The Canadiens’ last contest of 2017 featured an opportunity to finish the year in the Atlantic Division’s top-four as they were playing the team they needed to pass to do so in the Florida Panthers. Both teams being closer to the bottom than the playoffs, this matchup perhaps wasn’t as exciting as two years ago, but that didn’t stop Montreal fans in the Florida region from making it appear like a home game for the Habs.
Claude Julien surprised few with his decision to remove Brett Lernout from the roster for this contest with David Schlemko returning. His second lineup shuffle was more surprising as Byron Froese returned, sending Nicolas Deslauriers to the press box. The roster shuffle proved pointless as the results remained the same. Montreal was shut out 2-0 by the Panthers in a game that showed all of the lack of creativity on the Montreal side of the puck, creating no power play chances over the entire game despite getting 35 shots on goal.
The game started excellently for the Habs as the Panthers were hemmed into their defensive zone for most of the opening three minutes of play. Once that initial flurry was weathered for the Panthers, they finally challenged the weak Montreal blueline. On that very first test, they found results as Jeff Petry was guilty of not being physical enough with Nick Bjugstad and then had to hold him to stop a breakaway from happening. The Habs were excellent on this penalty kill, not allowing much zone time to the Panthers. Despite the excellent sequence, the man advantage did allow the Panthers to get their legs under them, so play became even once it was back at even strength.
The Panthers would get a great chance near the midway point of the period on a two-on-one that was played beautifully by Joe Morrow to negate the chance. Montreal would fire back as Tomas Plekanec got a great chance in the slot off a rebound but could not finish. The game settled into some rather boring back-and-forth for most of the second half of the period. Pace did pick up for the last two minutes as the teams exchanged their best chances of the period. Florida knocked on the door first when Schlemko lost a race to a dump-in. Joe Morrow covered his man in front of the net, but Plekanec decided he needed to cover the same man which left Denis Malgin all alone in the slot, forcing Carey Price to make his nicest save of the period. Immediately after that save, Jonathan Drouin displayed his speed and attacked the Florida zone. His attacked generated a rebound with both Alex Galchenyuk and Artturi Lehkonen in close, but neither could get a good look at that rebound and the period ended scoreless.
The second period was the opposite of the first as the Panthers dominated the Canadiens early. As the Plekanec line was hemmed into their zone, Vincent Trocheck had a quite a shift. He was everywhere in the Montreal zone, controlling play and causing coverage to become erratic. This allowed Mark Pysyk to get a shot on goal, and the rebound found Connor Brickley who spun and fired the puck home to make it 1-0 Panthers. The goal energized Florida as they continued to pummel the Canadiens in this period. The exception was the Drouin line that was able to generate some zone time, though very little in terms of actual scoring opportunities.
All other lines forced Price to multiply the acrobatic saves for the first half of this period. While most of the second half of the period was played in the Florida zone, the lack of offensive ability on the team reared its ugly head. I mention this because being in a slump and not being able to finish the play is one thing. Playing this much time in the offensive zone without bringing the puck to the danger zones is on another level of offensive ineptitude. This is a team that is unwilling to make the tough plays in the tough areas to earn their chances in the zones where they are most likely to be rewarded for their work. With 1:31 to play, Phillip Danault and Evgenii Dadonov collided in what appeared to be a knee on knee collision. Though this was without a doubt initiated by Danault, he got the worst of it as he had to be helped to the dressing room. Despite this outcome, he was still called for a tripping penalty. Montreal was successful with the end-of-period penalty kill, but Florida had 30 seconds remaining to open the third.
The Habs opened the final frame by killing the last 30 seconds of the Danault penalty followed by two excellent scoring chances for the Panthers after a terrible Jakub Jerabek shift. This is unfortunate for Jerabek who had played a good game up to that point. Brendan Gallagher was then called for delay of game on a rather unfortunate play where he batted it out of the air. Montreal was once again able to survive the Florida power play as the best chance of the sequence went to Max Pacioretty who really never got the chance because he was too slow getting to the net. As Montreal started to apply pressure to the Panthers in the second half of the period, Charles Hudon just missed a nice pass attempt by Pacioretty. Immediately after, Galchenyuk tipped a Schlemko shot high.
After some extended pressure from the fourth line, Petry committed a complete head-scratcher. With the Panthers attacking on a three-on-two, Petry went after Brickley with a hit. This left Jordie Benn alone to defend a surprise two-on-one. Benn made a sliding attempt on Mackenzie Weegar, but it was too little, too late, as Weegar found Trocheck who scored on the near-empty net to make it 2-0 with 8:11 to play.
Montreal continued to push aggressively after the Panthers goal. Galchenyuk made a nice play that created a chance for Lehkonen or Jerabek, but James Reimer did a nice job of controlling the rebound and keeping it away from the Habs on the doorstep. Montreal continued to buzz in the Florida zone, but they were never creative enough to fool Reimer or the many Panther shot-blockers.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Carey Price
Price made some big and timely saves. As per usual, his margin of error was nil, so his excellent effort was completely wasted.
Stats: 31 saves, 2GA, .937 sv%, 57:36 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jonathan Drouin
Looked dangerous all night long as he (finally) attacked with speed. If he can attack like this with more consistency, the pucks might start bouncing his way.
Stats: 6 shots, 15:05 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Alex Galchenyuk
See what was said about Drouin.
Stats: 4 shots, 15:54 T.O.I.