Saturday night’s game was important for many reasons. Firstly, the morale of the team badly needed a bounce-back performance. The team also needed a win to fend off the Montreal media who was burying the team after the horrible loss to the Coyotes on Thursday. To make matters worse, the Canadiens were faced with the daunting task of playing against the white-hot Toronto Maple Leafs, winners of their past five contests as they welcomed back Auston Matthews. The Canadiens played a hard 40 minutes, but left their chances to the outside and ultimately showed zero mental toughness as the game got away from them in a big way as they got destroyed 6-0 when all was said and done.
The first minute of the game showed that the Habs were ready to go on this night. The new top unit of Max Pacioretty-Jonathan Drouin-Alex Galchenyuk looked quite dangerous in their first shift as they peppered Frederik Andersen which established the momentum and allowed the other lines to follow suit. The Habs really took it to the Leafs all the way to the midway point of the period but were unable to beat Andersen.
Toronto then pushed back heavily following a TV timeout as they swarmed Charlie Lindgren’s crease for a good three shifts in a row. The Canadiens would ensure that the ice would tilt back in their favour, but after Pacioretty was once again incapable of releasing a one-timer from the right side of the ice, Jordie Benn was called for an offensive zone trip as he successfully completed his pinch. This first man-advantage of the night going Toronto’s way was a terrible sign considering Montreal’s confidence and the fact that Toronto’s power play was ranked sixth in the league coming into the game. Luckily, the Leafs were kept at bay. The last minutes of the period mostly included more of Montreal cycling in the Toronto zone, and some heavy hits by both teams as Leo Komarov, Karl Alzner, and Brendan Gallagher all got their licks in before the end of the frame.
The second period was mostly quiet for the first five minutes as both teams got a bit of zone time and few chances but play was even for the most part. At this point, Pacioretty crunched Andreas Borgman and the physicality that was seen to end the first was back on as both Matt Martin and Shea Weber got some more big hits delivered. Weber’s hit was called an interference penalty and ruined a good run of shifts for Montreal deep in the Leafs zone. While Montreal managed to kill the penalty, this is the one that ultimately allowed the Leafs to get their legs into the game and take momentum away from the Canadiens.
As has been the case all season long, the goals would come in bunches, and they would mostly come against the Habs. The first came at the 12-minute mark as Weber pinched on a play that had no potential, and then Drouin didn’t cover his man defensively as Ron Hainsey blasted one past Lindgren. 37 seconds later, Nazem Kadri accepted a pass behind Weber and scored from a bad angle on a shot Lindgren would love to see again. From this point forth, the usual signs of squeezing the stick too tight became apparent as Weber fanned on a great chance in front of the net, Petry over-skated two pucks in one shift, and passes started being erratic. It was an ugly end to the period even if the play was mostly in the Toronto zone and the Canadiens kept skating hard.
The first shift of the third period included Alzner and Petry solidly asleep. On the third chance of the 30-second shift, Connor Brown found the rebound off the Nikita Zaitsev point shot and puts the Leafs up by three. With the score 3-0, Max Pacioretty completed his second big hit of the game on Kadri. In usual Kadri fashion, he threw a tantrum and went head hunting on Weber. It was clearly the wrong opponent to pick for Kadri as he turtled immediately after delivering the hit. After the hit was delivered, both Weber and Benn attacked Kadri. The result was the third penalty of the game for Montreal. It was deserved because Benn should not have gotten involved in the situation, but Kadri should be getting a call from the DoPS for attempt to injure (though, as we all know, he won’t since no one got injured).
Getting back to the game, Lindgren made a series of excellent saves to keep the score from getting out of hand and to help the team kill the penalty. At the midway point of the period, Alzner softly played a Toronto dump-in, this is followed by Victor Mete whiffing on the puck, and Tomas Plekanec covering the same guy that Mete was already covering. The puck then bounced around and landed on James Van Riemsdyk’s stick, who made it 4-0 Toronto. As usual, 48 seconds later, Charles Hudon covered no one on the back-check while Auston Matthews barreled to the net and got a free shot at Lindgren to make it 5-0.
Julien wisely pulled Lindgren in favour of Antti Niemi. Montreal spent more time in the Leafs zone, but with Julien rightfully shuffling the lines, little chemistry was found and therefore no goals could be scored. A few moments later, Matthews came down on Mete, who did a poor job controlling his gap and gave Matthews the opportunity to get a shot on Niemi, and it was 6-0 Toronto. It was an ugly end to what was a decent first 40 minutes. Some changes are impending, so expect additional news in the hours to come. What may be the most interesting facet to whatever hammer falls is if the changes come in terms of players, or management.
Habsworld 3 Stars
1st Star – Yvan Cournoyer
2nd Star – Frank Mahovlich
3rd Star – Denis Savard
These three players that were honoured prior to puck drop certainly provided some memories for Habs fans of all ages as to why this continues to be a team worth rooting for, despite the last 20 years of mediocrity. As they stood at centre ice for the photos, it was evident that this was the best the Habs were going to look all night long.
Honourable Mention – Charlie Lindgren
Lindgren made some big saves to keep his team in the game, but he can’t score, and he can’t save them all when the blueline is constantly leaving guys softly checked in front of the net.