oper Friday night’s win in Buffalo despite a sub-par performance, the Habs were back at it on Saturday, this time facing a much more formidable opponent in the Washington Capitals. If last night was any indication, the Habs didn’t stand much of a chance, but as the saying goes, that’s why the games are played on the ice. There were a few minor tweaks to the lineup as Michael McCarron returned to the lineup in the place of Byron Froese and Carey Price replaced Antti Niemi. The result of the game was as expected as the Habs ultimately fell by a score of 6-4. However, Montreal came out strong and one call turned the tide; such is life as a fragile team, and that’s exactly what the Habs showed themselves to be on this night.
The Habs were ready to go at the start as they really dominated play over the first half of the period. On the second shift of the game, Washington committed a defensive zone turnover that Artturi Lehkonen turned into a good scoring chance for Alex Galchenyuk. After a strong forechecking shift from the fourth line, Nikita Scherbak took the Bell Centre crowd out of their seats as he completed three consecutive moves on Washington defender Jakub Jerabek before offering himself a good scoring chance that backup netminder Philip Grubauer handled.
Just before the Scherbak moves, Alex Ovechkin took advantage of Noah Juulsen not paying attention to sneak in on a breakaway that he was not able to take advantage of because he tripped over his feet when facing Price. Price would then take out the glove to stop a dangerous looking 2-on-1. The Habs would respond and help their goaltender. A good forecheck by Lehkonen and Jacob de la Rose led to another turnover and this time it left Galchenyuk alone with Grubauer. Galchenyuk deked to his backhand and roofed it to make it 1-0 Montreal with 11:24 to play in the period.
Within the next minute, the napping Capitals would commit yet another turnover, this time it was a nifty back pass by Jonathan Drouin that would leave Brendan Gallagher all alone with Grubauer. The top scorer made no mistake for what appeared to be a 2-0 lead. However, the zone entry nearly a minute earlier was deemed offside, so the turnover was forgiven, and the score remained 1-0. On a goal such as this one, I truly wonder if the NHL should perhaps adopt the playing the puck with a high stick rule with this offside review stuff. What I mean is that when the Capitals take control of the puck in their defensive zone, the missed offside becomes irrelevant and unreviewable. Washington’s turnover and the ensuing Gallagher goal had absolutely nothing to do with the missed offside. What’s worse about it is that the review gave Barry Trotz time to lay into his team, therefore completely changing the outcome of the game on a call that is correct but can certainly be debatable in terms of “what should be”.
Regardless, play resumed, and the Capitals completely took over the period. T.J. Oshie would immediately get a chance from the slot, forcing Price to make a beauty glove save for the second time in the period. Logan Shaw then took a high sticking penalty, sending a lethal power play to work. It wasted little time as Evgeny Kuznetsov used Karl Alzner as a screen to beat Price low on the short side to tie the game.
With 5:11 to go, Price committed a bad giveaway in his own zone which resulted in a Tom Wilson goal and a 2-1 Washington lead. Now, there is no denying that the giveaway was bad, but the two defenders get their fair share of the blame on the play. Young Brett Lernout has to trust what he sees and tell Price to reverse. And how does Jordie Benn miss that pass? He’s under pressure, yes, but that play should be made. Three mistakes on one play and it deserved to end up in the Montreal net. The Capitals weren’t done piling it on either. With two minutes to play, Jeff Petry, Galchenyuk, and Jonathan Drouin all got caught staring at their defensive assignments as Backstrom found Wilson for his second of the period and a 3-1 lead.
The Habs once again came out strong to start the second period as they effectively forechecked the Washington defenders causing some turnovers much like they did early in the first period. After a few missed chances, Petry blew a tire in the defensive zone which allowed the Caps to get in on the forecheck. This resulted in Scherbak hooking Lars Eller sending the Caps to their second man advantage of the night. This time Benn and Lernout came up big and prevented a second goal against.
With play back at even strength, the Capitals kept the pressure on the tired Canadiens as Dmitry Orlov took advantage of a completely broken play to fire a shot towards Jay Beagle that deflected directly into the net making the score 4-1. Play settled into a rather boring period as Washington appeared content with their lead, and Montreal didn’t really have the lineup to penetrate the Caps’ defensive structure.
With five minutes left in the period, Wilson took a holding penalty on Drouin as the Habs got their first power play of the night. The man advantage got some zone time but not much in terms of scoring chances. In the dying moments of the period, Benn got the puck at the blueline. He put it on net before the buzzer and Charles Hudon was in the slot to deflect it through Grubauer to make the score 4-2 with only one second left on the clock. For the second time on the night, the goal would be reviewed (this time for a deflection with a high stick). Unlike Gallagher’s goal, Hudon’s marker would stand, making the score 4-2 heading to the third.
Drouin took a lazy, selfish hooking penalty in the offensive zone only a minute into the period. Ten seconds later, Backstrom found Kuznetsov cross-ice for his fourth assist of the night, effectively ending any possible comeback by the Habs. At the five-minute mark, Jerabek took a shot from the blueline with the Montreal skaters way too far in their own zone. The shot went through Oshie and Shaw, though it was another short-side goal that Price should have stopped.
20 seconds later, Wilson took a high stick penalty as Montreal got their second man advantage. The first unit got some zone time, but they got off the ice quickly as Julien wanted to give the kids some time in a 6-2 game.
At the midway point of the period, Logan Shaw completed a solid forecheck and Scherbak wisely headed for the net. The puck ended up on Hudon’s stick, who sniped a shot through the Scherbak screen to the top corner to make it 6-3.
With three minutes to play, Ovechkin slashed Alzner for Montreal to get a third power play opportunity. A minute into the advantage which saw Galchenyuk, Gallagher, and Drouin all get good scoring chances, Drouin walked in for a second time and fired a shot that hit Gallagher on its way in to make it 6-4 with two minutes to play. After a great forecheck by Gallagher, Galchenyuk got a great chance but just missed the short side and that would be the only chance they could muster with the empty net as the comeback attempt fell short.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Alex Galchenyuk
Galchenyuk was once again easily the most dangerous Hab on the night. His defensive work remains a work in progress, but the effort level also remains much improved over what we’ve historically seen from him. In addition to being the most dangerous Hab, he was also the author of the first goal which gave the Habs the early lead.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 3 shots, 2 hits, 17:56 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Charles Hudon
Honestly, Hudon was rather invisible until his goal in the dying moments of the second period. However, he came out strong in the third after his late goal in the second, creating many chances for himself and added his second of the game in the dying minutes.
Stats: 2 goals, +1 rating, 4 shots, 4 hits, 15:02 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher was robbed of a goal early after a great forecheck. He continued to forecheck hard and tried to carry the line as both Drouin and Byron did not have great games. He was then in his office for his late power play goal and made more great plays in the dying moments of the game, once again showing just how relentless he really is.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 3 shots, 1 hit, 18:22 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Nikita Scherbak
If Scherbak was the recipient of some excellent Hudon play in the third, he had been the creator of some of his own chances earlier in the first period. His entire body of work remains a work in progress, but flashes are shown and they were highly evident on this night. If this player can be consistently not terrible defensively, his offensive upside is through the roof.
Stats: 0 points, 0 rating, 1 shot, 14:23 T.O.I.