The Montreal Canadiens’ difficulty against the Maple Leafs continued Wednesday night in Toronto. Jake Allen was outstanding, but it wasn’t enough as the Leafs skated to a 3-2 win.
Allen was one of only two bright spots, while the dark side of defence cast a long shadow again.
Here’s the Call of the Wilde.
There’s not a lot to get excited about from a Canadiens point of view. Truth is without Jake Allen being outstanding, the final scoreline would have been quite lopsided. It was kept close by Allen. He was brilliant. He was so brilliant that the Canadiens have options at the expansion draft. They should exercise those options.
This is not a one-game flippant remark. Allen has been the better of the two goalies all season, except the month of March. The thinking here is that Seattle will not take the contract of Carey Price, so protect Allen, because he will be the player that they take. You still then have Price.
Same situation for Shea Weber. It would be insanity to protect him. The Kraken will not take him. If they do, fantastic, because that’s $7.8 million off the cap. However, they won’t take him because of that contract, so again, save three more attractive players on defence than Weber.
That’s right. Don’t protect Price or Weber. They will not be taken because of their contracts. Protect more attractive players.
Jake Allen is one of the most attractive players on the team. It’s time to move on from former thinking because the world keeps changing — the world keeps aging. Allen is the future. Everyone could see that performance in Toronto.
Allen has been putting in that type of performance all season, with some of the best analytics in the entire league. He is top 10 in many goalie metrics. In goals saved above expected, Allen is a stellar 5.7. Price is a negative 1.7. In wins above replacement, Allen is again an excellent 0.95. Price is negative .29.
This season, Allen is better. And as the former goalie coach, Stephane Waite said Price is breaking down. His knees, hips and back are all breaking down according to someone who would know — someone who was with him every day.
It’s hard to admit when change is on the horizon and it’s smart to embrace change. Usually, the first time you hear about the need for a change this severe, people aren’t fond of the person telling them that it is time.
The only other name to mention is Corey Perry who scored two more goals, both where he usually scores them — right in front of the net from one foot out. This has been the look of Perry’s goals all season long and there is a message to be gleaned. It doesn’t take amazing skating many times. It doesn’t take a wicked shot all the time. Sometimes it simply takes the courage to stand in the dirty areas where defenders bring the pain. Take the pain. Take the shot. Score the goal.
Toronto had the last line change and they exploited it.
Auston Matthews was flying and Shea Weber, along with Joel Edmundson, were no match. As soon as the first minute, it was a weak play on the clear from Phillip Danault, and Jake Allen likely would have hoped to do more with the shot, but the primary culprit was the man standing right beside the goal scorer most of the moments leading up to the goal. Weber was on Matthews as they worked around the back of the net. However, as Matthews made his way to the front of the net, there was no Weber to be found anymore. Matthews was by himself. He had lost his check for speed completely.
More and more, Weber is showing that he can not keep up to the speed of the game. What’s most discouraging is this was the first shift. The point has been made that Weber gets tired with too much ice time, or too many games in a row with too much ice time, but it’s hard to make that argument on the first shift of the game.
What is this obsession with grit on the blue line? Bergevin loves grit. But what’s the point of grit if you win the puck battle behind the net, only to give it right back to the other team? Grit wins the puck battle, but grit doesn’t get the puck out of the zone and down the ice to earn a scoring chance.
The truth is clear: the Canadiens have a defence problem. They are too slow-footed overall. When Ben Chiarot comes back from injury, the Habs will be even more slow-footed because Victor Mete will draw the short straw. Could they survive this difficulty? Yes, but they won’t, because they’re not going to contemplate for a second that Weber isn’t their best defender.
From the GM down to the coaching staff, they will give Weber 25 minutes per game and 30 minutes per game in the playoffs. Let’s say it right now: That’s not going to work. Defence will be the team’s downfall this season, but it won’t have to be. They could change the pairings and change the minutes to make sure they have more speed on each pairing, but they won’t do that. They’re gonna be in love with Weber until the end. It’s a marriage and both sides are committed.
This was a discouraging night for the Canadiens. They were clearly second best. It’s good to not read too much into it, though, because in a regular season, some nights one team can have high energy and the other team can have dead legs. However, if this is an indicator of what the playoffs may look like should they meet, it is hard to see how the Canadiens have a solution for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. They’re going to play a lot, and while Philip Danault may do well at the centre position, defensively there are no solutions back there it does not appear.
Brendan Gallagher is gone for the regular season at least. The Canadiens announced a timeline for the broken thumb on his right hand and they are estimating that he will miss six weeks. That’s a number that encompasses the rest of the regular season, which allows the Canadiens to put him on long-term injured reserve. This is important because it means cap relief of $3.75 million that can be spent now to improve the lineup if General Manager Marc Bergevin sees fit.
He could look to another right-winger in a trade which would be a good complement to the roster, but he could also rely on Jesperi Kotkaniemi in Gallagher’s position, or bring up Cole Caufield if he is doing well in Laval. The options are good for Bergevin at the right-wing spot with the club having strong depth.
He may instead opt to improve his defence, which is a greater need. However, there is not a lot available on the market with the Nashville Predators playing well and back in the playoff race, thus removing Mattias Ekholm from a possible acquisition.
It’s expected that Gallagher will return just after the playoffs are set to start. It’s important to note here the word ‘set’ because it is unlikely that the playoffs will begin when planned.
The Vancouver Canucks are in the middle of the worst pandemic strife in the history of sports. The Canucks now have 21 players on the COVID-19 list with reports that many are suffering serious symptoms. They still have 19 games to play in 34 days, if they started the games now. It is not expected that they will be ready to compete for two more weeks. They won’t be playing 19 games in 20 days. There will be schedule changes.
However, more importantly, let’s hope for the best for these Canucks players. It’s extremely serious and is the top priority.
Brian Wilde, a Montreal-based sports writer, brings you Call of the Wilde on globalnews.ca after each Canadiens game.
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