The Habs played their second game in Quebec City on Wednesday night, and their second against the Maple Leafs this preseason. Many expected a first win for the bleu-blanc-rouge on this night since Montreal was icing a roster with many NHL players while Toronto sent a roster that looked more likely to play games for the Marlies in 2017-2018. This would not be the case as Montreal’s blueline continued to struggle mightily. The sixth consecutive loss of the pre-season occurred on this night by the score of 4-2, as perhaps the only positive on this night was that Montreal scored more than one goal against the Leafs.
The first period started quite tentatively as both teams were feeling each other out. Approximately five minutes in, Toronto took an offensive zone slashing penalty which allowed Montreal to find their legs. The Habs were unable to find the back of the net on the man-advantage but created enough momentum to take control of the game. A few moments later, Montreal required a full five-man effort to get on the board. Victor Mete started the play as the rookie smoothly found Max Pacioretty along the boards who chipped the puck past the defender. Brendan Gallagher then won his battle along the boards and sent the puck to Shea Weber. Weber wisely found Jonathan Drouin who was flying by his defender as he accepted the pass and made no mistake on his partial breakaway. The even play continued despite the goal as both teams exchanged some moderately dangerous scoring chances. Most of the chances offered to the Maple Leafs occurred when the Montreal blue line hopefuls created turnovers with some bad puck management. Another Leaf penalty would halt their momentum, and this time it was the second PP unit that made the Leafs pay. Mark Streit and Peter Holland lost puck battles to start the play, but a timely, albeit risky, pinch by Mete allowed the play to be prolonged. The puck bounced around and finally found Andrew Shaw in the front of the net who roofed a back-hand over Curtis McElhinney with two minutes left in the period. Before the period ended, Mark Streit and Brandon Davidson took consecutive penalties which was a regretful way to end an otherwise positive period. Positive skaters this period included Drouin and Mete who were both flying on the ice. On the opposing end, the Davidson-Morrow duo really struggled to even get out of their zone.
The Canadiens started the second period shorthanded by two skaters and the Leafs were quick to make them pay. After several solid saves by Carey Price, Connor Carrick launched a low shot from the blueline and the shot was precise as it fooled a heavily screened Price. Unfortunately for Montreal, there was still 11 seconds left in the original Streit penalty, which meant that Toronto remained on the power play. This was important because Toronto carried this momentum and buried the Habs in their zone, forcing Price to stand tall on a few more occasions. With the penalty over, Montreal got physical, with Drouin leading the way as he wallpapered Andreas Johnsson who had his head down looking for the puck. This physical play was necessary as Toronto was really taking it to the Habs, outshooting them 11-1 up to that point in the period.
Unfortunately for Montreal, this didn’t slow down the Leafs as they would tie the game. Martin Marincin got a shot from the point which bounced off Gallagher and floated over Price and into the net. A few minutes later, Joe Morrow and Streit inexplicably fumbled the puck which allowed the Leafs to forecheck. Andreas Borgman got a point shot (again) which bounced off Morrow and found the back of the net. Price was the only player worth mentioning positively. Torrey Mitchell and Morrow had more than a few soft plays on the puck each.
The third period started the same way the second finished as Toronto made Montreal look slow. While killing a penalty, Weber covered two guys down low and Davidson managed to vacate the front of the net, leaving Johnsson all alone for the one-timer home. The coverage was simply ridiculous by Davidson, just unacceptable. The top line of Pacioretty-Drouin-Gallagher could access the Leafs zone and get some scoring chances, but as soon as they were off the ice, the play would find itself in the Montreal zone. Then again, that may have something to do with the defenders on the ice as Weber-Mete were the only defenders capable of making a pass that wasn’t a foot ahead of the intended target, or a foot in the air. With roughly five minutes to play, Montreal was given a man advantage. While looking dangerous yet again, none of the chances counted on the scoreboard, effectively burying any chance of a comeback on this night. Despite the difficulty in watching the period, Drouin, Gallagher, and Galchenyuk showed signs of life in trying to create some scoring chances. All four of Streit, Gelinas, Davidson, and Morrow provided very little hope for the third pairing once the season starts. With yet another loss and only two games before the end of training camp, an important series of cuts are likely to be announced later tonight or tomorrow beyond Matt Taormina, who was waived earlier in the day.
Observations of the Night
Who Centers the 4th Line?
With all of Michael McCarron, Jacob de la Rose, and Torrey Mitchell playing on this night, it is believed that this game was perhaps an audition to find the identity of the team’s permanent fourth pivot. While de la Rose and McCarron didn’t necessarily play incredible games, Mitchell had a rough game. It remains to be seen if this was a true competition for the role, or if Julien was simply offering an opportunity for the two kids to bump the veteran. If it’s a true competition, perhaps McCarron dropping the mitts is enough to give him the edge to start the season. If it’s an opportunity for McCarron and de la Rose to take the job away from Mitchell, then I don’t believe neither of the two youngsters really accomplished enough to say they were successful in their mission, leaving Mitchell as the likely starter in Buffalo.
An Improved Blueline?
Many fans and experts were stunned to hear Bergevin claim he had an improved blueline before camp started. At this point, absolutely no one believes that this statement was even close to true. It appears as so a 19-year-old rookie out of the OHL might get an audition on the top pair mostly because no other option has even come close to matching his level of play. Other than Mete and the established veteran three, the plethora of other defenders at camp have essentially left Claude Julien with the unenviable decision of selecting his third-pairing. Julien will essentially have to decide which of the players were least terrible during camp as not a single player out of Benn, Streit, Gelinas, Morrow, Davidson, or Jakub Jerabek can truly say they had an acceptable training camp.
120 Minutes for Galchenyuk
Alex Galchenyuk was heavily criticized for his first two preseason efforts. These same critics should acknowledge that he has played some solid hockey over his last two games. While creating some scoring chances on Monday night playing alongside Ales Hemsky, he abandoned the offensive risks and played a physical game on Wednesday playing with McCarron and Shaw. He continued to control the puck and force the opposition to respect his skill and create some space in the offensive zone. Watching him play on the power play makes me want to see him even more on the right wing of the top unit come October 5th.
What Could Have Been
Yes, Alexander Radulov is long gone from Montreal, but watching Drouin play tonight reminded me of Radulov. Not so much in the playing style of the players, but in the ability to create scoring chances out of harmless looking situations. One can easily understand the frustration felt by Bergevin when learning that he had lost Radulov. Playing those two together, or even spreading the offense over two lines would have made the Montreal attack a force in the East instead of the one-trick pony that we see before us once again this preseason. Here’s hoping the Plekanec line can continue to play like they have so far so that Hudon can perhaps allow all Hab fans to speak of something other than the possibility of a Radulov-Drouin duo all season long. Drouin and Pacioretty will desperately be seeking for offensive help this season.