The Habs returned to action on Saturday night after having the rest of the week off. Their task was far from easy as they faced the Eastern Conference’s 3rd place Boston Bruins. This game had some intensity and was played at a fast pace for the majority of the 65 minutes. The Bruins came out on top 4-3 in the shootout, but I’m sure many Habs players will be disappointed they couldn’t earn the second point for their teammate Phillip Danault who will spend the night in the hospital after taking a scary looking Chara slap shot to the side of the head.
The Bruins had the better opening shift, but Carey Price gave his players a bit of energy with a dazzling glove save. This was followed by an event that was the norm in December, as the fourth line came on the ice and created some positive energy for the team. The next shift started with Max Pacioretty winning a puck battle along the boards. Pacioretty sent the puck to Victor Mete at the blueline who walked the line and fired on the net. Pacioretty jumped on the rebound to open the scoring since both Boston defenders were busy covering Artturi Lehkonen in front.
The opening goal appeared to the wake up the Bruins who started skating. Despite this awakening, the Habs were still a touch quicker as both teams went chance for chance over the next five minutes of play. Both goaltenders had to come up big for their respective teams to keep the score where it was. Finally, Charlie McAvoy took a tripping penalty on Andrew Shaw which altered the breakneck pace since the Habs goal. The Montreal power play cost them momentum as it was ineffective at even getting established in the Bruins’ zone. Despite Boston taking over the period, the next good chance came when Mete made a brilliant zone exit right on the tape of Alex Galchenyuk who dropped a pass right into Jonathan Drouin’s wheelhouse as Drouin hit the post hard on the one-timer. This would come back to haunt the Habs as Karl Alzner was beaten to two consecutive loose pucks in the Montreal zone on the very next shift, the consequence of which was a Phillip Danault penalty.
Boston’s power play was much more effective as Krug broke out of the Boston zone with a pass to Danton Heinen, who immediately found Patrice Bergeron. For some reason, David Schlemko and Jordie Benn thought that it would be a good idea to both cover Bergeron up high in the zone, leaving Paul Byron to cover Brad Marchand. Bergeron made a terrific pass to Marchand who would use his quick release to tie the game after the first period.
The second period was as fast-paced as the first, but this time the goaltenders would flinch. The scoring started nearly three minutes into the period. Jakub Jerabek went for a change but wasn’t covered by David Schlemko or Nicolas Deslauriers. This left Jake DeBrusk open for a breakaway as he outwaited Carey Price to put the Bruins ahead 2-1. Deslauriers wanted to make up for the lack of coverage on the last goal, so on his next shift, he picked off Chara and then turned on the speed and beat both Chara and McAvoy to the middle of the ice to snipe one home. Deslauriers looked like a skilled sniper on this play but remained his usual self in his exuberant goal celebrations that have become quite popular in Montreal.
On the next shift, DeBrusk victimized Jordie Benn with speed, but Price bailed him out with a nice save. After some back and forth action, David Pastrnak was called for an interference minor, sending Montreal to their second man advantage of the night. This power play would far exceed the first as Drouin found Pacioretty for a good chance on the first play. This worried the Bruins who covered Pacioretty, leaving Galchenyuk wide-open. Galchenyuk was unable to release his one-timer, so he controlled the puck and roofed a wrist shot to gain the lead once again. All this action happened in the first half of the period.
Montreal returned to the man advantage after Colin Miller cross-checked Brendan Gallagher. It was the Bruins who escaped on a breakaway, but it was stopped with a nice Galchenyuk back-check. This was the only scoring chance of the sequence as this looked like the first power play instead of the last. With 2:18 left to play in the period, the Bruins tied the game again. Boston won a draw to McAvoy who fired a shot. Jerabek stopped the shot but couldn’t control the rebound that found Krejci who put it home.
On the next shift, Chara took an off-balance shot that flew high and nailed Danault on the side of the helmet. Danault was down for an extended period before the medical staff decided it would be safer to take Danault off the ice via the stretcher. Danault was taken to hospital for exams despite being awake and moving after the head injury.
The third period started with Galchenyuk finding a streaking Drouin who rang yet another shot off the post. I’m sure that if “hit the post” was a kept statistic, Drouin would be among league leaders this season. Despite this good initial chance, the pace of the third period was markedly and understandably slower as players were really taken out of their zone to end the second period. Seven minutes into the period, Krug was called for interference. Unfortunately for Montreal, Jeff Petry would also be sent to the box for diving, which was an accurate call in my opinion. The two minutes of 4-on-4 created space but not much in terms of scoring opportunities.
