Montreal set out for their sixth win in their last eight games on Tuesday night and would be successful in defeating the surprising Vegas Golden Knights by a 3-2 score. This game looked convincing early as the Habs totally outskated Vegas for the first 40 minutes of the game. The Knights would not lay down easy, taking it to Charlie Lindgren and the Canadiens for the entirety of the third period. The Habs hung on, but ran into some injury issues that should keep the fan base on edge over the next few days, as newly acquired star Jonathan Drouin did not finish the contest. Ultimately, this counts as an important win for a team that is getting ready to host the physically imposing Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. More importantly, the win continues to bring them closer to forgetting the awful October that has them slowly but surely climbing back into the conversation of relevant teams in the Eastern Conference.
The start of the game showed a Montreal team that has gained in confidence of late as they really took advantage of the home ice to control the play and drive Maxime Lagace’s net. The strong play resulted in an early power play that looked dangerous but couldn’t tickle the twine. Lindgren wasn’t tested often but did make a key save in the first five minutes to reassure his teammates. As Jordie Benn harmlessly cleared the puck down the ice, Tomas Plekanec had other ideas. The wily veteran used his speed to beat out the icing call, deke out the defender, and find a wide-open Brendan Gallagher for an early Canadiens’ lead. A few minutes later, a crisp breakout by the fourth line led to a Charles Hudon rush. Hudon found a streaking Victor Mete, who in turn found Benn who slapped home his first of the season and second point of the night.
Vegas pushed back a bit but the Habs really weren’t letting up, continuing their onslaught in the Vegas zone. This was the case until Shea Weber was called for a cross-check in his own zone. The Vegas power play looked dangerous even if they didn’t score. Immediately after the man advantage, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare took the puck in the offensive zone and completely undressed Jeff Petry before beating Lindgren with a low show. With Vegas looking to get back into the game, Tomas Nosek tripped Artturi Lehkonen in the offensive zone to allow Montreal to finish the period with a man advantage that would once again look dangerous despite its lack of finish.
The second period started with the remaining 17 seconds of the power play for the Habs and they used that time to set the tone for the period. They made sure to pepper Lagace’s net for the first four minutes as they tried to put behind them a rather ordinary end to the first period. Petry, who likely had the most to make up for, started strong as he accepted a cross-ice pass from Andrew Shaw. He then showed excellent patience with the puck allowing his teammates to get in front of the net. It would prove to be a wise strategy as Max Pacioretty tipped in the Petry shot to restore the two-goal lead for the Habs.
Vegas once again responded with a push, but this time Lindgren was up to the challenge as he kept the Knights at bay. On a more positive note, one line that continued to create their own positive zone time was the line of Paul Byron with Plekanec and Gallagher. After a 2-on-1 was fanned on by Lehkonen, Shea Weber took his second penalty of the game with only four minutes to play in the period. The Knights would rattle the iron on a point shot before Lindgren could settle things down to eventually successfully kill Weber’s minor infraction and keep their two-goal cushion heading to the third period.
The third frame started with Lindgren flashing the leather as the Knights attempted to get back into the game. As the second shift started, one difference was striking as Alex Galchenyuk lined up at centre with Paul Byron and Lehkonen. It would be revealed soon after that Drouin was out with an upper-body injury. Here’s hoping for the Habs that this is another minor injury. In terms of game play, Montreal spent most of the first five minutes hemmed into their own zone, defending their two-goal advantage. Claude Julien was quite unhappy with the early shell game for his squad and spent much of an early TV timeout making sure that his squad got out of their own zone.
While the better part of the next five minutes was still spent in the Montreal zone, the defenders still greatly improved the access granted to the Golden Knights’ players toward Lindgren’s blue paint. Montreal would show some fight as Galchenyuk dangled into the Vegas zone and hypnotized the defenders before finding a wide-open Lehkonen who was absolutely robbed by Lagace. The Knights continued their strong push, but strong defensive positioning and a top-notch Lindgren would have none of it until late in the game. With the Vegas net open, they finally got to Lindgren as Weber lost a race to the puck which allowed Jonathan Marchessault to find a back-door Erik Haula to make the last minute and change interesting. The Habs would ultimately hold onto their lead, but not without some very hectic moments.
HabsWorld 3 Stars
1st Star – Jordie Benn
This nomination starts with the scoreboard as Benn earned himself two points in the first period. However, his play in the third was likely more impressive as he played a bunch next to Shea Weber and did so effectively, limiting the Golden Knights’ access to Charlie Lindgren. He was physical, intelligent, and active all night long. Yes, the beard helped him in this nomination.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 3 hits, 1 shot, 25:51 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Tomas Plekanec
Brendan Gallagher and Plekanec are interchangeable here for me as they played a heck of a game as a duo on this night. I’m naming Plekanec because Gallagher has made this type of play his norm. For Plekanec, watching him get offensively involved was a breath of fresh air and allowed the third line to be dangerous all night. His hustle on the opening goal play that should have been an icing against Benn set up the night offensively as their hustle on loose pucks was a huge factor all game long.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 0 hit, 2 shots, 18:34 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Charlie Lindgren
This night was a bit less about Lindgren as the Habs played some solid hockey in front of him for the first 40 minutes. In addition to this, the first goal he did allow is likely one he’d like to see again. But he bailed out his teammates often in the third and had absolutely no chance on the second goal allowed.
Stats: 29 saves on 31 shots, 2.00 GAA, 0.935 sv%
Honourable Mention – Shea Weber
‘Man Mountain’ was at it again on this night. He doesn’t get a nomination for the softer play on the second goal allowed and the two minor penalties he took. Despite these negative details, he was a physical force all night long, making defensive plays to help Lindgren’s sometimes wavering rebound control. He was also involved offensively, letting a few shots hammer into Golden Knights players as the latter would then hobble to their bench.
Stats: -1, 2 hits, 1 shot, 24:25 T.O.I.
Following the game, the Habs announced a roster move. Michael McCarron was sent to Laval while Byron Froese, the newly-named captain of the Rocket, was recalled.