Stop two of a four-game road trip for the Montreal Canadiens was in Tampa Bay.


It went to a shootout with the Lightning winning in the sixth round for a 4-3 win. The Canadiens counted only once in the six rounds with Cole Caufield the goal scorer.

Wilde Horses 

There is so much required to be a strong centre in the NHL. Philip Danault was one of the best centres the Canadiens have had this century. Some will look at his stats and ask how that could be.

But when Danault was on the ice for the Canadiens, they were far better than the opposition. In the COVID-19 season that Montreal advanced to the Stanley Cup finals, Danault was on the ice 5-on-5 for 18 goals and three goals against during the regular season.

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Danault, Tomas Tatar, and Brendan Gallagher were given the assignment of neutralizing the best centres in hockey. Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Mark Scheifele were among the many who were shut down by Danault.

Since Danault was let go by GM Marc Bergevin, thanks to poor negotiating, Montreal hasn’t had a centre who could win the middle. They haven’t had one line that has put in better than 50 per cent Corsi. Until Nick Suzuki.

Finally, the Canadiens have a centre who can take on the game’s best and win the middle of the ice. Suzuki keeps getting better and better. Along with Juraj Slafkovsky and Cole Caufield, Montreal has their first successful line since the cup finals.

Suzuki was shutout points-wise in this one, so he is just shy of factoring a point-per-game season on pace for 80 points. However, even when he doesn’t bring the points, like Danault, he brings a tremendous game.

Suzuki is in the right place, makes the right play, understands the moment – always. There has to be a time when the league takes notice and Suzuki begins to get some Selke Trophy votes as the best defensive forward. He plays a game reminiscent of Patrice Bergeron.

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When the Canadiens played the Panthers Thursday night, Florida Head Coach Paul Maurice described Suzuki as reminding him of Aleksander Barkov. This is tremendous praise, as Barkov is one of the game’s best powering the Panthers to success.

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The Canadiens can thank a strange twist of fate that Suzuki is even a Canadiens player. In the trade that brought Suzuki from Vegas for Max Pacioretty, the Canadiens wanted the higher draft pick Cody Glass, but the Golden Knights wouldn’t budge.

Montreal settled for Suzuki. That worked out as Glass is still trying to find his way in the NHL.

Wilde Goats 

There were a lot of strong players in this one. Josh Anderson was engaged all game and scored when he was standing in front of the net for a deflection. Joel Armia continued his strong season with a terrific breakaway marker. Jordan Harris made smart plays all night. Arber Xhekaj continues to be strong since returning from Laval. Jake Evans is strong in the last weeks. Cayden Primeau competed well and is surely a suitable back-up NHL goalie now.

The Canadiens were equal to the Lightning in every respect except special teams when a Tampa shorthanded marker was costly with a 3-2 Montreal lead. Little to dislike as the Canadiens continue to compete with pride even though their playoff aspirations are done.

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It is less than a week to the trading deadline with the Canadiens having already dealt their best piece in Sean Monahan to the Winnipeg Jets for a first rounder. That may be it for the Canadiens in what may be an extremely quiet trading deadline day Friday.

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Around the league, if the top names aren’t fetching first rounders, then they will stay put. That would leave only the secondary names trading for second and third rounders.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers have said they will part with their first rounder for the right player. That’s the hope that remains for Montreal. Both of these teams could use help on the blue line which is where the Canadiens trading strength is. It’s simply a matter of how much urgency the contending teams have.

David Savard is available for a first. The right package could even see Mike Matheson move. However, GM Kent Hughes can hold his assets for better value considering Savard and Matheson still have term remaining. Try again next year is a strategy in this game of cat-and mouse.

Hughes also has term remaining on his possible forwards to trade Josh Anderson and Joel Armia. In the net, Jake Allen is also on the block, but Hughes feels no hurry to make a move. Hughes’ strategy is he picks a fair price, and then he waits for the marketplace to come to him.

Hughes is dealing from a strong place emotionally knowing he has succeeded in having four first round draft choices in the next two years. The expectation is that Hughes is done dealing and all players will remain.

The marketplace is quiet this year with the buyers stingy and the sellers patient. Nothing says it will be a high drama deadline day this March 8th.

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It might just be that top contenders are finally realizing there is only one parade. It wasn’t that long ago, that GMs 14th to 20th overall would trade their first rounders away just so they could say they made the playoffs. Those days are long gone.

Now the market is such that even the Philadelphia Flyers are suggesting they will be sellers this deadline. The Flyers are third in the Metropolitan Division and on their way to the playoffs.

It used to be nearly every team was convinced they had a chance. Now you can’t even convince the teams with a chance that they have a chance. Bizarre.

It’s a changing environment with more value being placed on first round draft picks. All the more reason to admire the recent trading wizardry of the Canadiens GM for the strong work he has already done.

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

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