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Call of the Wilde: Pittsburgh Penguins shade Montreal Canadiens in OT

The Montreal Canadiens were in Pittsburgh, Pa., Saturday to take on the Penguins in their final game before a break for ten days.

The Canadiens have been playing tired hockey recently but did have a strong win over the New York Islanders in their last contest.

The Penguins played on Friday night, so energy-wise the advantage went to Montreal. However, in a hard-fought close game, it was the Penguins who won 3-2 in overtime.

Wilde Horses 

The future of hockey is how Martin St. Louis wants the Canadiens to play. The head coach sees all players as able to do all things. He sees all players using all areas of the ice if the situation presents itself.

That means if a defenceman has an opportunity to lead a rush, and not just dump the puck in and hang back, then he should do that. That means that the forwards have to understand that they need to fill the spot vacated by the defender.

To steal a phrase from the Dutch who invented Total Soccer, it’s Total Hockey in 2024, and the Canadiens should be thankful that they have a coach who wants to take the club into the future, and invent his own brand of it.

An example of Total Hockey was the Canadiens’ first goal. It was Cole Caufield who was high, just inside the blue line. He passed to a streaking Mike Matheson who moved down the left side low. Matheson then passed to Kaiden Guhle, another defender, who was beside the net to score.

Two defenders down low with three forwards up high is how that goal was scored. Try defending that man-to-man. Defenders need to know how to attack, and forwards have to know how to handle an odd-man rush on defence should one come. It will be exciting to see how Total Hockey evolves through the years.

Matheson’s assist on the Guhle goal was his 34th point of the season. That’s a career-high for Matheson, and if he stays healthy, he will eclipse his best NHL season by a large margin.

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It’s stunning that a portion of the fan base wants Matheson to be traded. He’s playing better than he ever has. He plays a league-leading 28 minutes per night. His game is getting better – not slowing down.

The entire point of trading is to unload players who are about to degrade, not getting better still. Matheson also is experienced in the ways of the NHL. Every team, even rebuilding ones, needs players with experience as well.

Look at the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres who have a lot of talent, but without that experience, no one knows how to win. Those two clubs remain massive underachievers, and it might just be due to no one understanding how to carry a game through to its conclusion.

Caufield’s assist gave him points in nine straight games. He was on the power play as well when the Canadiens scored their second – it was Juraj Slafkovsky trying to feed Caufield, but a deflection off a defender gave the Slovak the goal.

The pass to Slafkovsky was a clever redirection from Sean Monahan who continues to play excellent hockey. Considering the actual value of a second-rounder mostly being a back of the roster player, of which the Canadiens have many, GM Kent Hughes better get a first for Monahan in a trade, or not bother.

Now that Monahan has healthy hips, he is playing as if he is 25 again. Monahan is lined up with Joel Armia and Slafkovsky, and since they’ve joined each other, they are the best line on the team. The Canadiens actually do have a point-per-game player: it’s Monahan with 82 in 78 games in 2018-19. That was the last season he played without hip pain.

If Monahan picks up his pace only slightly, he will count the second-best point total in his entire career. This isn’t a player falling apart anymore. Monahan is healthy and enjoying hockey again. If he isn’t worth a first in a trade, his worth in Montreal is higher.

Wilde Goats 

It was yet another night where the other team had the better players, but the head coach had his team competing well enough to win. There were no goats to speak of as the Canadiens headed into their ten-day break.

Wilde Cards

Let’s hope that the Department Of Player Safety is truly changing and that their Friday ruling on Brendan Gallagher is not just an outlier.

Gallagher was suspended for five games for his illegal check to the head of the New York Islanders Adam Pelech on Thursday. Gallagher deserved a lengthy suspension for the brutal hit, and he got it.

However, it has to be noted that there have been many brutal hits in the same class as Gallagher’s which received only two-game suspensions, not five. Those players have had repeated transgressions compared to Gallagher who has a good record over a long career.

That point, though, is essentially moot in the grand scheme of things. Overall, all anyone wants to see is these players suffer fewer concussions, so the hope is this is the moment the NHL begins to address headshots with greater punishment.

The issue with the system is the NHL views the “principal point of contact” as the key marker. If a player grazes the chest in his hit before smashing his opponent in the face, that is viewed as legal without even a penalty, never mind a suspension.

The league seems to love the physics of absolving a player of sending another player to the hospital, if he touches the jersey first, even though the upward trajectory from chest to head makes the intent obvious and the concussion no less severe.

They didn’t have that “principal point of contact” gibberish in the equation on the Gallagher hit because he hit the chin of Pelech first, so they gave the Canadiens winger a long suspension. The NFL makes no distinction – a headshot is a headshot. “Principal point of contact” is an NHL invention. It needs to go.

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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