The Habs were in New York on Friday for the second half of a home-and-home with the Islanders as they attempted to repeat Thursday’s 3-1 result. For the Habs, Charlie Lindgren got the start between the pipes, David Schlemko replaced Jordie Benn, and Daniel Carr replaced the injured Charles Hudon. The last-mentioned change caused Claude Julien to shuffle the entirety of his forward lines, creating an interesting second unit of Alex Galchenyuk – Jonathan Drouin – Brendan Gallagher. The line clicked for four goals and many more chances as the Habs swept the two-game set, this time by a 6-3 score at Barclays Center.
The game started with the line of Max Pacioretty – Phillip Danault – Artturi Lehkonen creating an early scoring chance as Pacioretty and Danault passed to each other behind the net before finding Lehkonen in front of the net for a first test on Jaroslav Halak. The Habs would open the scoring on the next shift. A sloppy zone entry by Gallagher was successful as he eventually fired the puck across to Drouin who dropped it to Galchenyuk at the blue line. Galchenyuk saw Gallagher in front of the net and floated a puck to the net that was redirected for Gallagher’s 22nd goal of the season.
Immediately after the goal, the third line came close to extending the lead as Nikita Scherbak completed a brilliant backhand saucer pass to Paul Byron who missed the net. The play finally settled for the Islanders over the next seven minutes as they slowly took over the period. To the credit of the young Canadiens, they kept the Isles to the outside, away from Lindgren’s crease and from dangerous scoring chances. With six minutes left to play in the period, the first penalty of the game went to Mike Reilly for slashing in the defensive zone. The Islanders got two good shots on Lindgren on the sequence, but they were one-and-done opportunities which allowed a successful penalty kill for the Habs.
The Islanders really controlled the play after the penalty, forcing Lindgren to make his best saves of the period in the final two minutes of the period. With ten seconds left in the period, Victor Mete committed to an ill-advised blueline pinch considering the time left on the clock. Tanner Fritz and Brock Nelson broke out together and played give-and-go before Fritz found himself alone and beat Lindgren to tie the game with four seconds left to play. Jeff Petry, Danault, and Lehkonen were all guilty of stick checks after the Mete decision. To defend Mete a bit, he would not return for the second period as he had hurt his hand blocking a shot.
With only one minute expired in the second period, Drouin was guilty of an offensive zone hooking penalty. Byron Froese spent a good portion of time in the Islanders zone on the penalty kill before drawing a hooking penalty of his own. It really looked like a dive by Froese that he managed to sell.
At 4-on-4, Galchenyuk went to work as he dangled through the offensive zone, drawing three Islanders to him before dropping the puck to David Schlemko. Schlemko hit the post with his shot, but Galchenyuk was the recipient of his own nice play as he restored the Montreal lead on the rebound. When Montreal’s shortened power play ended, what ensued can only be described as tire fire defensive play. First, Galchenyuk left the point for a backdoor pass but was left hanging when Drouin attempted the impossible pass. Petry made an excellent defensive play before Andrew Shaw made a pass that hit a skate and ended up on Josh Bailey’s stick all alone in front of Lindgren who stood tall. As Montreal came up the ice, both Reilly and Petry joined the rush, so not a single player was back when Galchenyuk’s pass missed. Despite Froese’s best attempt to get back, Bailey was off alone again, and this time he didn’t miss, deking out Lindgren to tie the game on the third chance of the sequence.
Just past the midway point of the period, Nick Leddy had his zone clearing attempt deflect on Gallagher’s stick right to Mike Reilly. Reilly accepted the gift and immediately fired a cross-ice pass to Galchenyuk who was ready for the play and one-timed the puck to the net to once again restore the lead. On this same line’s next shift, they were all over the Islanders, this time luring Nelson to the penalty box with a slashing call. The Montreal man advantage would not generate anything, opting to play rather safely, perhaps a good thing considering how the last one had ended. Froese was be sent to the box and with three seconds to play, Nelson tipped home an Anthony Beauvillier pass to tie the game making it two straight periods where the Habs allowed a late tally.
