Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens impressive again in Vancouver

The minds of many were on revenge for the Tyler Myers hit on Joel Armia that resulted in a concussion, but not a suspension.

The NHL Department of Player Safety deemed the shot that will leave Armia out for a week did not warrant any additional punishment beyond the two minutes and 28 seconds that Myers missed. The minds of the Montreal Canadiens had to be on discipline – the points they needed to keep a run of five straight games going.

The best revenge would have been a shellacking. The third game in the three game set, and what a satisfying series it was for the Canadiens, winning the finale 5-2 to take five of six points overall in Vancouver.

Wilde Horses

The leaders in the entire NHL in points are Mark Stone and Tyler Toffoli with eight. Jeff Petry has seven points. He’s an absolute beast to start the season and absolutely no one talks about him.

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He’s the one player on the team this season that no one is really noticing, while playing nearly perfect hockey. In the second period, in a very tough spot with two Canucks coming at him, Petry walked the blue line to keep possession maybe as well as anyone can do. He’s such a beautiful skater. He’s added another element as he has matured, as his panic metre is near zero. He makes the smart play. He makes the calm play. It’s hard to believe that he was booed mercilessly in Edmonton – that he was the poster boy for all their ailments.

Speaking of players putting up big points, cue the compliments for Nick Suzuki.

He scored in the first period to notch his sixth point in his sixth game. Suzuki remains on a line that is top five in the entire league in Expected Goals Percentage. It isn’t just that Suzuki scores points either. He already plays an intelligent and responsible defensive game. Few saw the progression of this player. The Golden Knights drafted two forwards early in their first draft. Cody Glass was supposed to be the star of the two, while Suzuki was less heralded. Perhaps, Glass comes around soon enough, but in the early rounds this one is all Suzuki, and it’s all Marc Bergevin for acquiring him. It’s still too early to say, but it’s starting to look like the Canadiens finally found a first line centre – a point per game centre who can win the middle and win the game. Remarkable. It’s early though, but it’s still remarkable.

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READ MORE: Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens rout the Vancouver Canucks

How well is your roster built when you lose a player like Joel Armia on the third line and the guy who steps in has a stellar night?

Corey Perry had a goal in the second period to make it 2-0 Montreal. He also pulled a deke that was high octane gorgeous to get another chance. Perry was a pest as well which hardly even needs to be said about him. There was a time when someone got injured on the Habs, up would come a player from Laval who was not ever going to be a regular in the NHL, never mind one of the best regulars of the last 15 years who appears to have, at least, some game left in him. Bergevin with a superb signing of a competitive, and experienced player, for a small amount of money. Injuries and Covid are going to happen this season, so for the Habs to have Perry or a Michael Frolik ready to go is outstanding. In fact, Perry played so well, there should be a spot for him when he does so much, but who would you sit? Everyone is playing well. Nice problem to have.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Vancouver Canucks beat undisciplined Montreal Canadiens (Jan. 20, 2021)

Overall, it’s time for some serious bouquet throwing here.

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The Canucks were hungry and they got back into the game with two goals early in the third period and the momentum was all theirs. It was an easy moment for Montreal to fold. Whether the Habs could comeback to regain the momentum would say a lot. Usually, the momentum when it’s gone late, it’s gone for good. Cue the Habs rebirth. It was impressive. Brendan Gallagher with a perfect shot into the top corner, then it was Josh Anderson freeing Jonathan Drouin on a breakaway and he undressed Braden Holtby with a gorgeous move. Suddenly, it was 4-2 Canadiens.

They answered beautifully a very difficult moment in sports. They lost momentum and regained it. It doesn’t happen often. Montreal finishes six games on the road to start the season gaining points in all six games. Stunning. They lost only in 3-on-3 overtime and a shootout. They won four in regulation time. They lead the league in goals. They roll four speedy lines. Their top three lines are top seven in the NHL in Expected Goals Percentage. They are a very impressive club so far this season.

Wilde Goats 

The discussion of fighting has been had a million times before. Many hockey fans love it. They love the revenge of it. They love the pain inflicted on the other team’s skull. They love it for its entertainment value. People watch boxing as a sport, right? So anyone knows there is that side of it – the side that is loved.

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It also stops the NHL from being taken seriously by so many fans in the United States. Maybe that doesn’t matter in the long run. Maybe concussions of human beings don’t matter either. We are all different. For me, the Department of Player Safety has to be interested in player safety. It seems a prerequisite for the department’s name. Not speaking of Tyler Myers here because that’s another debate for another day. It’s not the go-to moment to argue for stiffer suspensions. There are many more winnable moments that the league did not do enough than that hit.

It’s the rule that’s the issue. It must be principle point of contact to the head for the league to get angry. This is a problem. That makes it all so very easy to dismiss a player getting concussions as being his own fault.  A player gets a hit solidly on the chest that then rides up to his chin is a moment when the head is not the principle point of contact. Bad rule. The rule should be whether it is predatory.

