Fresh off the Christmas break, the Habs headed to Carolina looking to get over the .500 mark on this road trip on Wednesday night. They really only showed up for one period and it wasn’t enough as the Hurricanes took it 3-1.
Claude Julien made a trio of lineup changes for this one. Carey Price was back between the pipes after having the night off in Edmonton on Saturday while Jakub Jerabek returned in place of David Schlemko who is dealing with the flu and is not with the team. Up front, Charles Hudon took Byron Froese’s spot, a curious move considering Hudon has spent little time at centre in the pros and didn’t play well at that spot in the minors.
Because of the CBA, the Habs weren’t able to fly out for this game until earlier in the day. They also had several players playing through the flu. Both of these became very evident in a hurry. Montreal managed to break Carolina’s two-game streak of scoring in the first minute but they did allow Jaccob Slavin a wide-open chance and while they didn’t score, it set the tone for the period.
Less than four minutes in, Karl Alzner fell on a clearing attempt that got picked off by Justin Faulk. He sent a pass across to Teuvo Teravainen who beat Price to open the scoring. The next several minutes saw Carolina dominating play while Montreal’s defenders were chasing their collective tails but Price held down the fort. Brendan Gallagher blocked a shot with his hand which caused a scare but he was able to remain in the game.
Alex Galchenyuk took a needless elbowing penalty just past the halfway mark but it was Max Pacioretty who had the best scoring chance. He was sprung for a partial breakaway but was unable to beat Cam Ward. Galchenyuk had a prime chance of his own a few minutes after his penalty expired but he too was unable to score. Although Montreal had those two opportunities, they only partially masked what was a very tough period overall, one that saw the home side had a 16-6 advantage in shots.
The Canadiens found their skating legs for the second period which made for a much different middle 20 minutes. Galchenyuk atoned for his bad penalty with a highlight reel goal that saw him start from inside his own zone, navigate his way past Carolina’s defence, and then snap it past Ward to tie the game.
The new-look fourth line then went to work. Hudon was stopped on a breakaway (and a follow-up rebound) while a bit later, Daniel Carr hit the post off the rush. Andrew Shaw took an offensive-zone tripping call that gave the Hurricanes a power play and a bit of zone time but they weren’t able to retake the lead. Galchenyuk then drew a hooking call on Klas Dahlbeck but Montreal’s man advantage wasn’t able to get anything going. Despite that, it was a much better period overall for the Habs who outshot Carolina 13-8.
Unfortunately for Montreal, the positives went away for the third as the play resembled the first period for big chunks of the play. Their top chance in the early going came from the fourth line once again as Hudon forced a turnover at centre ice that led to a good shot from Carr. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes weren’t able to score on a three-on-one.
Galchenyuk took his second bad penalty of the game just past the eight minute mark and this time it came back to bite the Canadiens. After Price made an initial save, Sebastian Aho scooped up the rebound and put it home to give Carolina the lead for good. Aho added an empty netter for good measure to wrap up the scoring.
Price turned aside 33 of 35 saves in the loss while Ward kicked away 23 of 24. The Habs weren’t able to score on either of their power plays (though one came with 14 seconds left in regulation with the game out of reach) while the Hurricanes were 1/3 with their tally being the game-winner.
HW Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star: Carey Price – Had it not been for his strong performance in the first, this game probably would have been out of reach by the time Montreal woke up for the second period. He then managed to keep them in it in the third for longer than they really deserved to. He deserved a much better fate in this one.
Stats: 2 GA on 35 shots, 2.01 GAA, .943 SV%
2nd Star: Alex Galchenyuk – I considered dropping him down a bit because of the bad penalties but quite frankly, he was Montreal’s best forward by a mile. His goal was one of his nicer ones this season and it was nice to see Julien keep putting him out there despite the penalty trouble. It’s a sour end with his penalty leading to the game-winner but it was still a strong game overall for Galchenyuk.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 4 PIMS, 3 shots, 2 giveaways, 2 takeaways, 15:45 TOI
3rd Star: Charles Hudon – He certainly responded well after being sat down for a couple of games. Hudon was aggressive with his shot as usual and fit in nicely alongside Carr and Nicolas Deslauriers. (I’m sure it helped that Hudon and Carr spent time together with St. John’s too.) I’m not sure he’s a long-term fit at centre but if it helps keep him in the lineup, it’s worthy of exploring at least.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 4 shots, 2 hits, 2 takeaways, 1/4 faceoffs, 11:22 TOI
Honourable Mention: Brett Lernout – I don’t think he was Montreal’s fourth-best player but he bounced back from an ugly outing with a fairly decent performance which is at least worth a mention. Lernout was under a fair bit of pressure knowing that another tough night could be difficult to come back from but he and Jakub Jerabek surprisingly held their own. It’ll be interesting to see if he can repeat this performance against a tough Tampa team on Thursday.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 0 shots, 3 hits, 17:22 TOI