On this second game in two nights, the Habs remained out West to face the Edmonton Oilers. Considering the speed of the Oilers and the strange start time to this game, I did not expect much. Then Claude Julien continued with his strange personnel decisions as Antti Niemi was the starter in goal, and Brett Lernout replaced Jakub Jerabek. That Lernout was playing wasn’t as surprising to me as the seeing Jerabek replaced instead of Joe Morrow. These factors were all important ones as the Canadiens lost their last game prior to the Holiday break by a score of 4-1.
If Montreal controlled most of the game last night, it was clear that Edmonton had other intentions on Saturday. They attacked the Montreal defenders with speed, and were able to make them cough up the puck repeatedly. Jonathan Drouin, David Schlemko, and Lernout were all guilty of ugly looking turnovers that forced the Habs to play too many shifts in the defensive zone. Luckily for the Canadiens, Niemi was up to the challenge and bailed out his teammates early. Brendan Gallagher was stopped when he tried to bulldoze his way to Cam Talbot’s net, and Max Pacioretty missed the net on a nifty tip attempt, but that was about all the positive for Montreal this period.
With just over six minutes to play in the period, the Oilers broke out of their zone with Leon Draisaitl going wide on Morrow. He found a wide-open Jujhar Khaira thanks to Phillip Danault’s soft back-checking. Khaira cut to the net as Lernout allowed way too much of a gap. Khaira then found Ryan Strome for an empty-net goal to make it 1-0.
Two minutes later, the Oilers would extend their lead. Jeff Petry went for a skate after an errant pass by Gallagher which allowed Edmonton to establish possession in the Montreal zone. Then the puck was given to Connor McDavid who stick-handled around the zone until he released a shot from close to the blueline. It was an unexpected and well-placed shot by McDavid, but one that Niemi likely would like to get a second chance on. Niemi was without question the best Canadien for the period as he was forced to stop an Edmonton breakaway a minute after the second goal, but he made that save to keep the score 2-0 after one period of play.
The start of the second period was much better for Montreal as they were at least able to get some sustained time in the Edmonton zone. The Oilers were still skating well so what Montreal managed was to even the playing field. Unfortunately, with three and a half minutes expired in the period, Morrow was called for interference and Edmonton’s skillful power play got a chance. With Edmonton clearly established in Montreal territory, the Habs were scrambling and the Oilers made them pay. McDavid was given the time to find Leon Draisaitl cross-ice, who then quickly found Milan Lucic in front of the net for a tic-tac-toe 3-0 Edmonton lead.
Almost immediately after the third goal, the Habs got caught with too many men on the ice sending Edmonton right back to the power play. This man advantage could have really been the start of an ugly night, but Niemi made some solid stops in traffic to keep the game respectable.
With eight minutes to play, it was Montreal’s turn to get a power play as Strome tripped Byron Froese. The Montreal man advantage got the team back to within two goals as Drouin controlled the zone entry and found Morrow who hammered a shot that was tipped in by Andrew Shaw. The goal gave Montreal some legs as they applied some serious pressure following their goal. Edmonton bent but didn’t break as they escaped the period with their two-goal lead intact.
The Canadiens came out with revamped forwards lines to start the third as Gallagher joined Drouin and Pacioretty. This line established some pressure on their first shift. The second line to hit the ice was Byron-Plekanec-Carr, and Byron used his speed to lure Adam Larsson into taking a penalty. Unfortunately for the Habs, this man advantage was never able to get established in the Edmonton zone, so a glorious opportunity to get back into the game was wasted.
The lack of energy created by the power play allowed Edmonton to take control as the next three scoring chances included a Zack Kassian and a Patrick Maroon breakaway, with Niemi having to be quite sharp to keep the hope of a comeback alive. Karl Alzner was then sent to the box for a neutral zone tripping call. Montreal once again survived the Edmonton attack, but time was getting scarce to chip away at the two-goal lead. They got a decent push in the Edmonton zone, but with two minutes to play and Niemi on the bench, Morrow couldn’t handle a very pedestrian pass to the blueline which resulted in Edmonton scoring an empty-netter effectively ending the game. What I hope everyone is asking themselves is what Joe Morrow was doing on the ice in the final minutes. If anyone has an answer, I’d love to hear the logic behind that one (I still don’t even understand why he was dressed over Jerabek).
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Antti Niemi
When your backup goaltender is the only reason your team doesn’t get blown out, there isn’t much chance to win the game. Niemi was good enough that they Habs still held hope right up to the end of this game. Good on Niemi who’s been really dumped on by many league-wide since his time in Dallas.
Stats: 31 saves, 3 GA, .912 sv%, 59:23 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Andrew Shaw
He scored the only goal for Montreal and caused havoc in front of Talbot’s net on a few occasions. It wasn’t his best performance, but he scored, and many others played much worse than he did.
Stats: 1 goal, -2, 4 shots, 2 hits, 14:33 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher, like Daniel Carr, was promoted in the third period. Gallagher was played with Drouin and Pacioretty. Drouin was playing a solid game and being paired with Gallagher created a unit that was dangerous all period long. They didn’t score, but I doubt that will last long if they remain together and played like they did in the third period. Gallagher was also one of the few players to be dangerous over all three periods for Montreal on this night.
Stats: 0 points, -2, 3 shots, 0 hits, 14:29 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jonathan Drouin
After a first period turnover, Drouin looked dialed in and ready to produce. Unfortunately for him, he remains on a line with Pacioretty who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn at the moment so Drouin ended the night without a point despite a solid effort.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 2 shots, 4 hits, 17:42 T.O.I.
The Canadiens made a roster move following the same as they returned Brett Lernout to Laval of the AHL. Although the roster freeze is in effect, the Habs were able to send him back down since he had been recalled after December 11th.