After an impressive win against Colorado on Tuesday, the Habs took to the ice for the last time before the All-Star break looking to start their time off on the right foot. They faced the Carolina Hurricanes, a team as desperate as Montreal to remain relevant in the hunt for a playoff position. The game mostly looked like an All-Star game as neither team played much defence, as the fans were treated to an offensive showcase. Unfortunately, it was a showcase that did not favour the Habs in the end, as they lost 6-5.
This game started with some growing pains for two young defenders who had been playing excellent recently. Victor Mete was guilty of a soft play in his own zone which resulted in the ‘Canes getting significant zone time. Luckily for Mete, Carolina did not score on the play. Jakub Jerabek wasn’t as lucky as his soft clearing attempt was picked off in the defensive zone by Teuvo Teravainen who ended a give-and-go with Justin Williams for an early Carolina lead. All this occurred in the first three shifts of the game, leaving Montreal to play some catch-up hockey with only two minutes expired.
On the next shift, Marcus Kruger tripped Mete and the Habs had a chance to even the score. The power play was effective in getting access to the Carolina zone, but their strategy at the top of the zone was watched closely by Carolina so it couldn’t open up scoring lanes or scoring chances. A few minutes after the failed man advantage, Tomas Plekanec was caught out of position and took a tripping penalty as result. The Hurricanes power play looked much like Montreal’s, but with a little over 30 seconds to go, Victor Rask took a shot that Carey Price stopped with his right pad. David Schlemko was in a deep slumber in front of his own net as Jordan Staal scooped up the rebound while skating through a stunned Schlemko.
Knowing that a third goal would likely mean this end of this game, Price then supplied some positivity for the fans in attendance as he completed some nice saves to stop the bleeding for his sleepwalking teammates. After these saves, Phillip Di Giuseppe really lined up Byron Froese who was able to avoid the worst. Jacob de la Rose took exception and dropped the mitts in an effort to get his team going. This attempt was unsuccessful as Price continued to make some great saves to keep the game close, none better than stopping Skinner on a breakaway as the defenders continued to stand and watch the Hurricanes playing with the puck around them.
After an ugly opening period, the second opened to a solid shift by the Artturi Lehkonen, Plekanec, and Brendan Gallagher line. Unfortunately for Montreal, they were unable to maintain this momentum as the Hurricanes took over on the very next shift. With a little over a minute played, it appeared fans were in for another full period of Carolina players outskating Montreal players to every loose puck available. As the next five minutes of play unfolded with relatively little action to speak of, what happened is that Montreal slowly started to get their legs moving as they started applying pressure on the youthful Carolina defenders.
With six minutes expired in the period, the whirlwind began. A scrambled zone entry by the top Habs line ended up with Paul Byron controlling the puck behind Cam Ward’s net. Byron sent a pass up the boards to Jeff Petry who fired the puck toward the net. The puck had eyes as it found its way through traffic only to hit the two posts. Charles Hudon was skating toward the net and was able to deposit the loose puck into the empty net to cut the lead to 2-1 with 13:52 still to play in the second period. This play created momentum that the Habs took little time taking advantage of as Plekanec applied pressure which created a terrible clearing attempt by Carolina up the middle. Gallagher intercepted the attempt and fired a slap shot to the top corner, and forty seconds after their initial tally, the Habs had tied the game.
That score would not last long. On the next shift, Jerabek and Nicolas Deslauriers lost a puck battle in the defensive zone. With the rest of the team in good defensive posture, Jordie Benn inexplicably lost his man when there was no chance to get the puck. Hanifin found the wide-open Jeff Skinner to make the score 3-2 with 12:53 still to play in the period. On the very next shift, Mete was guilty of a soft clearing attempt that was intercepted by Teravainen who was left alone on Price scoring on a backhand for the fourth goal in 1:27.
After a few quiet shifts, Montreal got back to the offence as Byron had a shot blocked. The puck found Hudon who struggled to handle the bouncing puck before firing his second of the night, this time an excellent shot by the rookie. This fifth goal was scored before 2:30 had expired after the initial goal of the period.
