Call of the Wilde: Washington Capitals edge Montreal Canadiens – Montreal Wa Jobz

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The Montreal Canadiens were back at home to face the Washington Capitals after a rough loss in New York City. Though it was an enjoyable game at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens lost 4-3.

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It must seem repetitive at this point, but in every single game it’s the same story: the number one line is the best thing going for the Canadiens. In the first period, Nick Suzuki flanked by Juraj Slafkovsky and Cole Caufield registered a 98.4 per cent goals-expected share.

The line was on the ice for nine shots for, and gave up only one shot against. They had four high-danger chances while giving up none.

The best chance was a two-on-one created by Caufield. He stole the puck from Alexander Ovechkin at the Montreal blue line before he and Slafkovsky combined for a beautiful opportunity. Caufield passed to Slafkovsky whose shot was stopped by Darcy Kuemper.

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The pass may have been just a bit behind stopping Slafkovsky from shooting a one-timer, but focusing on the positive, it’s yet another opportunity for the 19-year-old as the offence seems to be revolving around him. This is phenomenal at this early stage of his career.

In the second period, it was Slafkovsky leading a rush. He slowed down the game beautifully as he carried the puck and waited patiently until a lane opened up for Caufield who got off a terrific shot. That’s a lot of savvy from Slafkovsky in the moment – there is a lot of calm and control coming into his game.

In the third period, the line gets on the scoreboard. It was a beautiful-looking power play completed when Slafkovsky set up Suzuki with a cross-crease pass. Matheson, Newhook and Caufield also were throwing the puck around skillfully on an ever-improving power play.

The assist for Slafkovsky gave him a point in his eighth straight game which is a franchise record for a Canadiens teenager. The goal for Suzuki meant a third straight season for him with 20 goals.

Alex Newhook got his first goal since coming back from injury. Newhook has been strong. That trade looks good for GM Kent Hughes. Newhook has been good on the power play in the bumper position, and he’s looking good centering a line with Joshua Roy and Joel Armia.

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Other positives were the continued ability for Roy to create scoring chances, and Arber Xhekaj was in a mood to be physically dominating causing pain for the Capitals. Roy will be an NHL player. He’s got the tools. Xhekaj shows his value best when he is looking for people to punish.


Montreal Canadiens’ Joel Armia (40) reacts to a goal by teammate Arber Xhekaj (not shown) against Washington Capitals goaltender Darcy Kuemper during first-period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.


THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

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It was a competitive hockey game with little to be concerned about from a Montreal point-of-view. Jake Allen was poor on the first goal allowed as he let out a long rebound on an easy shot, but he recovered well after that. It was simply a night where the opposition scored more. In a search for a higher draft pick in June, no one will be too upset about this one’s entertainment value.

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The Canadiens need 50 more goals to be competitive. They had 232 goals last season, and this year they’ll be around that number again. Fewer than three goals per game is not a playoff hockey team in today’s NHL.

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The website MoneyPuck posted the goals expected of all teams on Saturday and shockingly the Canadiens are 28th in the league.

Breaking this down, the Canadiens have a point-per-game production from the top line of Suzuki flanked by Slafkovsky and Caufield, so that isn’t the issue. Those three are pulling their weight. Since Slafkovsky’s play came alive and the line has been together they have put together remarkable numbers overall.

The production of this line rivals top lines in the league. For example, one of the league’s best lines is Connor McDavid, Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. That Oilers line has 62 goals this season. Suzuki, Caufield and Slafkovsky have 50 goals.

In the last 25 games, the Auston Matthews line with Mitch Marner and Matthew Knies has scored 36 goals.  The Suzuki line has scored 31 goals spread around evenly with Caufield’s 11, Suzuki’s 10, and Slafkovsky’s 10 goals. Montreal’s top line is ahead of many other top lines in production in the last 25 games.


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While the Montreal defenders still have issues defending, they aren’t struggling in goals expected. Montreal is third in the league in goals scored by defencemen behind only Colorado and Calgary.

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The Canadiens are getting virtually no secondary scoring. A comparison against one of the best clubs in the league proves the case: while the Canadiens’ top line has 50 goals this season, the Jets’ top line of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Gabe Vilardi has 45 goals.

However, the Jets’ second line has 43 goals. That is very close to the production of the first line. The Canadiens second line has 15 goals. Overall, forwards four through 12 on the Jets have provided 95 goals this season, while the Canadiens only have 44 goals.


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The Canadiens correcting this issue will make them a competitive hockey team. Statistically, this is the 50 goals the club is missing. All the best teams have 90 goals from lines two through four this season.

Another example is the Canucks. Vancouver has 107 goals from forwards four through 12. Montreal is a whopping 63 goals lower than the league-leaders. The Canadiens’ issue is depth scoring.

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Goals-expected isn’t just about goals. It also reflects where the action of the game is spent– who gets the chances. Sadly, when forwards four through 12 are on the ice, the game is mostly played in front of a Montreal goalie.

However, solutions are around the corner. Kirby Dach skated again before practice and there is hope inside the organization that he will play again this year. Eventually, the top-ten pick in the draft this summer will also elevate a line that not only needs to score goals, but also create an environment where the play is in front of the other goalie.

Lines three and four will improve with the arrival of Owen Beck, Filip Mesar and Joshua Roy. Montreal also has three other first-rounders in the next two drafts to add scoring options.

The issue inside the rebuild is obvious: when the Canadiens get 50 more goals added to the total from forwards four through 12, they’ll improve exponentially. Lines two through four will improve starting next year. Naturally, more wins come with their arrival.

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

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