On Thursday night, the heavily shorthanded Habs took on a tired Wild team who had played the night before in Toronto. The Habs were without Carey Price, Shea Weber, and Jonathan Drouin for this contest, and the lineup was rather patched together as opposed to logically composed which suggests that this does not appear to be a long-term reality for the team. As for the action on the ice, the Canadiens likely deserved a better fate on this night than the 3-0 result. However, Claude Julien played it safe for far too long before throwing caution to the wind and lining up his best offensive elements to get back in the game.
The games first few shifts looked rather disjointed for the Habs, but considering the unexpected roster overhaul, it was understandable that the Phillip Danault line would be the only one that appeared to have any sort of cohesion early on. To make matters worse, Jordie Benn absorbed a shot on his first shift and missed the next five minutes of the game after that. After two good chances for Max Pacioretty and an even longer list of shots from the outside by the Wild, Alex Galchenyuk broke into the Minnesota zone. His shot went off the defender and was floating by Devan Dubnyk when it was batted in by Karl Alzner. The Alzner goal was denied due to a high stick, a close call to say the least.
After this denied lead, the Canadiens really started to press as Galchenyuk, Artturi Lehkonen, and Joe Morrow were stopped on decent scoring chances by Dubnyk. The Habs would be awarded a man advantage with eight minutes to play. The deployed players did an effective job at gaining the zone but lacked cohesion to do much more than pass the puck around the zone to eventually take low percentage shots. Morrow was the victim of a complete ghost call sending Minnesota to their first man advantage of the game. Luckily for the Habs and the officials, the kill was successful, and the period ended scoreless after a few nice saves from Charlie Lindgren.
The Habs started the second period by playing hot potato with the puck as Benn, Morrow, and Tomas Plekanec took turns committing turnovers in dangerous areas on the ice. It was a disappointing start to the period for the blueliners after they had stepped up so nicely in the first with the absence of Weber. A few minutes later, with the play rather even, Montreal got on its second power play of the night, but that had the same outcome as the first as zone time was present without much danger toward the net.
After the man advantage, both teams were simultaneously called on a rather strange play, Alzner for interference and Jason Zucker for high sticking. Montreal took full advantage of 4-on-4 as they controlled much of this play, with Galchenyuk getting the best scoring chances of this segment.
With roughly five minutes to play, Morrow was guilty of a boarding minor which honestly looked like it could have had much worse results for the Wild player that was taken headfirst into the boards. The Wild power play appeared much more dangerous than its predecessor was ultimately thwarted by a patient yet aggressive bunch of Canadiens’ penalty killers, and Lindgren unwilling to give an inch to the shooters. With both teams taking their fair share of odd angled shots and committing some questionable turnovers, it was somewhat surprising to see the game scoreless after 40 minutes.
Very early to start the third period, Mikko Koivu would be called for hooking Paul Byron. The power play started strong with Galchenyuk getting stopped on his one-timer from the usual location. Unfortunately, it was the best look they would get. With 30 seconds left on the advantage, Zucker would take advantage of soft coverage as Jeff Petry was guilty of a lazy offensive zone pinch, followed by weak back checks by Lehkonen and Charles Hudon and beat Lindgren on a partial break.
The goal seemed to spark the Wild who attacked for the minutes that followed only to be faced by Lindgren who continued to provide hope for this battered lineup. However, Lindgren would not help his own cause as he cleared the puck directly out of play handing the Wild another power play. The Wild spent the entire two minutes in the zone as they intercepted six or seven clearing attempts, but Montreal’s penalty killers continued to win every board battle against the Wild’s most skilled players.
Back at even strength, Max Pacioretty was guilty of losing a puck battle to clear his zone against Eric Staal. This allowed the Wild to drive Lindgren’s net as Zucker deflected the shot passed Lindgren. With exactly five minutes to play, Galchenyuk, who had been the most dangerous Canadien for the better part of this game served up a brilliant pass to Lehkonen who shot toward Dubnyk. Charles Hudon was in front of the net, but Matt Dumba was guilty of pushing Dubnyk. Hudon scored on the rebound, but the call was reversed, a play that will rightfully be questioned by Claude Julien after the game. I believe that should have counted. After that reversed call, Julien pulled Lindgren to create something for his team. With the net empty, Zucker would complete his hat-trick effectively ending the game.
Defensive Depth Steps Up
With Shea Weber out of the lineup, one would think that the Habs would struggle, specifically the blue line who has received its fair share of criticism since the start of the season. Victor Mete continued to take advantage of most of his opportunities on the ice to shine, and Alzner and Petry played like true veterans who understood what was asked of them on this increased mission. Benn, whose returned to his steady self over the last week or so, continued to play excellent hockey on this night. Brandon Davidson was returning to the lineup and given the circumstance, he held his own and even made some good physical plays over the course of the game. Joe Morrow is a player that I don’t particularly appreciate; he is a risk-taker and those will at times backfire. On this night, he limited his giveaways and made his fair share of good offensive plays, creating opportunities and zone exits. An overall good night for a questionable blueline.
The Only Thing Left
After the Pacioretty-Danault-Shaw line, Alex Galchenyuk was easily the most dangerous Hab on this night. This has been the norm recently as he appears to have fixed his turnovers and his effort level. One reason for the lack of production lagging behind other successful aspects of his game is that Galchenyuk must put a few in the net to gain confidence and hit the net on a consistent basis. On this night, a Galchenyuk in full confidence likely walks away with two goals considering the opportunities he had.
How odd sports can be at times. Charlie Lindgren hasn’t always been exceptional in his previous five NHL wins. He was on this night, and yet suffers his first defeat in the NHL. Why is this noteworthy? For three reasons. Firstly, who plays this Saturday’s contest now that Lindgren has lost? Secondly, does the team now push to get Carey Price back on the ice? Finally, how does the young man react to his first loss? The first question can easily be answered, as I believe that the organization should want to showcase Lindgren’s mental toughness and play him immediately following a loss. No team will offer anything for Al Montoya, but Lindgren could be a trade chip at the deadline should the Habs crawl back up the standings. This answer, of course, goes out the door should Price be ready to play on Saturday. Secondly, I think Lindgren played too well to push Price and risk re-injury. If he’s ready, fine. Otherwise, the young man is playing lights out, let him run with it for now. The last question is without a doubt the most intriguing of the questions, and mostly why I’m hoping to see #39 back between the pipes on Saturday (once again depending on Price’s status).
Lack of Depth Up Front
When one looks at the top end of the lineup, it appears the available cap space should be used on an elite defender to shore up this blueline who, as was seen tonight, relies far too heavily on one single player. This takes nothing away from the previous comment about the performance of the blue line on this night, but some skill is lacking on the blueline. Up front, what appears to be lacking is depth. By depth, I don’t mean Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen, and Steve Ott. I mean a player that plays lower in the lineup, or even in Laval, that can step in and be a creator of offensive plays. Some might see my comment and point toward Charles Hudon, or even the injured Nikita Scherbak. But the defensive depth includes both offensive players like Morrow, and defensive ones in Davidson and even Brett Lernout. I continue to believe that the money should be spent on the back end, but it’s perhaps time to consider moving some defensive depth to hire some depth scoring when one injury means that the team is relying on Tomas Plekanec or Torrey Mitchell as scoring options. On that note, it will be interesting to see if Julien tries to keep Galchenyuk-Hudon-Lehkonen together on Saturday. They looked quite dangerous with limited time together to end this game.