be to this defence. Being the best defender at the World Junior Championships doesn’t always translate to a good career in the NHL, but it is sure looking like with health on his side, that is what is in front of Romanov.

It was the best first game as a defender for a young rookie that I can remember in a long time. What an outstanding addition to a team that desperately needed to improve its defence over last season.

Optimism surrounding the Canadiens this season is at an eight-year high, but if all of this optimism is going to be realized, the most important aspect of their success is that the two young centres cannot fall back from their playoffs of last year.

You can bring in strong players, as the Habs did, but if the team doesn’t have performances down the middle, you won’t win the game. We all know what Philip Danault can do. After that, you must have Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki continuing their upward trajectory.

Suzuki had an outstanding first game of the season, with a goal that was a goal-scorers’ goal. He was at a horrible angle, with vision of only a small sliver of the net from the corner just above the goal line. Suzuki threaded that needle for the Habs’ first of the season.

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With so much excitement surrounding the new players, perhaps the conversation focusing away from Jonathan Drouin is exactly what he needs. No one is talking about Drouin, so he quietly went about his business being a huge factor in both of the first period goals for Montreal. He tipped a Petry point shot off the post just before Suzuki scored on the rebound. On the second goal, he made the perfect set up to Anderson for the one timer.

Drouin had two assists and barely anyone noticed. That could be the formula. Drouin feeling that he doesn’t have to do it all by himself, and therefore doing too much, but instead, just letting the game come to him. Relaxed, and quietly going about his business.

Wilde Goats 

Early last season, Ben Chiarot had some difficulties with the Montreal system adapting and there were worries that it wasn’t going to work out for the Canadiens with him on the blue line.

By the end of the year, Chiarot was on the first pair and relied on tremendously to help the team. That brings us to Joel Edmundson, who played his first for Montreal and he did struggle.

Edmundson is never going to be a fast skater, smoothly and fluidly moving up ice. What he must do is man the front of the net with authority, and make sure what he lacks in skating he makes up for in physicality.

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He also must not get beat one-on-one which was the big part of the issue on night one. The Maple Leafs’ second goal was directly on Edmundson, who had lost his stick and could do nothing as William Nylander just schooled him, ripping a shot into the top corner.

It was admittedly a tough moment for Edmundson from a decision-making point of view, but at the same time, all he ended up doing was screening Carey Price.

On the third goal again, it’s Edmundson who doesn’t have John Tavares’ stick tied up as he ties the game at three. It feels like — and hopefully this isn’t true — that Edmundson will have to be spotted in against certain players (ie: not the fast ones) for him to find success. We shall see.

The Wilde Goat on Edmundson started with a reminder of how it was for Chiarot in the beginning. This feels like another beginning. The next game needs to be much better than the first one. The hope is that this is simply a little bit of Chiarot and not any of Karl Alzner.


Click to play video 'Call of the Wilde: the comeback Habs are still in the game'

Call of the Wilde: the comeback Habs are still in the game

Call of the Wilde: the comeback Habs are still in the game – Aug 21, 2020

Wilde Cards

There is much worry over Cole Caufield following a World Junior Championship that did not live up to high expectations. 

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The fears are overblown. They are way overblown. He was far better than the statistics. 

It can often be complex evaluating whether a player makes the NHL or not. So many factors come into play, especially with defenders, but with Caufield it will be easy. 

He either scores goals or he doesn’t.  He is an NHL regular, if he scores. In the long run, he is an AHLer, if he can not. That may sound like something anyone might think about all forwards, but when a player is multi-faceted, his success revolves around how many facets he can achieve as a pro. 

With Caufield, there is truly only one facet: score goals. He skates well. He passes well. He has great vision. He anticipates the game well. All of that matters only if he scores. 

Any difficulty on defence will be overlooked. A good coach will simply shield him, so any overall size deficiencies won’t be an issue. 

Caufield either finds a way to release that world class shot, or he doesn’t. So will he?

Firstly, he will need a playmaker at centre who has the vision to see him. If he does not have that, then he can’t succeed. Caufield doesn’t have the ability to create the space by winning puck battles. He’s a player who needs players.

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Caufield will also need a big winger on the other side of the line to do the dirty work required to establish zone presence. 

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After that, it’s up to Caufield to understand that his primary objective is to find dead spaces. He’s essentially Brett Hull. Just when you thought Hull was doing little, he would be by himself, completely unmarked, to snipe it for yet another goal. 

In this recent World Juniors, Caufield was too often in the middle of traffic. He might be under the impression that he needs to be more engaged, but he actually needs to be less engaged. He needs to get out of traffic. Let the other winger win that battle. Let the centre win that battle. He needs to be the guy who is standing alone on the other side who receives that pass after the battle. 

That brings us to the way he was used on the power play in this World Juniors. He got the ice time, but the spot he was located could not have been worse for him. He had a defender attached to him all the time.

A bigger man who can win a higher percentage of battles needs to be in the bumper. Caufield needs to be receiving soft passes on his off wing to snipe. He should be in the trigger spot. Here, we are reminded of the best days of Alex Galchenyuk. It was the only time in recent memory that the Habs’ power play seemed effective. Galchenyuk on his off wing just waiting to fire over and over again. 

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Caufield will need a strong coach who will build opportunities for him to shoot. He needs the right composition of linemates, to be in the correct spot with the man advantage, and to be shielded defensively from time to time. 

After that, it’s up to Caufield to learn how to succeed in his own way: get out of traffic, float into offensive dead zones, come off the half wall to get chances on the power play, cover the point defensively. 

It’s simple. If he scores regularly, he’s in Montreal. If he does not, he’s in Laval. Don’t bet against him. He’s passed every test so far, and that includes this world juniors where after all the criticism was finished he had won a gold medal. 


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