Montreal’s powerplay failed to produce a tying goal late in the third period on a 5-on-3 opportunity en route to a 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers. Credit to the Panthers who picked up their third straight victory and dominated long stretches of the game. Missing sophomore star Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida pitched a defensive effort that stifled an already struggling Habs offense. Alex Galchenyuk’s powerplay goal marked only the third goal by Montreal in their last four games, and just their second regulation goal during that span.
Outshot 25-18 on the night, backup Peter Budaj kept the Canadiens in the game with key saves throughout the night. It’s the kind of goaltending that has given the club a chance to win since early November. In their last 19 games, the Habs held their opponents to two goals or less 16 times. And only once in those 19 games have they allowed an opponent to score more than three (6-0 loss to the Kings).
After a goalless first period – familiar territory after the Canadiens scoreless tilt in regulation against the Islanders the night before – the Panthers picked up goals from Jesse Winchester and Nick Bjugstad. Montreal finally halved the lead 2:28 into the third period when Galchenyuk found the back of the net on the powerplay. Captain Brian Gionta and P.K. Subban, who’s point shot lead to the scoring opportunity, picked up assists.
HW 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star: P.K. Subban With a little more luck, the Habs reigning Norris Trophy winner would have singlehandedly tied this hockey game. While the team struggled to gain the offensive zone, Subban found ways to skate blueline to blueline with poise. Apart from assisting on Galchenyuk’s powerplay goal, he had 4 shots on goal – and at least a trio of others that were blocked by brave Panthers. His 5 hits were matched only by Douglas Murray. He played a team high 27:40, including 6:41 with the man advantage. The assist was Subban’s first point in his last seven games. Considering how heavily the team depends on him offensively, hopefully it’s a sign that his slump is coming to an end.
2nd Star: Alex Galchenyuk It’s hard not to award the Canadiens’ only goalscorer. Galchenyuk cashed in on Gionta’s rebound after Subban’s point shot bounced into the slot. The 19-year-old played a respectable 16:28 on the night, including a chunk of that on the powerplay (2:41). While he’s still a long-shot to crack Team USA’s Olympic team, his stock will continue to rise as long as he keeps scoring. The goal was his 10th on the season, which surpassed the nine he netted in his rookie campaign last year. After Sunday’s action, Galchenyuk is tied for second with veteran Tomas Plekanec in team scoring with 22 points – just three back from Subban who remains number one with 25.
3rd Star: Peter Budaj While he didn’t pick up the win, Budaj kept the Canadiens in the game. There was little he could have done on Winchester’s goal after Ryan White abandoned his coverage, leaving the Florida forward alone in the slot. He’ll likely want the goal by Bjugstad back, but made up for it by shutting the door during the second half of the game to give the Habs a chance to battle back. Budaj’s record dropped to a respectable 5-2-1 on the season.
Honourable Mention: Lars Eller & Brendan Gallagher – the former of which may have helped change the tide of the game with some powerplay ice-time. Both brought a physical element to the game that created space and havoc in front of Scott Clemmensen. Gallagher has struggled as of late since being bounced around the lineup to help “fix” David Desharnais’ line with Pacioretty. That hasn’t stopped #11 from crashing and banging every shift. It’s only a matter of time before he starts to produce again. Reuniting the kid line with Galchenyuk and Eller might be the key.