Call of the Wilde: The Montreal Canadiens hit the road, shading the Calgary Flames 2-1 – Montreal


The Montreal Canadiens began a four-game road trip to Calgary on Thursday night. The trip also includes stops in Edmonton, Vancouver and Seattle.

All four games are tough, with Vancouver being the only opposition to have under .500 this year.

The Flames were the top club, but they were guarded by Jake Allen as the Canadians won 2-1.

Wild horses

Fans were hoping to see Juraj Slafkovsky become stronger linemates, believing he didn’t get the chance to show off his skills on the fourth line. It’s not always easy for a head coach to keep the gym healthy, so there’s a hierarchy to consider.

However, when there are injuries, the decision becomes easy. With Brendan Gallagher and Mike Hoffman out, and Rem Pitlick unable to make it to Calgary in time, Slafkovsky had to move to the second line while Chris Wideman played on the fourth line.

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On the first shift with Sean Monahan and Josh Anderson, it took just 13 seconds for Slafkovsky to make the fans happy. Monahan was the first attacker on the forecheck and forced the turnover. With goaltender Jacob Markstrom out to swim, Slafkovsky slipped it into a wide-open net for his fourth of the season.

It was the Canadiens’ fastest goal since the start of a game since 2010, when Brian Gionta scored after 11 seconds.

Monahan got an assist on the goal. Thanks also to head coach Martin St. Louis for putting Monahan on for the first shift upon his return to Calgary. He is a special trainer and he understood that it was a special moment.

In the second period, the new second line continued to shine. Slafkovsky nearly scored a second goal as he made a breakaway with incredible speed. He hit the post on the other side after beating Markstrom.

More impressive than the shot, however, is that he edged out Rasmus Andersson. The Flames defender is known for his speed and Slafkovsky won easily. When you have a 6-foot-4, 230-pound player who also carries speed, you have a player.

The second line was the best line of the night. Slafkovsky may have found a home for a time with Monahan and Anderson.

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In the third quarter, Monahan got a second assist passing to Nick Suzuki who crossed the ice to Cole Caufield in his one-timer position. He had another perfect shot – Caufield’s 13th of the season in his 23rd game. He is on pace at 46 on the season.

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The match was dominated by the Flames but the Canadians won thanks to a superb performance from Jake Allen. Shots on goal were 46-19 Calgary. Allen faced and stopped all 21 goals in the third period. Allen felt he had something to prove after a terrible November and he did.

Sometimes the keeper steals one. This one was stolen.

wild goats

The Canadiens’ power play dropped to one in the last 18 with a dismal effort in the second period. The power play is the 31st in the league. It should be better with talented forwards like Kirby Dach, Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. They are having great seasons and one would expect their success to translate into one more man on the ice.

Here’s the thing, though, and there aren’t too many who don’t know it: the three names mentioned are all forwards. The problem is the same one that has plagued the power play for five years. The club does not have a power-play quarterback.

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A QB breaks down the lanes of defenders, changes angles, finds passes and threads them. A QB is creative. It’s not a shot that decides, it’s the sequence of passes and vision.

Do you remember the power games that worked in Montreal? What did they all have? They had Andrei Markov. Sometimes he was with Sheldon Sourly, or maybe PK Subban. Markov’s buddies changed over his long career, but he was the constant when the Canadiens’ power play was good.

In fact, attackers didn’t matter. They weren’t all that; not Connor McDavid or anything. They were just good players: Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, Richard Zednik, Brian Gionta. This list of attackers is not superior to this new list up front.

However, there is no Andrei Markov; there is not even anyone close to Markov. Mike Matheson is a good player. Every once in a while they try an on-point striker like Mike Hoffman. Sometimes they try five forwards.

It does not matter. Nothing will work until they have the talent to make it work. So many people point to the power play coach, but they’ve been through a lot of coaches. None of them worked. None of them got Markov.

There’s a young guy who plays defense at Boston University as a rookie who won rookie of the week twice and player of the week another time. In fact, Lane Hutson has been a college player of the week in some capacity every week the season has been played.

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Hutson’s numbers are at a freshman’s pace in his draft plus a season that equates to the best campaign for a defensive middleweight since 1986, when Brian Leetch had 1.25 points per game. Best numbers in 36 years. Imagine that.

Hutson put up those high numbers on the second powerplay unit. He hasn’t even had the best players with him except for games last weekend when the head coach finally decided it was better for the guy to score all the points and make all the plays with his better.

Lane Hutson is a unicorn. His vision and ability to dance away from traffic and create opportunities is unheard of at the collegiate level. He’s small, though, and the challenge is real that he might not be big enough for the NHL.

If Hutson is tall enough, his ceiling is extremely high. If he can’t handle the physicality of the league, his floor isn’t even in the NHL. Never has there been a player with such a wide gap between the ceiling and the floor as Hutson.

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If he can reach the ceiling, the Canadian will finally have a good power play when he arrives at quarterback. Hutson is the missing Markov.

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wild cards

Sean Monahan was drafted sixth overall by the Calgary Flames in 2013. He did something unusual for a sixth pick that fall. He made the National Hockey League right from the draft.

After that, he spent nine seasons in Calgary. The last two years have been the worst after scoring 30+ goals on three occasions in the first seven. The reason was that he could barely walk and the game was overtaking him due to hip pain.

Monahan needed hip surgery, but the Flames had seen enough and opted to move him as a dump in Montreal. The Canadiens received a first-round draft pick and could get another one this spring because Monahan is healthy again and loves hockey.

At 28, Monahan is resurrecting his game in Montreal, but he’s not forgetting Calgary. In an emotional moment in the morning, Monahan was asked what he wanted to say to Flames fans as he made his return to Alberta on Thursday night. Holding back tears, Monahan began her response with, « Just thank you. »

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He went on to explain how wonderfully Calgary had accepted him over the years. His lip quivered and he had to cut his response short for fear of getting too emotional.

During the game, Monahan received an enthusiastic standing ovation for his time in Calgary. It’s not often that the opposition is so well loved when they return. It was sincere from the Flames fans. They stood for nearly a minute with Monahan raising his staff in salute.

The body always ends up breaking down in professional sports. It’s called death and taxes. But for now, Monahan is one of the best feel-good stories of the year. Modern medicine has given a great player a second chance to shine, and he is taking it with joy and gratitude.

It’s the best of sports.

Brian Wilde, Montreal-based sports journalist, brings you Call of the Wilde on after every Habs game


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