Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens shade the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2

Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens shade the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2
He appears to be figuring it all out at the NHL level just in time for a long and successful career as a Montreal Canadiens forward. Domi’s best season of goals was 18, so with 22 games left in this season, he is going to shred that number this year by a big margin.

Domi got the Habs off to a first goal start, which is always so vital early in this one as he led the rush as he can. This is Domi’s greatest skill. He gets that engine roaring off the rush making him a classic centre in that manner. It’s hard to say who won a trade when both Alex Galchenyuk and Max Domi are both still so young, but Domi is what Montreal needed this year. They had to have a player that could fill minutes at the centre position.

Domi may end up back on the wing, if Ryan Poehling can play centre at the NHL level. Poehling’s 200-foot game is designed for it. That would leave Poehling, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Phillip Danault in the middle. That’s too much talent to leave one of the four on the fourth line. They would all need more ice time than what a fourth liner brings.

What a wonderful problem for the general manager and head coach to have, after so many years of such difficulty finding anyone skilled to play in the middle. Soon they will have too many options.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi is back to playing good hockey with the Habs at home again. Kotkaniemi is going to have to figure out how to play on the road as well, though. He doesn’t have a single goal this season on the road, and he struggles. At home, he looks so comfortable. In the first period, it’s Kotkaniemi with the sneaky fast shot that bounces off the back boards and rebounds right to Paul Byron for the Habs to take a two-nothing lead into the intermission after the first period.

In the third period, Kotkaniemi got his second assist of the night. With Danault out for personal reasons, the coaching staff had a chance to put Kotkaniemi on the top line, but opted for Nate Thompson. It’s easy to criticize this decision as Thompson is not going to light it up offensively, but Kotkaniemi has been struggling so much that it was the right call to make sure he wasn’t asked to do too much while he rediscovered his game, thanks to some home cooking.

It seems as if he has rediscovered his game. Kotkaniemi is tied for second among 2018 draft choices in points with 29 and he is only three behind Rasmus Dahlin.

Tomas Tatar is one of the Habs’ most consistent players; he’s bringing something good to the rink almost every night. In the third period, he had a tremendous end-to-end rush that looked like a sure goal when Brendan Gallagher shot on the rebound from two feet but somehow put it over the net.

With seven minutes left and the game tied at 2, it was Tatar sitting at the back door tipping in the razor-sharp pass from Jordie Benn. It was a huge goal for the Habs, considering their three-game losing skid.  Tatar was the throw-in in the Max Pacioretty deal. That’s quite a throw-in. He’s going to be a strong Habs player, perhaps longer than Pacioretty will be for Las Vegas. It’s possible. He’s two years younger than the former Canadiens captain. Tatar moves to 19 goals on the season; Pacioretty has 18 goals. Tatar has 11 more assists. Oddly, Pacioretty is a poor minus 11 for the Golden Knights. Tatar is a strong plus 13.

For those of you who hate plus-minus, Tatar’s Corsi is excellent at 59.9, and Pacioretty’s not so excellent but acceptable at 53.3.

Jordie Benn may have had the best period of his season in the third of this one. He feathered a pass through three players to set up Tatar for the game winner. His final shift was even better as Benn was on with the Blue Jackets having the extra man. Benn made countless excellent plays tracking the puck, then made the gorgeous pass to lead to the breakout that alleviated some massive pressure.

Benn was a warrior in this one.

Wilde Goats

There were so many errors on the Blue Jackets’ tying goal midway through the third period. Brett Kulak had a deep pinch, which is somewhat acceptable if you’re feeling charitable, considering the way the Habs play full sheet hockey now.

The bigger errors start right after: Max Domi takes to the point to fill in for Kulak, but then he actually attacks the forward instead of skating backward at the attacking blue line to make sure it is not an odd man rush. Domi is beaten completely. Jordie Benn is then left with a two-on-one as no one else is hustling hard enough to create some back pressure. Benn allows the shot, but is in no position to help on the rebound. Jonathan Drouin is there to help, but he does not tie up the goal scorers stick.

And there you go. It sometimes takes a lot of players making a lot of errors to allow a goal. That’s what happened on the 2-2 goal. Fans tend to look for one goat every goal. Here you find four mini-goats.

Those who understand the cumulative nature of the effects of concussions quickly covered their eyes when Shaw dropped the gloves. You simply hope that he can make it through without taking a shot to the face again. He is one hit away every single game from spending more time out of the line-up than he did the last time a concussion took him out.

This is not a good situation for Shaw. He has to get through the season without another concussion. Time has to pass before he spends another summer in lockdown, instead of living this beautiful life with his new bride. It’s just so terribly hard to not worry for Andrew Shaw. He’s a misunderstood person. He is not the evil that some have attached to him, he’s a simple man who cares about people. He cares about his teammates; he lives to play hockey. It’s easy to feel sympathetic when he speaks so openly and honestly about how horrible the concussion symptoms are for him.

Let’s hope this all ends well, and it has such a better chance if he would at least not drop the gloves.

Charles Hudon is trying to stay in the lineup, but he can’t stop making defensive mistakes that will not make that possible in the eyes of Claude Julien. It’s one thing for Jonathan Drouin to make mistakes because he is the second leading scorer on the team, but it’s another thing for a player who can’t get on the scoresheet most nights to make glaring errors.

Hudon had a giveaway early in the second period when the Habs had just allowed the 2-1 goal. If Carey Price didn’t make a superb save off of Riley Nash, then it’s 2-2 and Hudon would be stapled to the bench for the night, likely. It’s hard to see Hudon being a regular on the Habs next season when the club starts to pencil in some of these high picks from the last three drafts. These might be the last 20 games for Hudon to prove he is even an NHLer. He, like Daniel Carr, might end up being a career outstanding AHL scorer. The time is now for Hudon.

Wilde Cards

The trading deadline is February 25th. The Habs will play in New Jersey, knowing that they got some help for the stretch run, or they were left to wonder if the GM has more confidence in the future than this season. Marc Bergevin can do something big without sacrificing the future. He has the assets. But will he gamble on this team so much on the cusp at the moment?

Scouts continue to work around the NHL and the focus is still on the Anaheim Ducks. Bergevin saw back-to-back games of the Ducks recently, and scouts continue to attend their games. It is expected that the target is Cam Fowler as he has a long-term deal, but the Ducks appear to be in a rebuilding stage. Fowler is a left side defender who can play the top pair. He would be a perfect companion to Shea Weber.

The Habs would likely have to give up a lot, such as their first-round draft choice next season, a top prospect, or perhaps a second-rounder as well. As long as the Habs don’t give up any of the big four prospects, though, then it’s worth a gamble. It is very difficult to get a top pair defender on your roster easily. Other teams don’t simply give them away. However, Bergevin must protect Ryan Poehling, Alexander Romanov, Josh Brook and Nick Suzuki or he has gambled away some future.
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