While both teams settled down their defensive play after this incredible onslaught of goals, it is worth noting that momentum had completely shifted and the Habs spent the rest of the period in the Carolina zone. Ward spent what was left of the second making great stops on many Montreal forwards to preserve the one-goal lead. The dominance was so marked that the score couldn’t stay 4-3 for too long. With slightly over a minute left, Hudon won an offensive zone faceoff, Pacioretty sent the puck toward Petry who skated into the zone and beat Ward five-hole to tie the game again.
However, with less than 30 seconds to play, Benn attempted to pinch in the offensive zone with three Habs forwards caught in deep and three Carolina players on the rush. This play that is unacceptable in peewee hockey left Jerabek defending a 2-on-1, with Galchenyuk skating toward the second forward instead of picking up the high forward. That third forward was Derek Ryan who scored on the rebound to restore the Carolina lead with three seconds left in the period.
Because there wasn’t enough action in the second period, Karl Alzner started the third period by taking a high-sticking penalty. The Habs survived the man advantage, and most of the first half of the period was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams playing adequately defensive hockey after what was surely an interesting intermission in both locker rooms.
With 10:36 to play, the Hurricanes took a penalty, awarding the Habs a golden opportunity to tie the game. Drouin won the initial draw on the power play as the puck found its way toward Petry. Petry’s shot from the blueline was beautifully tipped by Pacioretty, as the game once again found itself at square one.
That would last all of ten seconds (literally) as a completely broken zone entry became a tipped shot by Williams that completely fooled Price to restore the lead. Montreal applied much pressure for the rest of the period, but the Canes went into a shell and defended their zone, with Ward making a few nice saves in the process. With two minutes left to play in the game, Price went to the bench and the Habs came close as Byron redirected a shot from the blueline directly onto the post. That would be as close as they would get though.
Observation of the Night
If this night doesn’t confirm what fans have been saying all year long, then I don’t know what will. This blueline is not good enough to give this team a chance. Now, the fanbase will be tested to put their money where their mouth is after this game. For most of the season, the consensus amongst fans has been to play Jerabek and Mete. With a seemingly lost season, it was time to play these rookies and live with their mistakes as they learned to play at this level. Well, Jerabek and Mete were both atrocious on this night. It’s unfortunate that it happened on the same night, but will fans have the patience to live with the rookie mistakes?
Where I think the fuse should be much shorter is with the veteran defenders who were every bit as bad. Alzner didn’t do much, but he was covering for Petry who was attacking all night, and looking good doing it too. However, Benn and Schlemko are supposed to be solid defensive guys that should be able to cover for their respective rookie partners. Both were every bit as bad as their partners. Benn was specifically terrible, responsible for two goals against in my book. Four blueliners having off nights at once left Julien with little options to overcome this handicap, further highlighting the priority that Marc Bergevin must deal with.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Charles Hudon
Hudon has been celebrated all season long for his play by the advanced metrics crowd. There was no doubt that he was playing well, but to stick as a top line player in the NHL, creating chances doesn’t suffice. A player must focus and actually bury those chances. Now, Hudon has been shooting a bunch and tonight, he had a few go in. If he can complete these plays with a bit more regularity, he’ll be a top line winger for years to come, and I hope he can do it. Watching him play was quite entertaining.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +1, 6 shots, 3 hits, 16:14 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Whenever this team needs a spark, or a little emotion, there is only one possible answer as to who will be creating this and that is Gallagher. His effort can never be questioned and he tries different plays to score so goaltenders always must respect his shot. When all else fails, he finds the front of the net to disturb the opposition. Some will argue that his body will break down and he should be traded. I’ll argue that I’ll take the years he has left playing like this even if the team pays two years where his body is done at the end. Bring me more Gallagher, not less!
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 1 shot, 18:31 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jeff Petry
The only Montreal defender to not have a completely terrible game, Petry was an offensive threat all night. He somehow does a better job of picking his spots to join the rush when he’s obligated to play more minutes than he should due to Weber’s absence. On a night where the other five defenders really stunk up the joint, Petry stood out as a positive for the team.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +1, 4 shots, 2 hits, 27:31 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Max Pacioretty
On most nights this season, the effort put forth by Pacioretty would have been enough to be named in the top-3. He’s on the outside looking in for this one, but he was physical and creating chances for his linemates. Of late, he’s been a creator of momentum for the team, something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him do before. Though he’s in a definite off-season for scoring, if he finds a new facet to his game, this could be a positive to come out of this year.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 17:36 T.O.I.