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Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens fall to the Carolina Hurricanes 5-3

The Montreal Canadiens keep getting written off by pundits this season, but inside the locker room, the players have faith they are in the mix for a playoff spot. Veteran winger Brendan Gallagher believes that the club has a real chance to play meaningful games in March.

Montreal was only three points out of a playoff spot heading into Thursday night’s action as they continued their seven-game road trip in Raleigh, N.C. The Hurricanes are a strong club getting terrible goaltending, so they’ve been a major disappointment this year. However, they shaded the Canadiens 5-3.

Wilde Horses

It’s so difficult to know the ceiling of a player, and occasionally when it keeps going higher, it can be surprising. Jesse Ylonen seemed to be one of those players who had a shot at making the National Hockey League, but if he gave the American Hockey League a try and it ended only in a return to Europe, not many would have been that surprised. He didn’t have better than a 14-goal season in Laval.

Ylonen didn’t immediately have NHL player written all over him. After a couple of seasons in the minors, he got his chance to play in the show. Initially, again, it didn’t seem like it was a given that he would stick around, or even get a regular shift.

Now, in year four of his North American experience, Ylonen is showing that he has not been given enough of an opportunity to shine. He gets fourth-line minutes, and perhaps he deserves some time higher up the lineup, so everyone can see exactly what he can do beside better players.

Ylonen, in the first period, showed his outstanding skill set to help the Canadiens get on the board. He beat out the icing with tremendous speed, then passed the puck off the boards on the way to the point to avoid the Carolina defender. A small bit of billiards, but an intelligent and creative bit. His work led to Mitchell Stephens’ goal.

Ylonen has a tremendous shot when he gets a good look. He has one of the best shots on the team. It is not an accident that Ylonen is the second-best player on the club in the shootout behind only Nick Suzuki. He has shown both an outstanding shot roofing attempts, and a terrific deke leaving the goaltender on the wrong side of the net.

This second-rounder is getting better by the week. Keep playing him. Keep giving him opportunity to see where the ceiling finally stops expanding. He might be a valuable piece as a complete hockey player that even the best teams can use on their roster.

Josh Anderson has gone from 25 games without a goal to the hottest scorer on the team. Third period, with the Canadiens trailing 3-2, Anderson got a clear breakaway that he scored five-hole on a deke. Anderson has five goals in his last five games. He has six goals now on the season, and trails Cole Caufield by only two goals. No one saw that coming when he was the butt of poor jokes.

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Juraj Slafkovsky may have quite a lot more in his arsenal than he has been showing. Slafkovsky made a power move to the inside during the third period that was nothing like we have seen since he walked through Kazakhstan at the Olympics. Slafkovsky split the defence, and got off an excellent shot from inside 10 feet.

If Slafkovsky can repeat this move in any capacity, he is going to terrify defenders who won’t be able to handle him physically. It could be an outstanding development. All he has to do is repeat this, or even just believe he can do it, then try it again.

This was an exciting moment for the organization, no doubt.

Wilde Goats 

It was another competitive game for the Canadiens where they stayed in the fight right until the end against an excellent team. The string of five straight games with a point earned ends, but they were tied with less than seven minutes remaining.

Kaiden Guhle had a bit of a rough game, and some forwards had quiet nights like Caufield and Nick Suzuki, but nothing worth getting too critical over considering their overall run of play in the last two weeks. On to Sunrise, Fla., for a tough one against the hot Panthers on Saturday night.

Wilde Cards

One of the great debates in hockey circles is what it takes to become a Stanley Cup Champion. It’s an emotional topic in Montreal. A narrative continues to gain energy that it doesn’t take star players.

Lacking a Wayne Gretzky, Patrick Kane, Mario Lemieux, or Sidney Crosby in Montreal, naturally, it is popular to suggest these types aren’t even needed to win a title.

While there are always outliers in sports, the overwhelming majority of champions are clubs with the most talent. For every 1978 Washington Bullets in the NBA, there are 20 Michael Jordan’s Bulls or Magic Johnson’s Lakers. Basketball requires the most star power; hockey the least.

Hockey is the most chaotic of all the major sports. It has the most luck of the bounce. It has the fewest designed plays. It doesn’t even face-off knowing who will win possession. Even that is open to chance; never mind the path of the puck, as a point shot journeys through eight bodies to the goal. It could bounce anywhere.

Hockey also has massive influence from a hot goalie, and no one can possibly say from playoff to playoff who will be that hot netminder. That is voodoo. However, even with all of this, superstars weigh heavily on hockey outcomes.

There are championship NHL teams that didn’t fit the star dynamic. St. Louis rode Jordan Binnington to a title. Even Las Vegas rode a team concept to a title last season. However, it is historically provable that star power wins. The Lightning, Hawks, Penguins, Capitals are the overwhelming majority of winners recently.

Take a longer view, through the years, to find more stars shining in Edmonton, Detroit, Long Island and Montreal. Every dynasty was full of the world’s best hockey players.

Canadiens management shouldn’t be let off the hook by hopeful fans and sportswriters who sell you the narrative that Montreal’s rebuild is close to done and a title could be on the horizon. They are not close. The present-day Canadiens need a scoring star just like the 90 per cent of Cup champions have had.

This rebuild will go right back to the middle without a game breaker. It will be exactly like every rebuild before this one. This rebuild lacks the same stars. It will have the same results. You aren’t guaranteed to win with stars, but you’re almost certainly guaranteed to not win without stars.

Don’t hope for a once-in-a-decade outlier title. Hope for a star to arrive. If you’re going to hope, at least do it logically. Let over 100 years of history be your guide. Guy Lafleur and Rocket Richard have a far more convincing story to tell than the hundreds of 65-point guys who donned the CH who didn’t make it to Sainte Catherine Street for a parade.

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


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