The Habs were on the ice for their only contest before the weekend on Monday night as they hosted the Detroit Red Wings. This was another game that meant little other than lottery implications so the Habs were faced with Jared Coreau playing in only his fifth NHL game this season. For the Habs, Carey Price was enabled to continue his little NHL rehab stint, this time facing a team that should have allowed him to look like an elite NHL goaltender. As for the lineup, Michael McCarron was moved to the wing as Daniel Carr sat out and Byron Froese returned to the lineup. The Habs really looked like the better team for most of the night, with Price needing to make occasional saves to keep his team with the proper momentum. Against the lowly Red Wings, this type of play led the Habs to a 4-2-win.
The first shift of the game belonged to the Habs as a nice Jordie Benn slap-pass was destined for Artturi Lehkonen who tipped the puck toward the net where Coreau made the early stop. This would be the best scoring chance despite the Habs spending most of the opening five minutes in the Red Wings zone. The first Red Wings shot of the night was one that Price had no chance on. Brett Lernout failed to retrieve the Detroit dump-in and Mike Reilly was completely out to lunch in his defensive zone coverage. This left Gustav Nyquist all alone as he received a pass from Henrik Zetterberg and one-timed it past Price.
When play resumed, it immediately returned to the Red Wings zone as Charles Hudon and Nikita Scherbak put on a puck control clinic that ended with a Scherbak shot trickling behind Coreau, though not quick enough to cross the red line before the netminder covered it up. Both teams exchanged sequences of extended pressure in each other’s zone without being threatening even if the Habs were getting tons of shots on the young netminder. Lernout then took a tripping penalty as Scherbak was surprised at the offensive blue line by a nice pass from Lernout which led to a Detroit odd-man rush. This, in turn, caused Lernout to trip up the pass option in his attempt to get back in the play. The Habs managed to kill the penalty but an offensive zone fan by Brendan Gallagher resulted in another odd-man rush for Detroit, this time Price came up huge on a nice redirect by Glendening.
A solid forecheck by the Jacob de la Rose line lured Dylan Larkin to a hooking penalty on the very next shift. The Montreal power play would make quick work on their opportunity as Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron battled deep in the Detroit zone. They sent the puck up to Jeff Petry on the blue line who went cross-ice to Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk opted not to shoot and instead passed to Byron in the high slot who back-handed home the equalizer with under two minutes to play in the period.
The second period started with the de la Rose line standing still and the result was an important save for Price in the first minute. The Habs settled down and as the period advanced, the home team started to control the game more and more until Gallagher picked up a Karl Alzner rebound and spun the puck to the front of the net and saw the puck bounce off Danny DeKeyser and past young Coreau for 2-1 Montreal lead.
When play resumed, more forechecking from Gallagher and Byron led to a Red Wings penalty as Trevor Daley was sent to the box after tripping Byron in the slot. The man advantage looked threatening for the entire two-minute segment as they excelled in puck retrieval to keep plays alive. Not long after the penalty, a point shot from Reilly was tipped by Gallagher. While the shot did not completely fool Coreau, the puck was left trickling behind him as Gallagher slapped it home to ensure the goal and his first 30-goal season in the NHL.
McCarron and Evgeny Svechnikov would then be sent to the box to coincidental minors. The 4-on-4 had the opposite effect of what is usually expected as neither team was able to control the puck and create anything interesting with the extra space. With the play back to full strength, the Red Wings caught Scherbak with a soft zone clearing attempt to the spot where he is supposed to be. The ensuing scrambled ended when Nyquist put a puck on net that fooled Price as Tyler Bertuzzi was able to push the rebound home to cut the lead in half.
The final minutes were difficult for defenders of both teams as play was generally sloppy leading to many missed chances as hitting the net remained an important obstacle for the forwards of each team heading to the third period.
The start of the third was as unentertaining as hockey can get as the two teams appeared to be playing a game of hot potato with the puck instead of hockey. Throughout this sloppy play, a few observations can be shared. Firstly, the Canadiens were the team controlling the play as the puck found itself in the offensive zone far more than the defensive zone. While that isn’t saying much considering the lack of scoring chances, it’s at least a start. Finally, if things appear bleak in Montreal, consider that the Habs, consisting of many Laval Rocket players, outplayed an NHL team that was rather healthy.
With the initial half of the period out of the way without any noteworthy event, the second half of the period was slightly more entertaining. With five minutes to play, Nyquist took a holding penalty. For the second time on the night, the Habs wasted little time in taking advantage of their power play. After an exchange between Drouin, Petry, and Galchenyuk, Petry opted for a shot. With everyone battling for the rebound, it was Galchenyuk who skated in from the half wall to put home his 18th of the season and put the final nail in Detroit’s coffin.
Before the game would end, Charles Hudon would accept a series of nasty cross-checks from DeKeyser. He got up and sought revenge with a low hit on Zetterberg that drew the ire from the Red Wings. For all the times I’ve questioned and criticized officiating, they got it right this time as both Tyler Bertuzzi and Hudon were ejected from the game with misconducts and play resumed 4-on-4. With three minutes to play in the game, the altercation would change little in the outcome of the contest, though it deserves to be said that the last two minutes was a mini Carey Price show as the Wings pushed for a later goal and Price was not spectacular but he was effective. Vintage Carey Price to end the night.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Brendan Gallagher
The player who is without a doubt the 1st star for the entire season was at it again. Gallagher reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time of his career. If his first goal of the night was somewhat lucky, his second was an absolutely, typical, nose-to-the-grindstone, Gallagher goal as he tipped it home. In the disaster that has been the 2017-2018 season, Gallagher stands as the only bright spot to have been in full bloom for all 82 games.
Stats: 2 goals, +1 rating, 5 shots, 20:59 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Alex Galchenyuk
If Gallagher is undoubtedly the team’s substitute captain, its most consistent player, and its top scorer, Galchenyuk gets the nod as the most improved, does he not? He was dangerous all night yet again, making an excellent heads-up pass on the first goal before scoring the goal that restored the two-goal lead. In addition to this, he’s winning puck battles and committing to defensive plays with far more regularity (though it’s still not perfect).
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 0 rating, 3 shots, 17:35 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Paul Byron
In a season with little positivity, it’s surprising that Byron isn’t getting more attention. He’s a reliable soldier who is about to achieve that 20-goal mark for the second time in two years. As a waiver wire pick-up who’s still signed for another season at a dirt-cheap price, this is a player that should be receiving more positive attention.
Stats: 1 goal, +2 rating, 4 shots, 3 hits, 20:08 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jacob De la Rose
Scherbak was all over the ice in the first period before settling into a less than stellar rest of the game. Jacob de la Rose wasn’t quite as spectacular, but he’s giving the believers some hope heading into next season. I’m not sure I believe this hype… at all, but regardless, he’s playing much better of late. In this one, he was even confident enough with the puck to drive the net with it a few times. An interesting development in his case considering this writer thought his NHL career in Montreal was over.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 1 shot, 3 hits, 14:21 T.O.I.