After the excitement of Thursday night, this night was a major disappointment for all fans of the bleu-blanc-rouge. What made the 6-1 loss to the Washington Capitals painful was two-fold: Firstly, this was the first test against one of the league’s powerhouses, a test that was failed miserably. Secondly, this game confirmed exactly what was observed during the preseason; the blue line is inadequate, and even though the scoring is lacking another major contributor, Marc Bergevin will have to spend some of his $7.6M to bring in a significant improvement on the blueline.
Unlike Thursday’s game, Montreal came out completely flat, and Washington wasted little time getting on the board. Only 20 seconds in, a series of soft puck battles by both Karl Alzner and Jeff Petry allowed the puck to remain in the Montreal zone. The result was Alexander Ovechkin completing a slap shot to the top corner. This was a sign of things to come as 25 seconds later, Jordie Benn was guilty of a ridiculous and yet again soft turnover deep in the Montreal zone. T.J. Oshie was the player to make Benn pay as he put home the rebound, digging the offensively challenged Canadiens a 2-goal hole with over 59 minutes to play. A minute later, Jacob de la Rose was next in line with the soft feed in his own slot, forcing Ales Hemsky to take a slashing minor. On the ensuing power play, the Canadiens were never able to touch the puck, and the highly skilled Capitals once again made them pay as Ovechkin scored his second in just three minutes of play.
Montreal would finally settle things down and the period slowed down considerably. Montreal would kill off another penalty before being offered their first man advantage of the night though it was at the image of the period. The shift that followed, Washington got back into the Montreal zone, Ovechkin was covered completely inadequately by Alzner as he tipped-in an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot to complete the one period hat trick and the absolute destruction of the Canadiens in this period.
Al Montoya would find himself in net to start the second, a logical decision by Claude Julien considering Sunday night’s matchup with the New York Rangers. Another logical decision was the shuffle on the blue line. Many fans might criticize Julien for dropping Victor Mete to the third pairing as Alzner, Benn, and Mark Streit were all easily worse than Mete, but it is important to remember that Mete will be performing in his first back-to-back game at the NHL level tomorrow. For the action on the ice, Montreal was called for a completely phantom tripping call roughly four minutes into the period. This would lead to one of the only bright spots on the night as the Habs scored their second shorthanded goal in as many games. Paul Byron used his speed and completed a solid forecheck and eventually got the puck and found Brendan Gallagher who redirected the puck into the net.
The goal gave the Habs some life as they spent the next few minutes in the Capitals zone with Max Pacioretty, Lehkonen, and Petry getting some scoring chances from the sustained pressure that would eventually lead to a Montreal power play. This PP is important because it truly represented the Habs’ best chance to get back in the game. Over the two minutes, Montreal had, at least, a half dozen excellent scoring chances, none better than Alex Galchenyuk getting absolutely robbed by a sprawling Braden Holtby.
With three minutes to go in the period, Streit inexplicably pinched in the offensive zone without proper coverage, leaving Mete all alone to defend a 2-on-1, which he did superbly, as the play continued, Streit attempted a soft pass which was picked off bringing the Capitals back in the zone, where Streit and Mete both misread a 3-on-2, leaving Ovechkin alone on the Montoya rebound although it was Gallagher who banked it off Mete’s skate and past Montoya. Ovechkin was the last to touch it, giving him his fourth of the night. The period wasn’t done yet, as a minute later Danault lost a draw cleanly and Devante Smith-Pelly was already set to shoot and made no mistake in extending the lead to 6-1. The shot hit rookie Nathan Walker, giving him his first career goal in his first NHL game.
The third period featured two teams who were mostly going through the motions. Washington did get some pressure to start the period, followed by Montreal getting some good chances after Charles Hudon was able to avoid a big hit by John Carlson. Other than the Plekanec line who continued to work their butts off, these chances not finding a positive result appeared to be the final nail in the coffin as Montreal was content to join Washington in coasting for the rest of the game, effectively ending the night as a 6-1 thrashing, no Atlanta jokes necessary.
HW Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star: Brendan Gallagher – Gallagher was the lone goal scorer for Montreal, but he was also one of the only players who showed up and worked hard on this night. He was the pass target on Washington’s second goal, and yet he was faster than Benn in trying to correct the mistake. He was also unlucky in his own defensive efforts on Ovechkin’s fourth of the night. Despite these bad bounces and the lopsided score, Gallagher continued to be a presence in front of the opposition net, having a good enough game to replace Hemsky on the top power play unit. Speaking of Hemsky, he looked far better in the preseason than he has over the first two games.
Stats: 1 goal, -1, 2 PIMs, 3 shots, 3 hits, 14:17 T.O.I.
2nd Star: Paul Byron – While Andrew Shaw continues to be mostly invisible in two games, Paul Byron has been noticeable in a significantly reduced role on the team’s fourth line. Considering the importance and need to get Galchenyuk going, it seems rather incoherent to continue to give Shaw these big minutes while a far superior player in Byron continues to create things in limited minutes. This isn’t so much of a criticism of Shaw, as he’s played okay, but it just seems like Danault and Shaw play the exact same role on the line, leaving Galchenyuk completely alone in trying to create offence on the line.
Stats: 1 assist, 0 shots, 3 hits, 10:42 T.O.I.
3rd Star: Victor Mete – As previously mentioned, Mete did not deserve the demotion as he was one of only three defenders to show up on the night. There might be an issue on the blueline if the 19-year-old rookie needed to be brought down to the third pairing as a safety measure to defend your team from the play of your 39-year-old veteran. I could have easily mentioned Weber here who played the exact same role for Benn, but it’s somewhat more noteworthy that it was done with Mete.
Stats: 0 points, -2, 1 shot, 2 blocks, 16:39 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention: The entire Tomas Plekanec line – This line was victimized on their opening shift of the game, but was likely the most consistently positive on this night. They spent the most time in the offensive zone, only failing to finish on a series of occasions. If Lehkonen or Hudon can find twine and get some confidence going, this line will quickly become the second as they have been far more effective than the Galchenyuk-Danault-Shaw line. Notice the shot stat below for this line should indicate how effective they were.
Plekanec Stats: 0 points, -1, 1 shot, 15:01 T.O.I.
Lehkonen Stats: 0 points, -1, 4 shots, 17:55 T.O.I.
Hudon stats: 0 points, -1, 6 shots, 14:38 T.O.I.