In a game the second rematch of last year’s playoffs, the offence finally showed up, and the Habs secured a 5-4 win in regulation on Saturday night against the Rangers. If that score looks strange, fear not. It was indeed strange, in the best possible way, to see the Canadiens score and need all of their five goals to get the win. The game was uncomfortable at times (mostly in the third) and ugly at others (defence off the rush), but ugly wins are going to be necessary to get the team out of their poor play. This was undoubtedly an ugly win and one that surely does nothing to inspire confidence in Marc Bergevin’s “improved” blueline. But in the end, a win is a win is a win, and the two points in the standings are critical both mathematically, and to pump some positivity into the dressing room.
The start of the game set the tone for the period as the Canadiens established their forecheck early. Ondrej Pavelec made the first few saves, but it was clear early that rebounds were going to be an issue for him on this night. With eight minutes expired in the period, Artturi Lehkonen did what he does best and caused a defensive zone turnover. On the same play, Jonathan Drouin got the puck in the corner and found Paul Byron open in the slot. The speedy winger made no mistake in giving his team the lead.
A few minutes later, the Rangers were called for a penalty. On the power play, Gallagher worked a forecheck and walked out of the corner to find Alex Galchenyuk in the latter’s favourite spot on the ice to make it 2-0. The Rangers are as fragile a team as the Canadiens at the moment, so the rest of the period was all Habs as they spent the rest of the period in the New York zone. They would cash in once more as Shea Weber sprung Andrew Shaw on a 2-on-1 with Phillip Danault. Shaw put a hard shot on the far side pad of Pavelec that landed perfectly on his partner’s stick as Danault buried the rebound to extend the lead. This marked the first time this season that Montreal had the lead after the opening period. Significant stat to understand the period: shots were 19-2 in favour of the locals.
The opening of the second period can be summarized in a few words: Hit the net! The Rangers had at least three easy breakouts from their zone early in the period because the Canadiens player missed the net by a wide enough margin to begin the opposition breakout. The third time it happened, Lehkonen took a penalty on the backcheck. On the ensuing faceoff, the Rangers won the draw and fired a one-timer from the blueline that scored with Rick Nash screening Price in front.
The Canadiens reacted quite well to the goal and immediately returned to the Rangers zone and got a few good scoring chances that Pavelec turned away. Chris Kreider was then sent to the sin bin after an elbow that appeared to miss Jeff Petry. Drouin once again looked dangerous on the man advantage without scoring and this would prove costly. With eight minutes left in the period, Victor Mete got caught on a pinch but was saved by Weber. Unfortunately, Weber and the back-checking Byron went after the same guy. This allowed Nash to get back to the front of the net and score on a scrambling Price.
The Habs did extend their lead once again as Pacioretty fired a puck on net that created a scramble until Danault found the puck and sent it back to Weber. Weber’s shot was again not covered by Pavelec allowing Pacioretty to bury the rebound. Montreal saved the period with that last goal and retired to the dressing room with a 4-2 lead.
The Rangers started the third period on the man advantage. They couldn’t score, but they did establish momentum for the period, as it was clear early that Price was going to be busy in the third. Roughly two minutes in the period, Tomas Plekanec won a draw but Weber and Karl Alzner were completely asleep. Nash walked in, grabbed the puck, circled back and controlled the puck long enough to send defensive zone coverage scrambling. Nash found Ryan McDonagh, who quickly found a wide-open Mika Zibanejad to once again close the gap to a single goal.
Immediately after the goal, Byron was called for tripping. The Rangers really threatened during the two-minute effort, but full credit to Alzner, Weber, Plekanec, and Lehkonen who scrambled all over their zone and kept the Rangers off the scoresheet. Unfortunately for the Habs, the momentum continued after the call and a few moments later, Skjei blasted a one-timer from the blue line that hit Plekanec before dropping in the net.
It was back to square one, and with the fragility shown by the Habs so far in October, the outcome did not appear to be favourable for the Habs at that point. Full marks to the Habs for sticking with it though. After yet another shaky rebound, Shaw grabbed the puck behind the net and found Brandon Davidson in the high slot who fired a slap shot on net. Danault was Johnny on the Spot as he found the rebound to restore the Montreal lead, a lead they would never relinquish.
HabsWorld 3 Stars
1st Star – Phillip Danault
Danault really looked like the player that was the top centre for 2016-2017. He battled for loose pucks, used his speed to forecheck, and found the front of the net hunting for rebounds. He’s appeared rejuvenated since the line with Pacioretty and Shaw was formed, and he took full advantage of this better play on this night. He was a goal post away from his first career hat trick.
Stats: 2 goals, 2 assists, +3, 6 shots, 3 hits, 19:35 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Andrew Shaw
Shaw has generally been a much more effective player since Claude Julien arrived, and even this statement can be amplified by the recent play of his line with Danault and Pacioretty. He must play according to the clock a bit more, as the late penalties are bound to hurt the team if he continues to take them, but he had a great game overall on this night.
Stats: 2 assists, +3, 1 shot, 1 hit, 19:04 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Brandon Davidson
Davidson has been the stabilizing force Jordie Benn was supposed to be on the bottom pair since the regular season began. His play isn’t flashy, but it has been effective both defensively and offensively. He gets the assist on the game winner in this one, but let’s not overlook the fact that in an important moment, Davidson focused and actually hit the net with a strong one-timer that allowed the game-winner to actually happen. Nice to see an unsung guy get rewarded for some solid play here.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 2 hits, 15:29 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention: Jonathan Drouin
Drouin got the scoring started and was a force on the puck all night. The one-point game could easily have been more if others on the team weren’t so snake-bitten. His play was great on this night but I just gave the nod to Davidson for the third star since I find his play goes under the radar often, yet it’s been great since his insertion into the line-up in the regular season.
Stats: 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 5 shots, 0 hits, 18:49 T.O.I.