The Habs were in Toronto for a classic Saturday night tilt versus the Maple Leafs. While many fans are hoping for good play without wins in this lost season, hoping for such an outcome against the Leafs is simply not an option for many other fans. Both sections of the fanbase were disappointed as the Habs did not show up on this night, only losing 4-0 thanks to stellar play by the Montreal goaltender.
It had been a while since the last clunker for the Habs, so for it to happen against the Leafs on a Saturday night is a bit disappointing for sure. Even if it was disappointing, it wasn’t surprising as the Leafs won their 12th straight home game while the Habs lost their 6th straight on the road. Tomas Plekanec was playing the first of his 980+ games in the NHL against the Montreal Canadiens, a strange scene to say the least. Many Habs players committed a nice gesture toward Plekanec, opting to wear his “CH” turtleneck during the warmup. Players taking part in the gesture included Jeff Petry, Brendan Gallagher, Artturi Lehkonen, and Jacob de la Rose. The battle in the blue paint was also not the expected one as Charlie Lindgren got back in for Montreal. He faced Curtis McElhinney for the Leafs since Frederik Andersen was injured earlier this week.
The start of the game was slow as many whistles slowed both teams down and prevented any type of tempo from being established for these two young squads. A positive from the slow start is that it allowed Lindgren and McElhinney to get settled in with a few easy saves. At approximately the five-minute mark, the Habs started to control the play and were rewarded with a few good chances. Credit the Leafs defenders with protecting their netminder well as secondary chances that were available were not taken advantage of by Montreal players despite their presence in front of the net.
As the midway point of the period arrived, the momentum swung, and the Leafs started to control the play. Running out of gas in the second half of periods has become a pattern for the Habs in recent games. Is this due to lack of experience or lack of fitness? In any case, the Leafs got some zone time over the next five minutes, and this time it was the Montreal defenders doing a stellar job at isolating and protecting Lindgren.
With 5:28 to play, Alex Galchenyuk took an obvious penalty for closing his hand on the puck, opening the door for the lethal Leaf power play against a woeful Habs road penalty kill. At around the midway point of the advantage, Lindgren made a crazy glove save on Tyler Bozak after a great looking Mitch Marner pass. The save would not keep the power play off the board, as the following faceoff was won by the Leafs who quickly cycled until it landed on William Nylander’s stick who ripped one passed a screened Lindgren. The last four minutes were mostly spent in the Leafs zone, though no scoring chances came from the extended zone time as the period ended with a Habs deficit.
The Leafs came out strong to start the second and it rapidly paid dividends. After a few shifts spent in Montreal territory, Travis Dermott grabbed a rebound from his goaltender and sent a bank pass to a streaking Leafs forward. Kasperi Kapanen had snuck in behind an unsuspecting Noah Juulsen, got in alone, and made no mistake. The Habs skated for a few shifts as they created a few good chances without ever getting solid shots on net to capitalize on their own hard work.
At the five-minute mark, the Leafs got in but were turned away with another stellar cross-ice save by Lindgren. This last play turned the tide as the Leafs hemmed in the Canadiens who were chasing their own tails in the defensive zone. This intense pressure by the Leafs led to their second man advantage of the night as Karl Alzner was called for holding after a shift that lasted well over two minutes. The power play was effective, but Lindgren was excellent, making several highlight-worthy stops on the sequence.
With five minutes left in the period, another point shot against Lindgren provided the opposition with a juicy rebound that Kapanen put into the net. Luckily for the Habs, Julien challenged the goal and it came back since Plekanec had nudged Lindgren during his battle with Juulsen. To be fair, Plekanec clearly made a move toward the puck before Juulsen attempted to get body position back on Plekanec. The overturn did not matter much as the Leafs continued their domination and would be rewarded before the end of the period. With little over a minute to play, Michael McCarron took a high sticking penalty, which was bad news for the Habs, as usual. With only 29 seconds to play, Kadri tipped in a centring attempt by Marner as de la Rose was being spun like a rookie by Marner. The period ended with Lindgren making 24 of 26 saves on the period, so this one was not on him.
The Habs made a bit of a push to start the period as Jeff Petry, Brett Lernout, and Charles Hudon got some shots on net, but the chances were not quality ones. Once the Leafs pushed back, it did not take much to break the spirit of the Habs. The Leafs were all over the Canadiens, and then with eight minutes expired, they got help from the officials. Nicolas Deslauriers and Dermott got in a bit of a battle in front of the Leafs zone, with Patrick Marleau coming in and giving Deslauriers a few shots too. Somehow, Deslauriers was the only one sent to the penalty box in what can only be described as a strange call. Likely to correct this last situation, the officials were quick to hand one to the Leafs and it was every bit as questionable as Bozak was sent off for tripping Paul Byron.
The 4-on-4 play should have favoured the Leafs but a good shift by Mike Reilly and Artturi Lehkonen meant that the play was mostly in Toronto territory though Lehkonen fanned on the only good chance that came from that control in the offensive zone. With play back at even strength, the Leafs started playing safe. Unfortunately, even the Leafs sitting back did not mean good offensive pressure for the Habs because they simply could not complete accurate passes on this night. Finally, with five minutes to play, Andreas Johnsson’s first NHL goal would be the final nail in the coffin. As Reilly did a good job covering Hyman, Petry and Hudon completely fell asleep and allowed Johnsson to get by them to put in a rebound uncontested. Credit to McCarron too for standing there and not covering the streaking Johnsson. The Habs weren’t able to muster up much after that and didn’t really threaten McElhinney’s shutout.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Charlie Lindgren
Lindgren really did everything he could to keep this game from being a complete laugher. Despite an impressive number of acrobatic saves, his teammates could not be bothered to help him out. For a young netminder that has been struggling lately, I hope that many in the locker room give him a gigantic tap on the back for being the only reason this game was ever really a contest.
Stats: 45 saves on 49 shots, 4.00 GAA, .918 save %, 60:00 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Mike Reilly
On a night where the Montreal defenders basically treated the puck like a ticking time bomb, Reilly’s name is only one not associated with multiple egregious turnovers. No, it was not a good game for Reilly, it just wasn’t as bad as the rest of the tire fire that is this current blueline. When Jeff Petry and 20-year-old Juulsen having horrible games means that your D-corps is completely compromised, it’s a big pointer as to the issues that plague your team.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 2 shots, 21:52 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Brendan Gallagher
For a rare off night for Gallagher, his few attempts to get in McElhinney’s grill in the first period still stand out as a positive on this night so empty of other players stepping up and attempting to make something happen offensively. For his usual consistency, and at least attempting some plays in the first, we’ll give this one to Gallagher.
Stats: 0 points, 0 rating, 4 shots, 2 hits, 14:05 T.O.I.