Call of the Wilde: Re-energized Montreal Canadiens fall to Toronto Maple Leafs in 5-4 OT nail-biter

Call of the Wilde: Re-energized Montreal Canadiens fall to Toronto Maple Leafs in 5-4 OT nail-biter
What a completely different world than 12 months ago, and what a completely different hockey team in Montreal.

Only 56 games are on the schedule, starting with the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night winning a thriller 5-4 in overtime.

Josh Anderson had only one goal last season after being a player capable of hovering around 20 for three straight seasons with a 27-goal campaign as his best.

The reason that Anderson was so poor is that he played with a shoulder injury. It explained his 1.6 shooting percentage after doing better than 10 per cent the previous three seasons. When you can’t shoot because of shoulder issues, it’s not likely that you can score.

He’s healthy now and it’s showing not only on the perfectly-placed shot in the first period, putting the Habs up 2-1, but also obvious that he has his skating legs.

In the first period, Anderson was charging the net hard. He’s a handful when he does that. He did it twice in the first and the Leafs’ defence could not manage him. A combination of that skating and that size is extremely difficult to contain.

Third period and Anderson does it again as he charges hard to the net, this time off the left side as he schools the forward trying and failing to contain him.

It was a second goal of the night for Anderson. His teammates will learn to push in just behind that rush to the net looking for dirty rebounds, as Suzuki did on the 4-3 goal picking up his second assist. With Anderson’s shot and his health back, it’s obvious early here that this is going to be an excellent trade sending Max Domi to Columbus.

And it’s not only because he will likely be better than Domi, but also because he adds a component to the team that they lacked: size. Besides the goal, the charging hard to the net, he also added a lot of puck battles won for his line.

All in all, a simply tremendous first game for Anderson.

Alex Romanov looks like a veteran, like he’s 29 years of age and in the prime of his career. It’s extremely difficult to believe that this was his first NHL game.

He was completely in control. Early in the first period, he gets the puck on his stick in his own zone and immediately makes this outstanding pass up ice to free Tyler Toffoli, leading to a two-on-one rush for the Canadiens.

Also in the first period, he had a chance to play on the second power play unit and again he made all the right decisions. Second period, Romanov danced along the blue line with Mitch Marner draped on to him, and there was no sense of panic at all. Same power play: Romanov is at his own blue line, and he perfectly threads the pass to a streaking Tomas Tatar to score the goal for 3-1. A tremendous shift.

Claude Julien is already using him more than any other defender on the team at that moment halfway through the game. He would finish the night second in ice time for both teams. It was so odd to see him make such a difficult thing as your first NHL game look so easy.

Everything just looks right: right decisions, right passes, right pinches, right assignments. What an addition he is going to be to this defence. Being the best defender at the World Junior Championships doesn’t always translate to a good career in the NHL, but it is sure looking like with health on his side, that is what is in front of Romanov.

It was the best first game as a defender for a young rookie that I can remember in a long time. What an outstanding addition to a team that desperately needed to improve its defence over last season.

Optimism surrounding the Canadiens this season is at an eight-year high, but if all of this optimism is going to be realized, the most important aspect of their success is that the two young centres cannot fall back from their playoffs of last year.

You can bring in strong players, as the Habs did, but if the team doesn’t have performances down the middle, you won’t win the game. We all know what Philip Danault can do. After that, you must have Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki continuing their upward trajectory.

Suzuki had an outstanding first game of the season, with a goal that was a goal-scorers’ goal. He was at a horrible angle, with vision of only a small sliver of the net from the corner just above the goal line. Suzuki threaded that needle for the Habs’ first of the season.

With so much excitement surrounding the new players, perhaps the conversation focusing away from Jonathan Drouin is exactly what he needs. No one is talking about Drouin, so he quietly went about his business being a huge factor in both of the first period goals for Montreal. He tipped a Petry point shot off the post just before Suzuki scored on the rebound. On the second goal, he made the perfect set up to Anderson for the one timer.

Drouin had two assists and barely anyone noticed. That could be the formula. Drouin feeling that he doesn’t have to do it all by himself, and therefore doing too much, but instead, just letting the game come to him. Relaxed, and quietly going about his business.

Early last season, Ben Chiarot had some difficulties with the Montreal system adapting and there were worries that it wasn’t going to work out for the Canadiens with him on the blue line.

By the end of the year, Chiarot was on the first pair and relied on tremendously to help the team. That brings us to Joel Edmundson, who played his first for Montreal and he did struggle.

Edmundson is never going to be a fast skater, smoothly and fluidly moving up ice. What he must do is man the front of the net with authority, and make sure what he lacks in skating he makes up for in physicality.

He also must not get beat one-on-one which was the big part of the issue on night one. The Maple Leafs’ second goal was directly on Edmundson, who had lost his stick and could do nothing as William Nylander just schooled him, ripping a shot into the top corner.

It was admittedly a tough moment for Edmundson from a decision-making point of view, but at the same time, all he ended up doing was screening Carey Price.

On the third goal again, it’s Edmundson who doesn’t have John Tavares’ stick tied up as he ties the game at three. It feels like — and hopefully this isn’t true — that Edmundson will have to be spotted in against certain players (ie: not the fast ones) for him to find success. We shall see.

The Wilde Goat on Edmundson started with a reminder of how it was for Chiarot in the beginning. This feels like another beginning. The next game needs to be much better than the first one. The hope is that this is simply a little bit of Chiarot and not any of Karl Alzner.
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