The opening five minutes of the third period were shared between the two teams. Both teams shared offensive chances and terribly sloppy play with the puck. The highlight of the first quarter of the period was the departure of Pacioretty from the game, he who had been struggling with a leg injury since the later parts of the second period. As the second portion of the period began, the Islanders started to look like a team desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive while the Canadiens looked like a team playing with five defenders and eleven forwards, and no additional purpose to the game other than pride and job security for next October.
The Habs bent without breaking before Gallagher returned to the rescue. Jacob de la Rose completed a solid forecheck to get the puck to Gallagher behind the Islander net. Gallagher found Byron who scored on the Habs third shot of the period. A little over one minute later, the Habs were buzzing in the Islanders zone when Lehkonen dropped a pass to Noah Juulsen who fired a laser from the blue line for his first NHL goal. After the goal, Mathew Barzal would take an unsportsmanlike penalty as he felt that Froese should have been penalized on the play. The ensuing Habs power play did not amount to much, but a few moments later, Daniel Carr would hit the post on an odd-man rush.
With four minutes to play, Lehkonen scored on a play that was clearly goaltender interference. The goal was rightfully called off, though the decision to penalize Shaw on the play was perhaps an overreaction. On the fourth Islanders man advantage of the night, Lindgren had to make three solid stops to keep the two-goal lead intact. With Halak gone to the bench and only seconds remaining, it was Galchenyuk who forechecked John Tavares to steal the puck and score in the empty cage for his second career hat-trick in his 400th career game.
Observation of the Night
Tonight’s game provides a ton of questions moving forward. If Victor Mete is to miss time moving forward (and Rinat Valiev has already been recalled), will Mike Reilly continue to get an audition in the top-four? I sure hope so, as he’s shown more in two games than Schlemko and Benn have shown in 40+. Reilly and Petry also didn’t look terrible together, so maybe the pairing can work. Would this occurrence create even more ice time for Noah Juulsen? Again, I hope so. Juulsen has looked quite good and it’s time to really test the kid against the big boys. Up front, can the Galchenyuk-Drouin-Gallagher line duplicate tonight’s performance? Also, what would a Max Pacioretty absence mean for the forward lines? Will the organization get a glimpse into its potential future? Will Claude Julien try a Scherbak-Hudon combo on the wings? Where does this leave Lehkonen? Or does Julien, at some point, attempt a Lehkonen-Hudon-Scherbak line combination?
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Alex Galchenyuk
Galchenyuk had been playing too well to be kept off the scoresheet the way he had been. Tonight, he exploded with a four-point effort, and it could have been even more. He’s the hottest Hab by a mile. In fact, this is the best streak any player on this team has put together this season. Brendan Gallagher may be a warrior that never gives up, but Galchenyuk is creating offensive chances on almost every shift right now. Here’s hoping he can carry this play into next season.
Stats: 3 goals, 1 assist, +3, 5 shots, 17:07 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Another captain-like effort from Gallagher on this lost season with his relentless forecheck and his will to pay the price in front of the net. It’s been said numerous times over the season and it merits saying again. All the kids playing in the Habs minor league system should be looking up to Brendan Gallagher as the ‘C’ of the organisation. The kid just never quits.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +4, 2 shots, 1 hit, 15:50 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Noah Juulsen
Since being recalled, Juulsen has averaged over 19 minutes per game over his five games. He’s played top-four, therefore being thrown to the wolves at times in terms of quality of opponents. The kid’s reaction? +3, eight shots, solid defensive play, and now a goal. What a first impression!
Stats: 1 goal, +2, 2 shots, 3 hits, 21:54 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Mike Reilly
It’s hard to tell if the bar has been set low or if these kids were simply awaiting their turn. Either way, Reilly’s second game in Montreal was even more successful than his first. There is no doubt that if he keeps up this type of play, Reilly might be forcing his way onto the October roster quickly.
Stats: 2 assists, +4, 1 shot, 1 hit, 21:29 T.O.I.