Okay, it’s only October and we all remember how last year started…and ended. So let’s not get too excited. However, the Canadiens did look impressive on Wednesday night in a 3-2 road win over the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center. With the Canadiens scheduled to play against the Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning on consecutive nights, Al Montoya got the start for the Habs.
In the opening period of this consecutive game stretch, Coach Michel Therrien prudently rolled all four lines and used the entire bench. To the extent there were match-ups, Team Canada mates Shea Weber and John Tavares were repeatedly re-acquainted. The Jason Chimera and Alex Galchenyuk lines also saw a lot of one another. While there were not a whole lot of quality scoring chances in period one, the Islanders had the edge territorially. The home team effectively employed chip and chase forechecking which led to some chances from the perimeter and kept the Canadiens hemmed in their own end to some extent. Nonetheless, the visitors kept the home team to the outside and the period’s best scoring chance was a shot from the slot by Galchenyuk on a nifty feed from Brendan Gallagher, a shot that required Thomas Greiss to make a quality stop to keep the game scoreless after one period.
In the second period, Therrien juggled his lines and it paid off quickly. Just over three minutes in, Paul Byron (after being moved to the first line to replace captain Max Pacioretty) opened the scoring by banging in a Gallagher rebound. After the Byron goal, the momentum was all Canadiens as they used their speed to create outstanding scoring chances. Alexander Radulov dished a beautiful pass to Tomas Plekanec that Greiss somehow kept out of the Islander net. That stop was followed in succession by crucial stops on Gallagher and Andrei Markov. The game would have been over after the first ten minutes of the second period had it not been for the Islanders back-up netminder.
Around the fifteen minute mark of the second, Artturi Lekhonen committed an unwise high-sticking penalty in the offensive zone. New York’s anemic power play had up until then only scored one goal all season. But on the ensuing man advantage, Tavares tied the game after Alexei Emelin failed to clear a rebound in front of Montoya. The second frame ended with the game deadlocked at 1-1, even though the Canadiens had directed 51 shots at the Islander net to the 28 shots directed by the Islanders at the Montreal goal (note these are shot attempts and not shots on goal).
Early in the third, the Canadiens were moving the puck well and using their speed. Andrew Shaw worked his way into the dirty areas out front at the beginning of the frame. Nathan Beaulieu – who had a nice night offensively with a number of chances-was robbed by Greiss with a right pad save and also had his stick lifted at the last moment to thwart a glorious chance. Galchenyuk fired a laser off the crossbar that somehow stayed out and Gallagher mishandled the ensuing rebound that would have otherwise been directed in the open side on Greiss’ right.
Around the eight minute mark, the Islanders started to push back and seize the momentum. Fortunately for the Canadiens, Montoya stepped up making huge saves on Brock Nelson, Tavares from the slot and some point shots from Johnny Boychuk. On one of those Boychuk point shots, Montoya made the save but looked behind himself. During this stretch, the Canadiens lost four consecutive faceoffs in their own end, an area that must improve as the season progresses. Each loss was followed by an Islander scoring opportunity.
Shortly thereafter, the Habs struck. Phillip Danault – who forechecked effectively all night- banged in a rebound from a Weber point shot. Weber’s ability to get pucks through was demonstrated on this play. It was a strong wrist shot that made its way to Greiss and ultimately to Danault who gave the Canadiens a 2-1 lead with just under nine minutes remaining. Weber’s assist extended his point scoring streak to four games on the play.
The Islanders immediately pushed back. Anthony Beauvilier – who was one of the most noticeable Islander forwards all night – had a glorious open net opportunity to the left side of Montoya that somehow made its way over the goal. That preserved the Habs’ lead but the lead would prove short-lived in any event. Ryan Strome worked the puck back to the point and Dennis Seidenberg blasted a screen shot with Islander forward Anders Lee completely screening Montoya who had no chance on the play. With just less than six minutes left, the game was tied yet again.
Then the game opened up. Andrew Shaw had a breakaway on Greiss and wired a shot just high and over the goal on his left side. The Gallagher line moved the puck well on a later shift. Gallagher was ultimately hauled down by Nick Leddy who was called for slashing. The Islanders are the top penalty killing team this year in the NHL going 12-12 at home up until this night. The home team started the penalty kill with a faceoff win and the clearing of the puck. New York then thwarted another attempt by the Canadiens to gain the zone and it looked like OT was imminent. On the third attempt though, the Habs gained the zone. Pacioretty worked the puck to Jeff Petry. Petry in turn made a soft feed to Weber that he promptly wired over Greiss’ shoulder on the short side. Greiss was not screened on the play and he did not even see it. No one did.
The Canadiens then survived a late push and a Gallagher high-sticking penalty with about 20 seconds left to preserve the win.
HW Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star: Shea Weber – Weber’s solid defensive and physical play is always there. Even with all the ice time and the tough assignments he draws, Weber rarely makes an error. On this night, he also found a way to get pucks to the net or to his teammates in the offensive zone (leading directly to two goals). Most importantly, he fired an absolute laser over Greiss shoulder for the win.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, +2 rating, 1 shot, 3 hits, 4 blocks, 24:30 TOI
2nd Star: Philip Danault – Danault was strong on the puck and the forecheck all night long and was ultimately rewarded with the goal that gave the Canadiens a brief 2-1 lead. It was an impressive night for the former Blackhawk who is starting to fit in nicely on the Habs effective fourth unit.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 point, even rating, 3 shots, 1 block, 13:02 TOI
3rd Star: Brendan Gallagher – While Gallagher did not score, he did assist on the Paul Byron goal and drew the penalty that led to Weber’s winner. The Habs super-pest also had some scoring chances that failed only as a result of Greiss’ impressive stops.
Stats: 1 assist, 1 point, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 7 shots, 14:37 TOI
Honourable Mention: Al Montoya – While Montoya had less work than his counterpart, particularly in terms of high quality chances, he was at his best when the Islanders made a strong push with the score 1-1 in the third period. Another strong performance by the Canadiens very capable second goaltender. He continues to make Carey Price’s job easier.
Stats: 2 GA on 28 shots, 2.00 GAA, .929 SV%