The Habs took to the ice on this Sunday night trying to string together two wins after Marc Bergevin’s presser where the GM sent a message to his troops that he had not yet given up on the current season. A win on this night would send the Habs on their rest week feeling good about themselves after the whirlwind of negativity that has been this season, dating all the way back to the summer. Facing the surprising Vancouver Canucks, the Canadiens played a very safe game but played it effectively as they controlled the game for most of this contest. The 5-2 victory over the Canucks was indicative of the general flow of the game and allows the Habs to hopefully ride this wave of positivity into their important match upon their return; a game against the Bruins next Saturday night.
The game started quite tentatively as both teams played it rather safe. This was essentially the case for the opening seven minutes. Perhaps the exception to this was the standout effort by the team’s fourth line of Nicolas Deslauriers, Jacob de la Rose, and Andrew Shaw who were hitting and creating some havoc in the Canucks zone. This fourth line created some momentum for the Canadiens, and with 10:21 to play, Karl Alzner sent a rather innocent looking shot toward the net that hit Troy Stecher to fool Anders Nilsson. Nilsson was also distracted by Brendan Gallagher heading towards the net, but Alzner was credited for his first since joining the Canadiens.
Stecher would get trapped for a second time as Phillip Danault and Max Pacioretty worked a give-and-go to create a scoring chance that forced Stecher to hold onto Pacioretty to prevent a second goal against. This first man advantage of the night proved to be ineffective, even if a few decent scoring chances were created by the Habs. On the shift that followed the Stecher penalty, Jakub Jerabek was caught flat-footed at the Montreal blue line and made up for it by tripping Sam Gagner. During the Vancouver power play, Paul Byron was able to be his usual self as he skated his way to a breakaway that was stopped by Nilsson. The Byron opportunity would be the only scoring chance as Montreal escaped their first excursion into penalty land unscathed. The last four minutes of the period was rather uneventful, though most of it was played in the Canucks’ zone. Andrew Shaw would commit a bad neutral zone turnover in the last moments of the period and would then compound that mistake by tripping Brendan Gaunce and sending the Canucks back to the man advantage with 28 seconds to play in the period. It was a power play that would not get much done in the initial seconds.
The second period began with the Canadiens successfully killing their second penalty of the evening with the most dangerous chance of the sequence once again coming from the stick of Byron. Byron was able to create enough havoc in the Vancouver zone to send Derrick Pouliot to the penalty box for hooking. During the brief 4-on-4 sequence, Pacioretty stood out as he almost got a gift from Nilsson before working his way in front of the net for a second scoring chance on the shift. Montreal then extended their lead on the power play as Jonathan Drouin and Jeff Petry played catch at the point before Petry sent it directly into Alex Galchenyuk’s sweet spot for his favourite one-timer for a 2-0 lead. A few minutes later, Tomas Plekanec would be sent to the sin bin for slashing. The Vancouver man advantage was far more threatening than the first, although Carey Price was up to the task when he needed to be to keep the score 2-0.
Once the penalty was expired, Julien experimented with a line of Jonathan Drouin centring Charles Hudon and Galchenyuk, and the result was interesting as Hudon hit a post and barely missed the net on a second scoring chance. The line did not stay together, but I’m sure Julien stored that information for later use. De la Rose was then sent in on a breakaway by Shaw, but the puck would not settle down as the chance ended with a simple shot on net that Nilsson handled. With 6:56 to play, the Canucks cut into the Montreal lead as Gallagher was unable to control Price’s pass along the boards and Alex Edler put a puck on net that Daniel Sedin was able to tip to beat Price. The goal gave Vancouver some life as they finally spent some time in the Montreal zone until Nic Dowd took a neutral zone slashing penalty when Pacioretty’s stick broke. Galchenyuk had a few good shots on net, but the power play was not able to capitalize.
The final period began with a bit more action as Danault and Jake Virtanen exchanged scoring chances in the opening two minutes of play. Before the third minute could expire, Drouin was guilty of an offensive zone turnover that sent the Canucks on the attack. Daniel Sedin sent Brock Boeser and Michael Del Zotto on a 2-on-1 when David Schlemko inexplicably compounded Drouin’s mistake by pinching on Sedin. As Galchenyuk tried to get back in the play to cover for Schlemko, Boeser beat the defending Petry on the play and Del Zotto beat Price five-hole to tie the game.
The tie game appeared to wake up the Canadiens who then really took control. Hudon, Galchenyuk, and Pacioretty all made threatening appearances in front of Nilsson’s net, but it would ultimately be the team’s top scorer, Gallagher, who would once again be the difference on this night. Plekanec won an offensive zone faceoff before Byron could lose the battle for the puck down low. Alzner intercepted Gagner’s clearing attempt and put the puck on net. The rebound came out right to Gallagher who buried a wrist shot with 11:16 to play.
Gallagher attempted to add to the lead a few minutes later as he found himself in the same location one usually finds Gallagher, forcing Nilsson to hold on tight to a rebound that would have found itself in the back of the net. The chances kept coming as Hudon was stoned twice by Nilsson as Pacioretty was finding him all around the Vancouver zone. Danault then dangled a few Canuck players in the neutral zone before firing a puck off the post as he barrelled into Nilsson. With 1:15 to play, Plekanec lost a neutral zone draw, but Byron and Gallagher forechecked to create a 2-on-1 break, with Gallagher finding Byron who scored five-hole on Nilsson. Finally, with Nilsson at the bench in favour of the extra-attacker, Pacioretty scored the empty-netter to end the game.
Observation of the Night
This game was a complete anti-climax after the Tampa Bay, but Montreal didn’t fall completely flat after such an emotional win, so that was good on their part. I thought their defenders played a very effective game, making the simple plays to consistently get out of trouble. Jerabek and Alzner, who have had their issues with this part of the game, were noticeably better at trusting that their teammates would make it to the areas on the ice where they were laying pucks. This is a clear sign that the Tampa game created some confidence in the group, something that is dearly needed if the Habs seriously intend to make a run between now and the trade deadline.
Habsworld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Karl Alzner
This was easily the most involved I’ve seen Alzner this season. Sure, his goal was not the prettiest ever, but he took the puck and attacked the offensive zone with it. He also made some good safe plays and took a hard hit to the boards that made him miss a portion of the third period. He came back just in time to make another good offensive play to create the game winner. Considering what he’s provided so far this season, tonight far exceeded expectations.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +3, 2 shots, 0 hits, 15:37 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher was rather quiet around the puck, but he was always present in his office. He was there when Galchenyuk scored, and he was headed there when Alzner scored. Then, he was headed there again when he found a rebound and scored the game-winner. Finally, he created the turnover to put the game out of reach. It wasn’t his best game of the season, but he did what he does best, and the team was rewarded for it.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 5 shots, 0 hits, 13:22 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Alex Galchenyuk
I mentioned last game that Galchenyuk was holding on to the puck a fraction of a second too long before shooting. Considering the opposition (and this is a compliment to Tampa more than an insult to Vancouver), he got the extra second tonight and it showed. He was dangerous all night long, and if he was fully confident, he likely buries more goals than he did on this night. He’s been playing quite well, and his ice time has reflected this. Here’s hoping he keeps this up since this team desperately needs his offensive abilities.
Stats: 1 goal, -1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 18:11 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Charles Hudon
Despite his lack of production, Hudon continues to look dangerous. Whether he starts scoring or becomes this generations’ Jan Bulis, Hudon is playing some solid hockey and creating a list of scoring chances on many nights.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 4 shots (five others didn’t hit the net), 1 hit, 17:07 T.O.I.