December 10, 2023

It’s a busy weekend for the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre with two games in two nights: the Boston Bruins on Saturday and the Vancouver Canucks Sunday.

Boston, the best regular season team in the NHL again this season, with only one regulation loss all year got a big surprise as they faced a club much better than they must have believed. The Canadiens won it 3-2 in overtime.

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How about that?

That was the most impressive the Canadiens have been in a long time. The list of overachieving players is long.

Kaiden Guhle, who is likely the best defender on the team, in the third period sacrificed his body two times on a two-man advantage for the Bruins. For one minute and 30 seconds in the third period, Boston was up five players to three and everyone on the ice was determined to lay it all out for the group.

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Guhle with two blocks. Jonathan Kovacevic with a block, and Christian Dvorak with a blocked shot as well. The Bruins were throwing it around beautifully but they faced two goaltenders every time they shot the puck.

The third period was one of the best at the Bell Centre in a long time. The fans were elated when Montreal scored two early. Nick Suzuki with the shot into the top corner to score in his fourth straight game. Sean Monahan screened the shot, then got out of the way just in time. Monahan just might be the smartest player to don a Canadiens uniform since Alex Kovalev.

It looked not that long ago that Brendan Gallagher might just be starting on a path to diminished skills and speed. The reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. Gallagher got into perfect body position around the Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman to score his fifth goal of the season. Only Monahan and Suzuki have more with six goals.

There were a number of other noteworthy performances. Michael Pezzetta did exactly what you want from a fourth line forward. He went in hard on the forecheck and laid out big hits making it a long night for defenders.  Josh Anderson had another five quality chances, and again he scored on none. Surely, that has to end. He does have a history of 25-goal seasons. He has no history of zero goal seasons.

Arber Xhekaj laid out some big hits as well. Montreal used to be a pretty soft night, but not anymore. They have some physical players who are happy to use their strength. Christian Dvorak has come back from a serious injury to play some of his best hockey for Montreal since he came from Arizona.

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The young defenders looked to not be overwhelmed by one of the best forechecking teams in hockey. They had so little time and space, but manufactured smart outlets most of the time. A good defender is smart choices, and this young group made a lot of them.

And how about that overtime marker? Speed, speed and more speed. It used to be the Canadiens coaching staff thought the way to a 3-on-3 overtime win was to get the best defenders out there. This staff is all about showcasing talent. Cole Caufield, Suzuki and Mike Matheson were on the first wave. Sean Monahan relieved Suzuki.

Next came Alex Newhook who absolutely flew down the ice and backed up the defenders allowing Josh Anderson to link up and take it to the net. After the Anderson shot, it bounced out to Guhle who pinched in smartly to flip it home. The crowd erupted as the Canadiens finally solved the Bruins riddle.

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Call of the Wilde!

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Call of the Wilde!

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When basically an unbeatable team this season gets challenged by the Canadiens, this section obviously does not get filled with Montreal’s shortcomings.

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The truth is when Kirby Dach went down with a season-ending injury, it felt like it was going to be a long year again. A team simply can not lose their best puck-moving forward and still find success, not when they were already fragile and had a top-five draft pick the year before.

However, the doom scenario has not panned out in any way.  The Canadiens have competed. Sure, they’re only a .500 hockey team, but that’s a great start toward a better future.

When they allow the powerful Bruins only 27 shots for their first win over Boston in four years, that makes everyone extremely hopeful. There will be down nights still, but this group is young and only going to get better.

Catch the fever. It’s closer than you think.

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Word from Edmonton is that the Oilers are very actively searching for a goalie. If they don’t find someone to stop the puck soon, their season is over. They already need to be .643 for the rest of the year running a 45 and 25 record to make the playoffs, if the usual 95 points is the marker.

That’s a tall order, but they can do it. The talent is obviously there. The bigger number than the .643 winning percentage is the .860 save percentage that the Oilers goalies are doing this season. No one makes the playoffs with an .860.

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Here’s the shocking news though. Apparently, the word is that the price to get a goalie on today’s market is very high. How this is possible is a mystery. General managers may be getting a little too aggressive thinking they have Oilers GM Ken Holland backed into a corner.

Truth is, if you’re Canadiens GM Kent Hughes, make the deal for your own team’s benefit. The Canadiens are actually in a bind as well. They can not go on indefinitely carrying three goalies.

Cayden Primeau didn’t make it any easier either on Thursday in Detroit putting together a strong game for the victory. If the Canadiens thought they had a chance to squeeze Primeau through the waiver wire untouched, that performance ended that hope. Edmonton would surely take a flyer at Primeau’s salary.

Hughes will need to remove one goalie from the mix somehow. There’s not enough net to go around.

The most likely to get dealt is Jake Allen. He is the hottest of the three. Allen is top ten in the league in goals saved above expected. He could turn around Edmonton’s fortunes in a heartbeat with goaltending like that.

When Edmonton says that the market is expensive, how expensive do they actually mean? If they’re not willing to give up their first round draft choice, they may wait so long that they waste yet another year in the career of Connor McDavid.

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Tick, tock, Edmonton in every single way that a clock can tick. Tick, tock!

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

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