Friday’s contest opposed the Habs to the Calgary Flames and promised to be a low-scoring affair as the Canadiens had uncharacteristically scored seven in Vancouver on Tuesday while Calgary’s most potent unit is stuck in an extensive slump. Montreal surprisingly continued on their adequate offensive push, once again following the hard work and dedication of the fourth line. Claude Julien was also questioned before the game as he refused to dismantle his fourth line as he preferred to scratch advanced stat darling Charles Hudon. This decision had to be made since Artturi Lehkonen made his return to the Canadiens lineup. Julien’s decisions appear to have been wise as Montreal skated their way to a 3-2 win in the Saddledome, powered by the fourth line and Lehkonen.
The game’s very first shift was action-packed as fans were treated to the return of Lehkonen, then Carey Price was guilty of letting out a big greasy rebound on a seemingly mundane shot that required him to rescue himself with two more excellent saves. This opening shift continued as Jonathan Drouin made a nifty pass on the breakout to a streaking Max Pacioretty to surprisingly went backhand on the Flames defender before beating Mike Smith five-hole. Unfortunately for Pacioretty, the play would be challenged and Paul Byron was offside.
This disallowed goal did not faze the Canadiens who continued to control play and spent most of the time in the Flames’ zone. It took the Habs 10 minutes to get the Pacioretty goal back, but they continued to work hard, and they were rewarded for this. Byron Froese kept the puck in the opposition zone long enough for Nicolas Deslauriers to get a change. This allowed Alex Galchenyuk to make it to the front of the net undetected. Froese sent him the puck and he held it long enough to open the passing lane to Jordie Benn who took a shot from the blue line that was tipped-in by Froese. After such a good play by Galchenyuk, the second half of this same shift left much to be desired as he made two soft defensive plays which allowed some sustained pressure from the Flames, forcing Price to make some excellent saves to preserve a precious lead for the Canadiens.
The second half of the period was played much the same way. Montreal was outskating Calgary to every puck, and the result was as expected since they spent most of the time in the Calgary zone. In the dying minutes of the period, Andrew Shaw took a very undisciplined penalty, one for goaltender interference. Montreal would handle the Calgary power play, allowing the period to end with a 1-0 Habs lead.
After the exciting opening period, the second was less exciting as the opening eight minutes of the second were rather uneventful. Both teams were skating hard and the Habs mostly continued to control the puck much more than their opponent. Despite this control, neither team really took the puck to the opposition net, so no real good scoring chances took place over this time. This is when Froese went back to work. He won two consecutive puck battles against Flames defenders. He then shot the puck towards Smith from a bad angle. The rebound came roughly two feet in the air, but Deslauriers made a superb play by getting his stick on the puck in mid-air to knock it in and earn a two-goal advantage for his team. This goal seemed to give Montreal some energy as they took over the period for a few minutes. Approximately three minutes later, Brendan Gallagher was sent in alone where he was stopped by Smith. Montreal continued to control play until the Flames took a late period penalty for too many men on the ice. Montreal only had 30 seconds left in the period, so nothing happened during that time.
The third was starting with Montreal being the beneficiaries of 90 seconds of power play time. The Canadiens took advantage of the fresh ice surface to create a few good scoring chances on their 90 seconds, although they were unable to solve Smith. Immediately following the powerplay, the fourth line went back to work as Daniel Carr sent a puck to the net that Froese tried to tip-in. Then Galchenyuk did the same on a Benn shot. Finally, it was Deslauriers setting up another scoring chance for Carr. The Habs kept that momentum and scored on the next shift as it was Lehkonen’s turn to win a puck battle and then find Brendan Gallagher in front of the net to increase the lead to 3-0.
As expected, this third goal sent the Habs into a defensive shell as the Flames made their first extended push of the game. As Sean Monahan fired a shot off the post, Karl Alzner lost his coverage on Micheal Ferland who picked up the garbage to make it a 3-1 contest with half a period remaining. The goal whipped the Canadiens who returned the play to the Calgary zone for a few minutes. The Flames then took over as their desperation became palpable with under six minutes to play to score two goals to tie the game. Luckily for the Flames, they were awarded a man advantage with 2:44 to play as Paul Byron was sent to the sin bin for high-sticking. Calgary would pull Smith to make it a 6-on-4 and the strategy would work as Gaudreau and Mikael Backlund made a pretty passing play to create an opening for Matthew Tkachuk who made no mistake in bringing the Flames within one goal. With 90 seconds to play, the Flames would once again pull Smith. After Pacioretty missed the empty net creating an icing and Calgary took their timeout, Montreal finally got the puck out of their zone which killed much of the time left in this game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Byron Froese
This is the type of performance that scores some important points with the coaching staff. They opted to keep Froese in the lineup despite popular opinion, and Froese responded with two gigantically important points. His entire line played well yet again, so there is no reason to change this line at this moment.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 5 shots, 0 hits, 14:32 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Carey Price
At 21 saves, this was nowhere near Carey Price’s busiest night of the year. Despite this fact, he made some key saves early in the first, and again when Montreal had a 1-0 lead. These important saves allowed Montreal to keep their preferred playing style deployed, which in turn created the extended lead. To be brief, what Price lacked in quantity, he made up for in quality. Calgary did get to him with 10 minutes to play, but the game was under control by that point. They got to him again with two minutes to play, but it’s hard to blame Price for a goal at 6-on-4.
Stats: 21 saves, 2GA, .913 sv%, 60:00 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Artturi Lehkonen
In his first game since November 11th, Lehkonen was impressive in his usual combativeness for the puck, his usual intelligent forecheck, and his assist on what turned into the game winner. The Gallagher goal was largely created by Lehkonen who won his battles and then made a smart play with the puck. In addition to this excellent offensive play, Lehkonen was immediately counted upon by Julien to kill penalties, showing his versatility and usefulness to this team.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 0 hits, 13:48 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Max Pacioretty
Pacioretty still didn’t score (though he should have) and didn’t necessarily stand out. Having said this, Pacioretty did something I haven’t seen all year long in his case. He used his long frame to skate and create some space between himself and the covering defenders. This created his disallowed goal and other good scoring chances in the first half of the game. He slowed down and returned to his bad habits in the second half of the game, but it was a flash that allows me to believe he may be on the brink of finally returning to his productive self.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 2 shots, 0 hits, 20:28 T.O.I.