Home Relationships Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens deny Florida much-needed win, drop Panthers 5-3 – Montreal

Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens deny Florida much-needed win, drop Panthers 5-3 – Montreal

Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens deny Florida much-needed win, drop Panthers 5-3 – Montreal

The Florida Panthers moved into the Bell Centre with nearly a must-win scenario in front of them. They want to grab first in the Atlantic Division, but trail the Boston Bruins by two points. They needed to beat the Montreal Canadiens.

However, the Canadiens are not playing like a bottom-five team anymore. They continued their solid run by dominating the Panthers 5-3.

Wilde Horses

Secondary scoring has been the Canadiens’ Achilles heel this season. However, two players have shone. Joel Armia has had his best regular season for the Canadiens since he joined the club. In the first period, it was Armia standing in front of the net to tap in a rebound.

That is 14 goals on the season for Armia who started the season in Laval. It’s a credit to Armia and Martin St. Louis that this season has gone so well for the Finn. It would have been so easy to react poorly to the demotion, hang the head down low, and sleep-walk through the season. Armia worked hard instead. St. Louis found a way to motivate him — to find that core of pride that every player has in them.

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The other player who has salvaged results off of the first line is Alex Newhook.  He has also shown excellent resolve from his own battle, Newhook’s being a serious injury that sidelined him 33 games. Newhook was the catalyst for the Canadiens’ first goal as he won the zone, and dragged two players with him leading to the Armia rebound.

Newhook hasn’t been a fan-favourite so far, and that is unusual. Most of the time when a player has great skating speed, it excites the fans, but there’s been a bit of caution exhibited by the faithful.  Newhook will be a strong player for the Canadiens for a lot of years. He’s just getting started.

On the first line, it was, as usual, Nick Suzuki who shone brightly. In the second period, an errant pass was gobbled up by Suzuki who snapped a 15-footer home for his 31st goal of the season. A short time later, it was Suzuki in front of the net on the power play, as he deflected a Mike Matheson point shot.

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It’s not a breakout season for Suzuki, but it is about as close as one can get without using the word. His career best was 66 points.  He now has 71. He won’t reach a point-per-game total, but he could perhaps hit 80. That is an outstanding total on a one-line hockey team.

In the third period, the top line connected again. Juraj Slafkovsky started it with a deft two-foot pass at the blue line to free Cole Caufield. He went around the net quickly after beating the defender wide, then wrapped it around for the tally. It’s been a difficult year for Caufield, but 21 is not a terrible year. It’s simply not what he expects, nor what he can achieve.

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Wilde Goats 

The Canadiens refuse to go quietly at the end of the season. Their strength-of-schedule in the last quarter of the campaign was the most difficult in the entire league, but they have not lost a single game to .500.

Montreal took on one of the best teams in the league on Tuesday night and demolished them. There are holes on the club, but there are also reasons to be optimistic. They refuse to be a pushover.

No goats when you handle the Florida Panthers.

Wilde Cards

The reason the Canadiens are mired near the bottom of the standings can be summed up in one concept  — secondary scoring. No team in the entire NHL has fewer goals scored from lines two, three and four. Montreal holds its own on the first line, and on defence in goals. However, in secondary scoring, even the San Jose Sharks have more goals.

The number one target next season is to change that scenario. Montreal has 22 one-goal losses this season. They have another eight games where they have allowed an empty net goal. That’s 30 games they were close, but could not get another goal to earn another point in the standings.

The arrival of a much better second line seems assured next season with the expectation that Kirby Dach will be alongside Alex Newhook and Joshua Roy. Dach only played one full game this year. Newhook was injured for almost half the season. Roy will be strong with some roster stability next year.

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The next challenge will be much better third and fourth lines in scoring. This season, only Joel Armia provided anything from the back of the roster. Josh Anderson must recover after a difficult season. A healthy Christian Dvorak would also help.

However, new blood is needed, and quickly. The best hope for more goals is from Owen Beck. He has been an absolute stud of a player since being traded to the Saginaw Spirit from a low-talent team in Peterborough. Beck finished the year in Saginaw with 51 points in 32 games — an outstanding pace.

He has also shone in the playoffs as Saginaw has jumped out to a three-to-nothing lead in games against Owen Sound. Beck has six points in the first three games. He also wins face-offs, and is an intelligent two-way centre. Not a lot of juniors graduate with a good idea of how to play well at both ends.

Beck will fight for a spot next training camp. He may not win that spot immediately with Dvorak and Jake Evans also still under contract, but eventually Beck will need to be that type of third-line centre who can shut down the other team’s best and provide a little offence as well.

That’s the start of a better hockey team. The goal is 285 goals. The Canadiens are, once again, going to finish with around 232. That simply is not good enough.

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The first line came of age in 2024. The prediction is that the second line will come of age in 2025. The third and fourth lines, finally, follow suit in 2026 with the arrival of a capable Beck, and some of the four first-round draft choices Montreal has in the next two drafts.

It’s a process. Sometimes it must seem like a slow process to fans, but the process continues, and in an effective and systematic fashion. General Manager Kent Hughes knows what he is doing. When the time is right, searching for goals, he will also add free-agent signings, and trading a surplus of defenders for more scoring.

Patience. This was a good season of development. It continues.

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

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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