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Call Of The Wilde: Montreal Canadiens shock the New York Rangers

After a great effort against the Islanders that resulted in a 2-1 loss, one day later there was a more difficult date against the New York Rangers to complete the Big Apple weekend. Montreal played one of their best games of the season, defeating a strong hockey club 2-1.

Wilde Horses 

Kirby Dach is a possession monster. He does everything that a good centre does to win the middle of the ice. Five minutes into the first period, in Dach’s first game at centre in two months due to a Jake Evans injury, Dach took the puck through the neutral zone to win an offensive entry.

This is a very difficult skill. Dach has it with authority. Dach also is outstanding at zone exits. Late in the third period, he had an outstanding exit taking it down ice. That’s even more important to relieve the pressure and get the team up ice where they can win the game. In fact, Dach is better at this than Nick Suzuki.

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In many ways, Dach is more a centre than Suzuki is a centre. That being true, then Dach is the better player for Cole Caufield to be coupled with. Caufield needs some defensive help to have a good 5-on-5 shot share on his line. Dach has that player profile.

Dach, in the second period, made a terrific back check to take a chance away from the Rangers. He did it all. What an absolute theft of a trade from the Chicago Blackhawks. For them to give up on a third pick overall at only the age of 21 is massively bad management.

Dach also opened the scoring for the Canadiens on a terrific shot on the power play. One of the criticisms of Dach is he doesn’t believe in his shot enough. When he uses it, it’s terrific, but he passes up far too many opportunities to shoot.

When Dach starts to take these shots, he’s going to up his point total significantly. He already passed his career high on Sunday with his 27th point of the season. Not bad for mid-January.

The future of the club with Dach playing centre, as it is appearing he must, looks brighter. Centres who can win the middle of the sheet are how you win hockey games. Dach with Caufield and a yet-to-be-determined winger would be a great line.

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That new winger would be a better fit if he had a high hockey IQ and was a good passer for Caufield. Joshua Roy might be a good fit there considering his skill set. Roy is a versatile player. He would fit there very nicely.

The holes then are the line-mates for the present day number one centre Suzuki. At this point, it’s too early to say who that might be. In fact, the popular guesses would be Sean Farrell, Juraj Slafkovsky, or even Filip Masar, but the better guess is the mystery player or players who will be drafted top ten this summer.

If the Canadiens draft fifth overall, that player automatically becomes the top prospect on the club. That’s how good this NHL Entry Draft is this summer. If they win the lottery, Connor Bedard automatically becomes the best player in the club.

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Sometimes it must seem like dark days for Habs fans, but they are not. The high-quality players are coming. Right now, there are only three top-six players on the Canadiens, but in two years, the Canadiens might just have a top-six player on the third line.

Montreal scored the winner midway through the third period on another rapid release from Caufield. It seems to leave his stick before it even arrives on his stick, his release is so quick. Caufield now has 26 goals on the season. He is on pace for 48 goals. This sample size is getting bigger and safer. It would seem the only way he doesn’t become the first 40 goal scorer for Montreal this century is if he gets injured.

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Samuel Montembeault with another outstanding performance. He made 39 saves out of 40 shots to pick up the victory. Montembeault is closing in on a .940 save percentage in his last four starts. It would be unwise to underestimate his future.

Goalies and expectations are often not in alignment.  It’s an unusual aspect of hockey scouting. Skaters usually land at about their expectations in the NHL draft, but goalies can be so unpredictable. Montembeault has every chance to be a .910 to .920 goalie, and if he is, he’s part of the future. He’s only 26. He could be finding his game as he gets more comfortable at this level.

Wilde Goats 

If the Canadiens were ripped in this contest, it would not have been surprising at all. They had two games in 19 hours, while the Rangers had not played since Thursday. Instead, the Canadiens played one of their best games of the season against extremely talented opposition.

It was also one of the most entertaining games of the season as these two clubs went up and down the sheet exchanging chances. That Montreal was able to skate with the Rangers was surprising. That the rookie defending crew kept the Rangers to one goal was also reason to feel uplifted.

Not any negatives on an afternoon of only pleasant surprises from Montreal.

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Wilde Cards 

The prospects of the Montreal Canadiens continue to play outstanding hockey. Not since the 1990s has the club had so many prospects in a single season performing at such a high level.

Let’s take just a single night to prove the point — Saturday, January 14. Not picked out and isolated as the only night where the prospects shone, but a typical night in the last four months.

First, Joshua Roy, who actually had a poor night with only one point. A single point is what he achieves in his mediocre games. He had a good game on Thursday with four points. His season total is, once again, spectacular with 48 points in 28 games. After being arguably Canada’s second-best forward at the World Juniors, Roy is rising to the status of a possible top-six player in the NHL.

Lane Hutson was a second round pick in the last draft, taken 62nd. He also had an outstanding World Juniors Championship, showing that he can play defence well against the best in hockey in his age group. Playing his freshman season at Boston University, Hutson wins player of the week like he owns it.

Back in action after the Worlds, Hutson on Saturday night scored the game winner. Not just any game winner, Hutson counted with only four seconds left in regulation time. He has scored more game winners than anyone in college hockey this season.

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Hutson now has 22 points in 20 games as a defenceman in his first college season. These are some of the best numbers to be found historically for a first year player. A point-per-game in American college hockey in year one is terrific for a forward; never mind a defender.

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Owen Beck finished his WJC in Halifax by playing in the final game when he wasn’t even on the team when the event began. Beck took advantage of injuries to show that he belonged on the world stage. The excitement prompted the Peterborough Petes to trade for him in trying to load up for a title run. In his first game, Beck didn’t disappoint, scoring his first for his new team.

This is all extremely impressive so far, but we are actually going from least exciting performances to most exciting performances by the prospects on Saturday night.

Sean Farrell had himself a game for Harvard University. He scored twice and one of the goals was highlight reel. Farrell took the puck inside his own blue line and took it all the way to the net, beating the entire St. Lawrence team. It was spectacular.

Farrell’s numbers are terrific for Harvard, who don’t play a full schedule like some clubs in college hockey. In 17 games, Farrell has 10 goals and 15 assists for a points-per-game that is fourth best in American university play.

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The hottest of all though is Riley Kidney who became a forgotten man when he was a late cut of the Canadian junior team after making the club in the summer. People viewed it as a step back, but the truth is the December team added players and was stronger.

Kidney should not be forgotten and he’s playing like that’s an order. Kidney was recently moved to the Gatineau Olympiques where he has a much better chance to succeed. In three games, Kidney is absolutely on fire with 10 points.

On Saturday night against Blainville-Boisbriand, Kidney counted five points to move his total to 58 points in 36 games. That’s seventh in the league.

That’s five prospects that shone brightly on one night. They say that on any given Sunday, anything can happen. For the Canadiens’ prospects right now, on any given Saturday, good things definitely will happen.

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

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