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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens fight hard but fall to Vegas Golden Knights – Montreal

The Montreal Canadiens with the final game of their four-game road trip in Las Vegas. The Canadiens won the first, then lost the next two, so a win over the Golden Knights would mean a .500 road trip, but they fell after a valiant effort 4-3.

Wilde Horses 

General Manager Kent Hughes’ work as a trader has been outstanding so far. No trades at all in the loss column yet, and some big wins are already assured.

The biggest is Kirby Dach for the 13th pick in the 2022 draft, but Mike Matheson for Jeff Petry might end up being an even bigger victory.

Petry is having a fair season for the Penguins, but he is 34 years of age. His days are running short in the NHL. Matheson is 28 years of age and he has likely six solid seasons left in him. Never mind the age, though, because Matheson is probably also the better defenceman.

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The Canadiens’ first goal in Sunday’s game was on a gorgeous play by Matheson. He received the puck at the blue line. He faked a shot to freeze the Vegas forward, so he could walk around him. He then skated to about 15 feet and fired a shot into the far side. It was a gorgeous play.

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Matheson has the ability to do this regularly. In fact, it sometimes feels as if Matheson is still improving as a player and he has more game left in him to grow. It’s not uncommon for a defender to keep improving in the NHL as late as 30 years of age.

As an example, the aforementioned Petry’s best seasons in the NHL were when he was in his 30s. Great work by Hughes.

After that, it was great work by Martin St. Louis. He had Denis Gurianov on the top line, but he was mailing it in, so he switched to Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylonen with Nick Suzuki. After an Alex Belzile goal, the three combined for the 4-3 goal with Harvey-Pinard the marksman. The line switch by St. Louis ignited the club.

It’s a long shot for Harvey-Pinard to make the Canadiens in October when everyone is healthy again, but he has certainly earned a long look.

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The Canadiens earned some respect as well. They were down 4-1 halfway through the third but refused to give up. They are playing to the buzzer against vastly superior talent. The Canadiens have more players from the Rocket, but they refuse to be intimidated.

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Wilde Goats 

The injuries stood out on the blue line in this one in a big way. Kaiden Guhle was added to the infirmary to make it Guhle, Arber Xhekaj, and Justin Barron out of the line-up on the blue line. Frederic Allard got a chance to play in only his second game in the NHL as a result. It was an extremely difficult assignment for Allard to simply step into the system and excel in it.

Allard is a native of St. Sauveur, Quebec. He was acquired at the trading deadline for a bit of insurance in case of injury. One thing the Canadiens have needed a lot this year is insurance. Nate Schnarr was sent to the Los Angeles Kings as compensation.

It’s difficult to win without 12 regulars. The Canadiens line-up is more American Hockey League than National Hockey League, so when the Vegas Golden Knights are the opposition, it has a chance to get lopsided.

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Head Coach Martin St. Louis has done a masterful job keeping this club competitive. They are carrying on with guts and gumption against clearly superior hockey talent.

As a result, it is folly to get too upset with the events during a losing run at the end of a rebuilding season with more than half the roster out with injury.

Let the rebuild continue in earnest. When players get healthy, when prospects arrive, and the standings hold some more value, place some bets on a lot more wins for the Montreal Canadiens.

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Wilde Cards

With the NHL trading deadline past, there is little drama in the immediate future for the Canadiens, except their spot in the standings for the lottery.

Some want the Canadiens to win games for the development of the players and others want losses for a better chance at winning the lottery.

From a statistical point of view, it’s looking more favourable for the fans who favour the tank.

There are only 20 games remaining. Of the 14 games left in March, it is a remarkably difficult schedule for Montréal. The Canadiens play only two teams under .500 in March. The other 12 games are all against clubs fighting for a playoff spot.

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In many instances, the Canadiens are facing division leaders. They also play the Florida Panthers twice, which is a good result for the draft order. The Canadiens own the Panthers’ first-round pick. That one of the two teams has to lose those two games is beneficial to the lottery math.

The Canadiens’ schedule coming up is the hardest in the league. In the 20 that are left, Montreal faces Boston twice, Carolina twice, Tampa twice, Toronto once and New Jersey once.

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On the easier side, the Canadiens have one against the Blue Jackets and one against the Flyers as the only two games in the last 20 with the opposition under .500 on the season.

It sounds like there will be many losses, but the Canadiens, even with half the team called up from Laval, have been competitive many times this season when it didn’t seem possible.

The goaltending tandem of Samuel Montembeault and Jake Allen are also both top-20 in the league in goals saved above expected. Only the Boston Bruins also have a duo who can boast that they are in the top 20 in goals saved above expected. That means the goalies may continue to steal some results for Montreal.

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Right now, the Canadiens are picking seventh in the draft. The potential exists still with this schedule that they could finish top-five. Each spot means a chance for a better player, but even more importantly, each spot higher in the draft order means a better chance of winning the lottery.

The reward for winning the lottery is generational forward Connor Bedard whose draft year statistics rival the best in hockey history, like Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby. It’s a big prize, and the Canadiens are in the mix for it.

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

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