The NFL did this change. Watch how players are penalized for hitting a quarterback. Any late hit, whether it hit a head or not, is predatory. When this additional layer of protection for predatory behaviour was initiated, it went extremely poorly. People said the game would suffer and everyone would turn away. The NFL persisted. Fans stopped grumbling. No one talks about it much anymore. It’s the rule now, and it’s accepted. The NFL remains the most watched league in North America by a long way.

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The NHL should feel that the game is good enough that they can protect players more by suspending predatory hits. They might even gain some fans. Does anyone really believe that NFL fans have turned away from the game because of policing predatory hits? The ratings say the NFL is very popular while other sports have actually suffered a lot in ratings during Covid.

It’s the sport, Everyone. It’s the sport. That’s why we watch for three hours; not the 27 seconds they try to concuss each other. If they removed the 27 seconds, it would change nothing for fans. Hockey fans would not turn away. If you don’t believe me, ask the fight-free final three rounds of the playoffs.

READ MORE: Call of the Wilde — Montreal Canadiens beat the Edmonton Oilers again (Jan. 19, 2021)

Wilde Cards 

The trade Saturday between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Winnipeg Jets has the hockey world buzzing. While most discuss who won the trade when Patrick Laine and Jack Roslovic went to the Jackets for Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third rounder, what does it mean for the Montreal Canadiens? It means GM Marc Bergevin is getting more and more comfortable with his centre position. Bergevin has been historically hungry to acquire the Quebec native over the years. There were reports that if he were available fourth overall, he would have made a trade to get him, but Dubois was drafted just before at three. There were also reports that he was extremely interested in Dubois these last months.

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If this entire Dubois mess with head coach John Tortorella would have come to a head last month, instead of this week, this entire trade could have looked very different. Bergevin likely would have been in the mix much more.

It is felt here that Nick Suzuki was never going to be dangled as bait by Bergevin for Dubois. Jesperi Kotkaniemi would have likely been in the mix. However, Kotkaniemi is playing better recently and right now he centres the line ranked fourth in the entire NHL in Goals Expected Percentage.

If the Canadiens are winning, and three lines are top ten in the NHL overall, why would Bergevin mess with something that is finally working. The ceiling is close to established for Dubois and it does not look like he will be a point per game player. Certainly, one can say Suzuki has that potential of a PPG player. That deal was never going to fly for Suzuki. Kotkaniemi likely tops out as an NHL player less than Dubois for points, but here is the rub: The Jackets wanted more than just a one-for-one.

The Blue Jackets didn’t just finish a deal with Winnipeg where they went one-for-one. They also got a former first rounder in Roslovic. The Canadiens would have also been forced to not just trade Kotkaniemi for Dubois but also throw in a top prospect like Roslovic. The rumour was that that player was Cole Caufield.

When you are a GM, the worst thing you can do is years later see that the prospect you gave up reached his high ceiling and became what everyone hoped he could when you drafted him.

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That’s why Caufield was and is such a dangerous asset to give up on. Do we know whether Caufield will succeed at the NHL level? No, we can’t know. In fact, with his size, there are worries. However, it’s the upside that is frightening. If Caufield can get that world class shot away, at the NHL level, then he scores 35 as a pro. That would be a horrific trade for Bergevin to make.

If talks got deep into the night with the Jackets, Kotkaniemi for Dubois, the prospect throw in names could have only been Jayden Struble, Jordan Harris, Kaiden Guhle. Players who will not destroy your reputation because they become 30 minute studs. While all of those players are strong and are likely to make the NHL, none has a ceiling that frightens like Caufield’s ceiling frightens. But when you consider that Dubois went for a proven NHL player who scores a lot of goals, it is hard to believe that Bergevin was even in the final hours of this negotiation. Who is the Laine on the Habs?

Bergevin is not the type of GM who goes for broke on high value targets. It is simply not his style. Bergevin tends to make his biggest splashes from finding undervalued assets that sometimes have found career low points, then pluck them from the unsuspecting. The names are many. In fact, it’s almost half the roster: Paul Byron, Tomas Tatar, Jeff Petry, Joel Armia, Philip Danault, Ben Chiarot, Brett Kulak. These are all players who other GMs undervalued. You could even make the argument that Vegas didn’t value correctly Nick Suzuki either. This is Bergevin’s greatest strength.

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He is not the type of GM to trade away the player who could become someone special. He is the type of GM who acquires that big possibility when no one else can see it anymore. He buys low, and sometimes he sells high as well. Case in point is Alex Galchenyuk who Bergevin saw was going down the other side of the mountain before anyone else did. He turned Galchenyuk who is on the fifth line of the Ottawa Senators into Josh Anderson who is on the Habs first line playing with his emerging talent at centre Suzuki.

This trade for Dubois was a long shot for the Canadiens and it got longer the better that Suzuki and Kotkaniemi played. Never mind, that a prospect would have also been thrown in. There was never a name Bergevin would have dangled that equaled Laine. Not a chance.

Should there be disappointment that Dubois isn’t coming to Montreal? That Bergevin didn’t have the asset the Jackets would find suitable?

As the youngins say…. Nah, we’re good.

Game highlights from the Habs match up against the Canucks

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