Before getting into this home opener for the Canadiens, the player introductions happened before the game. It was a rather quiet affair with respectful cheers coming from the crowd for their hometown team. Noticeable cheers were heard mostly for Jonathan Drouin, Shea Weber, and Carey Price.
The Habs would feed off this energy and come out strong, but as is often the case with a fragile team, it didn’t take much for momentum to swing and never fully return as the Habs lost 3-1 on this night. It was a frustrating game to watch as many players appear to be working hard, but either they aren’t working intelligently (Galchenyuk, Petry), or they simply don’t have the necessary skill to finish some creative plays (Shaw, Gallagher, Byron).
The game started well for the Habs as they applied pressure on their first shift which resulted in some good zone time. On the second shift, Tomas Plekanec and his linemates continued their intelligent and effective forechecking habits. The result finally matched the effort for the trio as Plekanec grabbed a Chicago turnover caused by Artturi Lehkonen and Charles Hudon and fired it home from the high slot for an early 1-0 lead. The opening five minutes continued in this sense as all of Philip Danault, Victor Mete, Drouin, and Weber failed to extend the lead despite getting good chances. The Blackhawks, overwhelmed by the pressure, eventually took two consecutive penalties, awarding Montreal a 5-on-3. Montreal would pass the puck around the zone but never really threaten the net during this power play time. This important failure to extend the lead would ultimately be the turning point in the game.
Shortly after the failed advantage, Andrew Shaw was called for offensive zone interference. This call was incredibly soft. At the same time, Shaw must be smarter and understand that the officials will be looking to call anything against Montreal after awarding them a 5-on-3. Montreal killed off the penalty through some excellent work by Danault and Lehkonen, but the play would remain in the zone for most of the second half of the period. Finally, with under three minutes to play, Jordie Benn fired a puck out of the zone that hit the official to give Chicago an odd-man rush that Alex DeBrincat fired home to tie the score. On the very next shift, Weber committed to an ill-advised pinch leaving Mete alone with three Hawks. While Mete initially played this well, Brandon Saad got the rebound goal with Mete not sticking with his man after the initial shot. In the end, a great period for Montreal, but another deficit.
The second period was surely a disappointment in terms of action when compared to the first. Most of the period was played with both teams satisfied to skate to the outside of their offensive zones while creating very little offence. Despite this overall lack of action to start the period, Alex Galchenyuk tested Corey Crawford, and Artem Anisimov did the same for Carey Price.
The second half of the period was dictated by power plays as Danault was initially called for hooking. The Hawks made the Habs pay as two cross-ice passes somehow got through the penalty killers as Torrey Mitchell cheating up the ice (on a penalty kill?) and Benn watched two pucks go by him. Play continued in a reserved fashion until Chicago was then called for a penalty, but Montreal did not threaten at all. This would ultimately be the end of patience shown by Claude Julien as he started to juggle his lines to end the period. This would work to a certain extent as Montreal was able to gain another man-advantage to end the period. Only one good chance came on that power play, a Galchenyuk one-timer from his favourite spot on the ice, a spot yours truly maintains he should play regularly on the PP.
The third period started strong as a line made up of Pacioretty-Drouin-Lehkonen put some pressure on the Blackhawks and drew an obvious hooking call. With Galchenyuk replaced by Lehkonen on the new PP, the latter missed a golden opportunity to close the gap in the score but shot the puck directly onto the outstretched pad of Crawford. The newly created top line continued to generate some good scoring chances after the powerplay, whiffing when they managed to find the puck in the scoring zones. With close to four minutes left, Galchenyuk did generate a good chance but smacked his shot off the crossbar. Not to be overly negative, but with the scoring being as enigmatic as its been, it seems unacceptable that are truly the only two good chances that can be identified when down a few goals in the third period.
It looked like Chicago accepted to defend against the offensively challenged Habs, who in turn accepted the loss and the offensive zone time without ever really driving the play toward the net. To not sound like a broken record through observations, here are the three stars for Montreal on the night. But first, a little bonus observation below before getting to them.
Out working and out-chancing the opposition is already an annoying chorus to the song that is this season. Where it matters most, Montreal isn’t scoring and are unable to do so because they do not have the players in place to score a sufficient amount of goals. To make matters worse, the few players they do hold in their lineup that have the potential to increase the overall team offence are not being deployed in a manner that allows for that potential to display itself. This team does not have sufficient weapons to deploy a balanced attack, and they should therefore load up one line as much as possible.
HW Habs Three Stars of the Night
1st Star – Artturi Lehkonen
Admittedly, Lehkonen is one of many forwards who needs to start scoring instead of simply looking dangerous. However, Lehkonen is consistently dangerous, consistently playing smart, consistently displaying a solid effort. He was easily one of the better Habs tonight, quietly continuing to be this player since the start of the season. Claude Julien seemingly agrees as Lehkonen ended the game on the top line.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 1 shot, 0 hit, 19:45 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Tomas Plekanec
Author of the only Habs goal, Plekanec continued his solid start to the season by finally capitalizing on his chances. His line with Lehkonen and Hudon continued to be effective, though it is worth noting that Plekanec was much more discreet in the third when separated from his young and tenacious linemates.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 4 shots, 1 hit, 13:56 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Charles Hudon
The third member of the second line gets the nod here. Hudon gets a ton of chances, but his release appears to be a millisecond slow for the goaltenders in the league. For a team that can’t score, he remains a player who has shown to be dangerous, tenacious, and intelligent. Perhaps a little luck will allow the puck to eventually start going in for the rookie.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 5 shots, 6 hits, 16:10 T.O.I.