Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens come up short against Winnipeg Jets with 4-2 loss

It was another night of Jake Allen in net as Dominique Ducharme said that Carey Price is going to need another week to heal before he will see the net again. Ducharme indicates it is nothing serious, but just an abundance of caution.

The Canadiens were back in Montreal to host the Winnipeg Jets, putting in a strong effort, but coming up short with a 4-2 loss.

Wilde Horses 

Overall, Thursday’s game was a strong effort for a team playing three in four nights against a rested team.

The Canadiens carried most of the play, holding a shot advantage of 38 to 27. Even though the Canadiens are ninth in goals-for in the league, there are nights that the club shows a distinct lack of finish. To have 38 shots and only two goals is to do a combination of three things: have little ability to finish, run into excellent goaltending, and have no puck luck. In this one, it can easily be argued that the Canadiens did all three. They should have finished some clean looks. They ran into the stone wall that is Connor Hellebuyck. They hit five or six goal posts.

This has been a common script for the team this year: A dominating performance with the ice tilted in their favour, but the result not there. Montreal is the second best 5-on-5 team in the entire league behind only the Colorado Avalanche. The difference is when the Avs dominate possession, they win easily because the talent around the net all the time also finishes all the time.

The Canadiens needs a sniper or two, and if they do find them, they would be top five in goals in the league instead of top ten. When the Canadiens generally have the skillset to spend a lot of time in the attacking zone, you add a couple more that can finish all of that attack time, and you can turn some games that you should have won into actual wins.

For now, there is only to lament another night of good possession without a result.

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Wilde Goats 

Victor Mete is an enigma. When he gets a chance to show the better parts of his game, he looks like an important piece of the lineup. He can skate the puck up ice, and then start the play in the opposition zone.

The one thing that is a guarantee in hockey is this: If you’re playing in the attacking zone, you’re not getting scored on. That’s the great part of Mete’s game when he can show it. Unfortunately, the other part is when he is in his own zone. That’s where in this speed versus strength battle, Mete is on the short end of it.

On the second goal of the Jets in the first period, Mete simply did not have the strength to handle Trevor Lewis. Mete was standing right with him, trying his best to handle the big body, but could not tie up his stick. Lewis redirected from two feet, giving the Jets the lead. As indicated before, if you want to know how Mete did, just look where the shift was played. If it was played in his own zone, the guarantee is that he showed weaknesses. If he played in the attacking zone, Mete likely had a good part to do with that offensive zone pressure with a great speedy zone exit and a likely equally speedy zone entry.

Zone exits and zone entries are massive in hockey. Also massive is not handling the strength of the opposition in front of your own net. Overall, on this slow blue line, Mete is undervalued. Jeff Petry and Victor Mete are the only two on the blue line that can consistently exit the zone with speed. This skillset needs to be appreciated more.

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The negative aspect of Eric Staal’s game since coming from the Buffalo Sabres has been that he’s weakened the club defensively overall. The club had three centres this season that were all achieving dominating 5-on-5 performances. At one point, lines centred by Philip Danault, Nick Suzuki, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were all in the top 10 in the NHL in 5-on-5 performance. Phillip Danault’s line, in fact, was first, and the others were almost as outstanding.

The only line that struggled in possession was the one centred by Jake Evans. The downside of Eric Staal’s usage has been that one of the lines has become weak. With Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Toffoli, Staal has not been able to defend well at all, allowing three goals against them recently. Their possession numbers are atrocious. Staal is not the dominating centre that he once was. Kotkaniemi shining on the wing with Tomas Tatar and Danault is nice, but he is more valuable back at centre. Staal can then take a reduced role as the fourth line centre on the team. Either that, or re-jig the wingers around Staal, because he does not pair well at all with the two he is with now. Some experimenting needs to be done.

Wilde Cards

An addendum to the expansion draft thoughts of Wednesday’s Call of the Wilde. The point of the exercise from Marc Bergevin’s point of view is to strengthen his club with the co-operation from an intelligent Carey Price and Shea Weber who would want their Canadiens to be stronger overall.

It is not a punishment for the two, but an opportunity to be on a stronger Habs team. Because of their contracts, the two players will not be taken in the expansion draft by Seattle. As a result, the desire here is to not protect them in order to have a better team. Think of the irony: it would be the first time ever that a lousy contract was suddenly amazing. 

In the case of Weber, this can happen without his blessing. In the case of Price, he must okay waiving his no-move clause in his contract to make himself available to the Seattle Kraken.

There is the slightest of chances that either player could be picked up by the Kraken, but the chance is extremely slim. In the immortal words of Roberto Luongo waiting months to be traded from Vancouver when his contract was too rich for the market: “my contract sucks”. 

In the case of Price and Weber, this is an opportunity to not be on the protected list, but in essence, be protected by their contracts. 

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This gives the Canadiens an opportunity to not have a 7-3-1 protected list, but a 7-4-2 list. They can now actually protect both goalies. This is beneficial to Price who wants to see his back-up goalie play well; not suffer. They can in this plan also protect an extra defender allowing Weber someone better to play with as three other defenders are protected in the expansion draft besides him.

It’s a win-win for all. It’s a better Canadiens hockey team. 

And should the chance come, even if it is slight, that the Kraken take Price, then he heads back to his home out west where his wife Angela is also comfortable with roots there. But that’s not going to happen, but it is acceptable for Price should he waive. 

Is it all going to happen? Not likely. Bergevin is so in love with these players that he is not likely to even think of this plan to try to make the club better with these actions. But that’s what he should do. It’s a way to have two more good players. That’s the way to build a better Montreal Canadiens as this window of opportunity blows wide open in the coming years. 

What a classic twist it would be though!

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

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