Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens shade Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in New York – Montreal | Canadian

The Montreal Canadiens have been a solid team at home so far this season, but on the road it’s been a tough watch. Two games where they were not only controlled, but the entertainment value was lacking.

But there was a chance for redemption in Buffalo, N.Y., on Thursday night, and they seized on it with a 3-2 win over the Sabres.

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The year is going completely backwards so far. The expectation was this young defensive club sporting four rookies would allow a bushel of goals, but the established offensive strength would help the Canadiens stay competitive.

No one has told the defence, apparently, that they are supposed to be making a ton of mistakes, and have a lot of growing pains. In only one game, against Minnesota, have they looked troubled at all.

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The Sabres entered the game as one of the top scoring teams in the NHL, averaging just under four goals per game. They expected to put on an offensive show against the young Canadiens who were using their back-up goalie Sam Montembeault.

Again, the young defenders had no issues. Kaiden Guhle, Arber Xhekaj, Jordan Harris and Jonathan Kovacevic with barely four cups of coffee between them in the NHL looked well at ease.

In fact, it was Guhle who laced a cannon of a shot to the top corner from a bad angle for his first NHL goal to give the Canadiens the third period lead. Guhle looks like he will be a first pair defender in the NHL for a decade or so.

With Mike Matheson and Joel Edmundson to return, this defence looks like the team’s strength, not its weakness.

When any one of Lane Hutson, Logan Mailloux, Justin Barron, Jayden Strubel, or Mattias Norlinder improves their skills and arrives as well, this defence could, with experience, be formidable.

This is supposed to be the difficult position, to look good in early games in your career. This comfort is not supposed to happen to defenders with fewer than 10 games under their belt. Once they figure out how to read plays a bit better, establish better body position overall, get comfortable with quicker first passes, this could be an outstanding defence.

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This group is already allowing only fewer than three goals per game. It doesn’t look like it’s goals-against that the club lacks. It appears goals-for is the issue, surprisingly.

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One of the disturbing developments early in this season is the lack of scoring from veterans.

General Manager Kent Hughes would like to keep acquiring draft choices, but his desire to get a third first-rounder is running into the issue of whom is playing well enough to actually fetch a top pick.

The club has scored only 20 goals in eight games this season. The bulk of the goals are coming from players that are not on the trading block. Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, Kirby Dach, Josh Anderson and Brendan Gallagher are all not likely to be leaving.

The GM would love it if some of the veterans who are expected to be traded could actually achieve some measure of success this season.

How will there be a market for Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak, Evgenii Dadonov, and Jonathan Drouin when they have one goal between them?

There’s a lot of season left, of course, but the early returns are that there won’t be any late returns.

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The only player who has shone at all and could fetch a first-rounder is Sean Monahan. He has to keep his health, though, which has been a huge concern. However, his hips are behaving well right now. The organization needs that to continue.

Three first-round draft choices in this deep draft could pave the way for big success down the road. The top eight picks of this draft would likely have been the first choice overall, if they were drafted in 2022. It’s a remarkably talented prospect pool this season, and the Canadiens want more of it.

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Number one is Connor Bedard, but it isn’t just him. Adam Fantilli also looks like a generational star. The numbers he is putting up in his freshman season at Michigan are as good as any numbers ever in American college in a draft year. Fantilli has 15 points in six games. It’s unheard of in year one of college.

At three is another generational talent in Matvei Michkov. He might be number one except for the anxiety that he will not get out of Russia and that he has signed a long-term deal to play in Europe.

At four is a player who has better numbers early in the Swedish Hockey League than anyone in history in their draft year, including Peter Forsberg. Leo Carlsson is a left-winger of extraordinary talent.

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At five is another centre in Dalibor Dvorsky; six is Brayden Yager at centre; seven, Callum Ritchie, is a centre. If you believe the Canadiens need to get stronger down the middle, there are five centres in the first seven picks who are expected to be better than anyone available in 2022 down the middle. They all could be NHL stars. It’s a ridiculous draft.


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Right winger Zach Benson rounds out a top eight of players who would have gone number one in 2022. Montreal has to be in this group to get a game-changer when they compete for championships when this outstanding rebuild is finished.

Now if only some of these present-day forwards could get on the scoresheet, it would certainly help the cause.

Also, there might just be another issue coming to the fore. This team might be too good for even one top 10 pick. They keep playing like this, there will be no fire sale in February. It’s been an interesting and shocking start to the season in every way.

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There seemed to be better names on the board when the Montreal Canadiens chose 26th and 33rd in this year’s NHL draft at the Bell Centre. There were some high-profile names.

When they chose Filip Mesar, many heads were scratched. However, the early returns on this year’s draft are simply spectacular.

Starting with the late first-rounder, also out of Slovakia like his friend Juraj Slafkovsky, Mesar is tearing it up in Kitchener for the Rangers. He isn’t just scoring and getting points, he is toying with his opponents at times. Mesar, with end-to-end rushes and moves in tight-showing edge work so spectacular that the goalie is on the wrong side of the net when Mesar is finished.

Mesar has played only three games in the Ontario Hockey League and has three goals and seven points. It’s a ridiculous total, if he can keep it up.


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Heads were also scratched when the Canadiens picked at 33 Owen Beck. All he has done since is put in a terrific camp in Montreal, showing intelligence at reading the game at the centre position well beyond his years.

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He then got sent down to Mississauga where he is also tearing it up with nine points in the last two games. In seven games overall, Beck has six goals and six assists for 12 points. Again, if these totals hold, they’ll make Habs fans salivate with hope.

And that’s not all.

Taken at 62nd overall, Lane Hutson is also off to a roaring start in his college career at Boston University. The defender is smoothly anchoring the power play for the Terriers. His skill-set is something the Canadiens desperately need for their power play.

Hutson has one goal and five assists in five games for second on the team in scoring. He’s having no difficulty with the size difference, and is aided by a two-inch growth spurt since his height was recorded at the NHL summer combine.

The Canadiens could have four players in the NHL from this draft class by 2024-2025. It would be a remarkable achievement by the organization, paving the way for better days ahead.

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


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