The pace returned in the second half of the period as both teams had some extended shifts in the opposition zone forcing each goaltender to stand tall. Price made nice stops on Krejci, while Tuukka Rask stopped Charles Hudon and Galchenyuk back-to-back. With five minutes to play, Hudon ducked out of the way of a McAvoy hit. McAvoy took exception to the play and went after Hudon, taking an undisciplined penalty made worse by its timing. The power play was atrocious as Boston got the best two chances of the sequence. With only a few minutes left after the penalty, both teams played safe and ensured the gain of at least one point in the standings leading to overtime.
Montreal controlled the first half of the period as most of that time was spent in the Boston zone. Drouin, Galchenyuk, and Pacioretty all looked dangerous down low, but the highlights were two stellar defensive plays by Jerabek and Mete, keeping the Bruins from unchallenged breakaways. In the second half, Mete, Drouin, and Galchenyuk had an excellent shift end with bad judgement as all three players got stuck on the ice, but they were finally saved by a Carey Price glove stop. In the final seconds of the period, Jerabek put a puck behind Rask, but Krug was able to reach back and get the puck out of danger.
In the shootout, Byron scored top corner to start. This was followed by DeBrusk who copied Byron’s move and result. Drouin then was stopped by Rask before Pastrnak was successfully poke-checked by Price. In the third round, Pacioretty was stopped by Rask with the same move as Byron before McAvoy was also stopped when trying to go five-hole. In the final round, Galchenyuk appeared to have Rask at his mercy but couldn’t get the puck up. Marchand then came in and scored five-hole on Price to win the game.
Observation of the Night
I love that Jonathan Drouin prefers to carry the puck into the opposition zone rather than dump it in. I really do. I also enjoy that he plays with Galchenyuk who also prefers the puck control game. However, Galchenyuk was destroyed by many fans and media at the start of the season for not being able to properly read the play and understand when he had to fight his instinct and dump it in to allow his teammates to change, or to get organized. He was also criticized by the coaching staff, being sent to the fourth line. Drouin has been caught on many plays such as this lately, so I hope he figures it out the way Galchenyuk did this season. On this night, the second period was a nightmare for Drouin, as he essentially caused the Bruins’ second goal by not dumping it in, and nearly did it a second time the shift following the Galchenyuk goal. If not for an impressive Carey Price glove save, Drouin’s inability to read that his line mates were tired would have cost the team two goals. No matter if he plays centre or winger, he simply must play smarter hockey.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Nicolas Deslauriers
This is almost repetitive but the fourth line was a driving force to the play of the Canadiens on this night as both Shaw and Deslauriers make it in the top three of the night. Deslauriers was guilty of a lapse in defensive coverage but made up for it with a highlight reel individual effort on his goal, matched only by the highlight reel celebration, as is often the case with Deslauriers.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 2 shots, 8 hits, 11:53 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Alex Galchenyuk
Galchenyuk’s play since the start of December makes me question why the team would even entertain a trade at this point and time. This is a budding star that may very well be figuring things out on the wing. The chemistry between him and Drouin appears to be gaining as well as they are finding each other more and more in the offensive zone. Galchenyuk may never be what we all hoped when he was drafted, but he’s been an important offensive piece over the last month, one that the Canadiens surely can’t afford to lose if trade talks around Max Pacioretty come to fruition.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 2 shots, 1 hit, 18:32 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Andrew Shaw
Shaw, a natural winger, spent some time at centre on the team’s most effective line on the night. Then, he replaced Danault on the second line and as much as I hope the best result for Danault and his injury, having Shaw on the line made them more dangerous in the offensive zone in the third period. Shaw has been one of the most consistent Canadien since the Claude Julien hire, and tonight was an exceptional effort on his part.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 9 hits, 16:01 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Victor Mete
Coming off a trip to the WJC, it would have been easy for Mete to get caught playing like a junior player. Instead, he was mostly responsible, quick to recover when he did get caught, and made several intelligent offensive plays. None were more obvious than the simple shot that led to the first goal of the game by Pacioretty. Good for Mete to not get stuck with his heads in the clouds after what was surely one of the best experiences of his life. This list takes nothing away from Jerabek, Pacioretty, or Lehkonen, who all, I thought, had strong games.
Stats: 1 assist, +2, 2 shots, 17:35 T.O.I.