Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens get more trouble from Tampa Bay Lightning - Montreal |

Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens get more trouble from Tampa Bay Lightning - Montreal

It’s one outstanding team after another that the Montreal Canadiens face as they wind down their season. While another missed playoffs wasn’t the hope, solace can be taken that the Canadiens improved as the season progressed.

The Tampa Bay Lightning have given the Canadiens a lot of trouble, and Thursday night was no different. The Lightning seized on an off-night for Cayden Primeau to win 7-4.

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It was a rare night for the Canadiens as they finally had some secondary scoring. Alex Newhook, Brendan Gallagher and Joel Armia took over the reins from the first line led by Nick Suzuki.

Newhook has had a strong season with little praise for it. Gallagher continues to work his tail off, even though his best offensive days are behind him. However, the big story on the line is Armia. He has put together a remarkable comeback season.

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His season started in the minors, where it all could have gone extremely wrong for him after a suspect training camp. Armia put his head down and got to work. That work quickly produced a promotion back to the NHL.

Since then, he’s had the best season of his career. Armia scored twice in the contest to up his goal total to 16. That ties his best season registered in 2020. He has seven games to hit a career high in goals.

Armia is also third on the team in goals despite missing 16 games. He trails only Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Armia is tied with Juraj Slafkovsky, who kept his excellent run going with a tip-in on a point shot. Slafkovsky is learning he cannot be contended with physically. He can go to the front of the net and park, then wait. He’s learning what an outstanding weapon he has.

Slafkovsky used his size again, but in a different manner, on the 6-4 goal. He brought two players to him, and simply had too much strength for the Tampa players to handle. That created space for Suzuki and Caufield. It was Caufield finishing with the shot to the top corner.

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Kaiden Guhle took a hit in the first period that seemed to have left him with a concussion. He suffered a concussion in October as well. Guhle’s head was rocked against the glass by Nikita Kucherov. No penalty was called, even though the hit nailed Guhle right between the numbers.

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The point that defenders of that hit will make is that Guhle has to protect himself, because Kucherov was simply following through on the play. However, the issue taken with that is there was no way that Guhle could defend himself. He was finishing a pass to his defensive partner.

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Guhle must play the puck and his hands are low to accomplish that pass. Are we suggesting Guhle must suffer a concussion to make a hockey play? If Guhle does protect himself by pushing his hands against the glass when hit, he cannot simultaneously play the puck.

This is why the rule about “hitting from behind” exists. There are scenarios where a player can’t physically defend themselves in the run of play. The NFL has recognized this. They have recently initiated a penalty called “hitting a defenceless receiver.”

The penalty exists in hockey as well. Simply, call it. Just call it. Guhle was defenceless. He cannot both defend himself and make a hockey play. Let him make a hockey play without also getting a concussion. Let’s protect these players more.

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One of the hardest things to grasp is that drafting is not an exact science. It’s so common to suggest that a mistake has been made on draft day, but a lot of time must pass before a true evaluation can be made on a pick.

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In his first year after the draft, Jesperi Kotkaniemi looked like the right pick. At third overall, he stormed onto the scene as a teenager and turned in a strong season. Unfortunately, he never progressed. In fact, he has regressed. Kotkaniemi was even a healthy scratch for the Hurricanes on Thursday night. Carolina is on the hook for that contract until 2030.

For every perfect selection of Auston Matthews, there’s a disaster like Nail Yakupov. Even the number one pick, in a revisit of the draft five years later, can turn out to be the wrong selection.

For this reason, the people who are so certain that a mistake in a draft has been made by the Canadiens need to wait for history to tell its own story.

Early on, when Juraj Slafkovsky struggled to keep on his feet and couldn’t win a puck battle, the knives were out and sharpened. Only a season later, Slafkovsky looks like the right choice at first overall.

With that as the backdrop, it’s quite bizarre to see the same scenario playing out with the next Canadiens early first-round pick. The fear now, and even a certainty, for many, is that David Reinbacher was the wrong choice at five.

Matvei Michkov is speculated to be a superior player, but let’s wait on that. Michkov hasn’t played a single game in the NHL. He may actually not be all that. He’s not a big player. He’s a winger. He has no defensive game or a desire to have one — at all. He may not be the next Gretzky. Reinbacher may be the best choice, just like Slafkovsky. Give it time.

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In the end, Kotkaniemi wasn’t the best choice. In fact, the best went four picks later in Quinn Hughes. Evan Bouchard went seven picks later. Both players were not even on the radar in that draft for Montreal. It was a Kotkaniemi or Brady Tkachuk or Filip Zadina choice.

It’s not a science. Every single year a five can be 10th best and a 10th may be fifth best.

This year, there is quite a lot of consternation that the Canadiens absolutely must lose a sufficient number of games to draft fifth. That is the goal. It would be a benefit to draft higher. This is not the disputed point. Of course, higher equals better over the long course of history.

However, should the Canadiens win more and drop to seven, they will still be able to get a forward in the same tier.

It is expected that Ivan Demidov will be the best of the forwards in his tier. However, it may just be Cayden Lindstrom who is best. Berkly Catton might even be the breakout star, or Cole Eiserman. Tij Iginla could also follow in his father’s footsteps and be a great one who was chosen later than he should have been.

No one knows. As long as the Canadiens get a forward in the top tier, they’ll have achieved their goal. Remember that the Vegas Golden Knights wouldn’t part with Cody Glass, taken at six, but were fine to part with Nick Suzuki, taken at 13, in the Max Pacioretty trade.

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If you are still skeptical Montreal absolutely must finish fifth-worst, look at every single draft in history. There isn’t a single one where a redraft would see the same top 10 in the order taken. Not one.

So try not to lose too much sleep thinking this is the first draft ever where the order taken is the exact order of excellence the picks will mature to. Montreal will get an excellent forward in the draft. That is sufficient for the day.

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


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