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Call of the Wilde: After strong start, Montreal Canadians fall to New York Rangers 7-4

After a dominating performance over the Anaheim Ducks, the Montreal Canadiens had a much more difficult test Thursday night against the New York Rangers. New York is one of the top teams, and favourites to go far in the playoffs.

Montreal was strong for most of the the first 40 minutes, but fell hard in the third losing 7-4.

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The highlight for the Canadiens was, once again, the play of Juraj Slafkovsky. He had some difficulty for his first 60 games in the NHL, but has he ever figured it out since then. Slafkovsky has 22 points in his last 25 games after counting again in this one.

Cole Caufield made the pass to Slafkovsky, and he got a wrist shot away very quickly. It’s exactly what the club is looking for. Slafkovsky didn’t allow the goaltender Jonathan Quick to set up. His shot was in that perfect spot about 12 inches off the ice inside the post.

It’s a hard spot for goalies, like a dead zone, as the arm can’t extend to the shot, and it’s just above the pad. Slafkovsky is doing so much right already at the NHL level. He’s also winning many puck battles, and keeping offensive zone time alive much better than he had before.

Slafkovsky also added an assist on the second of two for Caufield. Caufield’s first was a deflection, and his second was a snap shot from 20 feet. The top line was strong again with the three players sharing six points.

Another top player was Jake Evans, who scored the opening goal on a Josh Anderson rebound. It was the second goal in two games for Evans. It will be interesting to see where Evans slots in when the rebuild is complete. He does not provide a lot of offence, but he is hardly ever a liability.

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The young defence of the Canadiens is praised on most nights. They have a bright future. There are many more great young defenders to come, too. However, there are some presumptions about how they are all faring overall.

Specifically, Kaiden Guhle is always given the crown as if he is head and shoulders better than the other young blue liners on the club. However, this isn’t always the case. There have been many games this season where others like Jayden Struble or even Jonathan Kovacevic have been far better than Guhle.

A case in point was the visit to New York City where Guhle was at fault on the Rangers’ second goal, as he lost a battle for body position in front of the crease to Will Cuylle. Guhle’s a great young defender, but he is not without errors still, and he is not head and shoulders better than his brethren.

However, this game did not fall apart on the 2-1 Rangers goal that Guhle erred. It fell apart on the 3-1 shorthanded marker that should not have been a goal.

On a point shot, Chris Kreider’s stick was against the skate of Samuel Montembeault. The stick stopped Montembeault from being able to continue to get across to make the save. The officials in this league often repeat that the blue paint is the goalie’s domain to do his work to make a save. If anyone is in the blue paint stopping the goalie from working, they are interfering.

However, not in this case. The 3-1 goal counted, and Martin St. Louis got the club a minor for challenging the goal. The Rangers scored on the ensuing power play. Game over. Montreal had been competing, and they were even the better team for most of the first 35 minutes.

An unfortunate turn of events, and if the Canadiens felt hard-done-by, no one could blame them.

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The rumour mill has been churning this week as the trading deadline approaches on March 8th. The Ducks may be willing to part ways with Trevor Zegras. The outstanding collegian has yet to find his way as a pro in his fourth season.

Zegras was supposed to be a star in the league, but he’s topped out at 23 goals and 65 points so far. This year, he has only four goals in 20 games. Right now, Zegras is out of the line-up for eight weeks with a broken ankle.

The Ducks rebuild is going extremely poorly so far. They have many young players with a lot of pedigree, but it is not coming together at all for them. This season, they were supposed to take a leap up the standings, but are third worst overall.

A trade with the Ducks could make sense for the Canadiens as they would love his scoring potential, while the Ducks could use the Canadiens’ depth on the blue line. Usually these rumours do not come to fruition, but the chatter is so loud that it cannot be discounted.

Another rumour was quashed as quickly as it surfaced. It was suggested by a major source in the United States that Jake Allen would be dealt on Thursday to the Colorado Avalanche. Canadian media outlets immediately discounted the rumour suggesting that it had been weeks that the Avalanche had inquired about Allen.

Eventually, it was all but certain that Allen will get dealt with Montreal having three goalies on the roster, but a Colorado deal does not have merit for now. There are five teams that could use goalie help as they conclude the season, but the marketplace is always low for goaltenders due to their tendency to run hot and cold overall.

GM Kent Hughes has repeatedly suggested that he will only make the deal for his set price. Surely, the offers have become worse through the course of the season. Hughes says he could wait until the summer, as well. Hughes is an extremely patient negotiator who tends to set his price, then wait for the market to come to him. So far, that’s worked.

A third rumour has some logic to it as the Toronto Maple Leafs say they will look to upgrade their blue line. Hughes said that he has not considered moving David Savard yet, but the Leafs will be looking for veteran experience, and a blue liner with more of a defensive footprint.

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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