Call of the Wilde: Montreal Canadiens dominate the Anaheim Ducks

All signs were good for the Montreal Canadiens to put a win on the board as their home stand continued against the Anaheim Ducks.

The Habs won three of four points on the weekend to continue a hot streak, while the Ducks have been the worst team in hockey in the last month. They were also forced to play back-to-back nights after getting demolished by the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday night.

Montreal took the victory in Tuesday night’s contest, beating the Ducks 4-1.

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  • How is it possible to be running out of superlatives for Jesperi Kotkaniemi while he is still 18 years of age and in his first NHL season? Kotkaniemi scored four goals in his first 44 games this season, then five goals in his next nine games, including three goals in his last three games. The Calder Trophy looks like it will be a battle between Elias Pettersson and Carter Hart of the Canucks and Flyers, respectively. They were not drafted this year, however. Of the 2018 draft picks, the best are the top four, who are all in the NHL. All four are around the 25- to 30-point mark so far this season. It will be interesting to see which one of the four is the top point-getter when the season concludes. Rasmus Dahlin is first, followed closely by Kotkaniemi, with Brady Tkachuk and Andrei Svechnikov close to the leaders. The hottest is Kotkaniemi, as his game grows by leaps. He has been especially strong since the All-Star break rest of nine days. The grind can be difficult, especially for a young player with a slight frame. He has definitely enjoyed the rest, but at the same time, his learning curve is so exceptional that this is also part of the reason he continues to improve at a rate that does not seem possible. It just might be that the best player of the draft is not Dahlin. It might just be this kid Kotkaniemi, who was not on the radar of many experts until the under-18 tournament, when he dominated the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, Jack Hughes. He wasn’t expected to go in the top 15 at the end of March. Now, it looks like the Habs made one of the best choices for their organization in a decade. He can score. He has amazing vision. He is a passing wizard. He reads the game beautifully. He is already the second-best 200-foot centre on the team behind Phillip Danault. It doesn’t seem that there is a weakness to his game. Did I mention he is 18?

  • Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin are developing excellent chemistry together. In the first period, Drouin came through with two assists on two strong passes to Gallagher, who finished beautifully on both. Gallagher now has 21 goals on the season as he is on his way to another 30-goal campaign. Drouin is also well on his way to eclipsing his best season as a pro, which was 53 points. With his three assists, Drouin is on pace for 64 points. His best pass was the third one, as he dummied that he was going around the net but then went short side to Danault, who snuck it just over the line. That makes five points in two games for Drouin. The Habs had a 71-point season last year but are on pace for a 99-point season this year. This is only possible when players like Drouin turn it around personally. He probably had the worst season of his career last year, trying to learn centre on a team that struggled in every facet. Back on the wing, Drouin is free to dangle. He is also leading what seems to be an improving power play as he assesses two very good options to his left in Shea Weber and his right in Kotkaniemi, or the option of shooting from the middle himself. Drouin takes a lot of heat for his blunders, but he won the game Sunday with a 190-foot, end-to-end beauty then led the way against the Ducks, as he continues to make valuable contributions.
  • It was one of those nights where the opposition was so poor that everyone looked like Wayne Gretzky. In the second period, Charles Hudon was doing a between-the-legs dangle that brought the fans to their feet. Earlier, Matthew Peca was beside the net, where he tried to put the stick between his own legs to get a shot away in an unorthodox but exciting way. When Hudon and Peca, who are trying to crack the lineup every night, are trying high-octane plays, then there isn’t a single guy who isn’t feeling confident. A poor opponent helps, but you have to have the skill, too. Peca does bring skill and is a better addition to the team than Michael Chaput, though the coach seems to favour Chaput. Speed makes a difference in today’s NHL, and Peca has it. Talent makes a difference, and Hudon has it. Now, they need to bring those gifts on a consistent basis. That’s what makes a pro career — not a worry you’ll be on the stationary bike when you hear the roar of the crowd.
  • Max Domi has zone entries that many must not have noticed in Phoenix because how could you not think that he had a shot at being good at centre on just his entries into the zone alone? Domi has eight points in his last seven games. Sometimes, it is clear that he should shoot more, but that’s not just his instinct. Instead, it’s easier to appreciate how clever he is as a passer and how good his vision is to find his mates. Domi has been another one of the revelations that has led to the Habs shocking the hockey world. This Habs club was dying down the middle. Now, they’re set with Domi, Kotkaniemi, Danault and Ryan Poehling to come. What a terrific organizational turnaround. Domi is a young man, too. The best that he has to offer is still in front of him, even after this becomes his best NHL season.

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  • With five points out of a possible six earned coming out of the All-Star break and their bye week, the Habs are finding ways this season to continue to defy the experts. There were a couple of breakdowns defensively, certainly, but not enough to warrant a critical eye — not when the club dominated so impressively. The Habs are one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for second in the Atlantic Division and one point ahead of the Boston Bruins for third place. Remarkable. The Winnipeg Jets are coming on Thursday night to the Bell Centre — now that’s a real test.

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  • There are only four teams in the Beanpot Tournament, which decides Boston hockey bragging rights in the college ranks. The four teams each year are Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern. Amazingly, considering there are only four teams, the Northeastern Huskies had not won the tournament for 30 years before a young Habs draft pick stole the show last season to bring them to glory at the TD Garden in Boston. Cayden Primeau, who the Habs drafted in the seventh round in one of the biggest steals in a long time, was the hero as Northeastern provided the shocking result with the help of scoring stars Hobey Baker winner Adam Gaudette and his lineman, Dylan Sikura. Fast forward one season, and only Primeau remains of the stars who won it for Northeastern, but they are on the verge of pulling off another Beanpot win. Primeau was in net for the Huskies’ overtime victory on Monday night, 2-1. Northeastern will face Boston College in the final next Monday as they upset nationally ranked Harvard, also by a 2-1 scoreline. Primeau was stellar for the U.S. at the recent World Junior Championships, helping the Americans win a silver medal. He was also stellar in the semifinal win over Boston University. Primeau has some training left before he’s ready to follow his father Keith’s footsteps into the NHL, but he is certainly well on his way.
  • The Habs were relieved to hear from the doctor today. The word is Paul Byron did not suffer a fracture to his lower arm, and as a result, he is listed as day-to-day instead of month-to-month. Bryon was extremely frustrated as he left the ice on Sunday against the Oilers, and usually a player knows when it’s bad. Tests showed, though, that there is no break so even though it has been a frustrating series of injuries, this one isn’t going to ruin Byron’s season.

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