The Habs were in action for a second consecutive night on Tuesday, a test that the young players currently in Montreal did not do well with the last time around. On this night, they would face yet another team in a battle for their playoff lives in the Western Conference in the Dallas Stars who sit first in the Wild Card. The battle of the goaltenders included two familiar names even if neither inspires much confidence league-wide as Antti Niemi was facing Kari Lehtonen. Claude Julien opted to sit Daniel Carr as Byron Froese returned to the lineup. Perhaps the most noteworthy pregame storyline was obviously the return of Alexander Radulov in Montreal after the fan favourite left town over some money issues last summer. The Habs came out with a game plan to physically punish the Stars on this night and it proved effective. The Habs outhit the Stars 48-30, with Nicolas Deslauriers (11) and Brett Lernout (9) leading the charge in the Habs 4-2 victory.
The game opened with the Habs continuing a trend from last night of starting periods strongly. Over the course of the opening minute, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk, and Jacob de la Rose made threatening advances in Dallas territory. The Canadiens clearly set the tempo over the first half of the period. The frustrating part is that the home team was far too content to accept the never-ending cycle deep in the corner of the offensive zone and never really made it to the net or created scoring chances.
Near the ten-minute mark, Ken Hitchcock finally got the better of Julien and was able to get his big line for a shift against Jordie Benn and Lernout. The result was as expected as Niemi made two solid saves over the shift that lasted well over two minutes with the Stars buzzing and creating chances in the Montreal zone. A few minutes later, Jeff Petry attempted to land a hit behind his net and lost his stick. This was compounded by some soft play at the top of the zone by Deslauriers and Logan Shaw. The result was a point shot by Greg Pateryn that was tipped in by Radek Faksa, as Petry was late getting back in the play to remove Faksa from the front of the net.
The goal caused the Canadiens to open up the game as the next five minutes was filled with sloppy defensive plays and scoring chances at both ends of the ice. This flurry of chances ended with 3:29 left to play when Galchenyuk supported de la Rose and grabbed the puck from a defensive zone face-off and skated with it to the Stars zone. He opted for a pass to Lehkonen who immediately fired it home to tie the game.
The opening five minutes of the second period was marked mostly by strong defensive plays, many neutral zone turnovers, and even more big hits all over the ice. This type of play certainly favoured the Canadiens, notably Deslauriers and Lernout who were physically dominating this segment of the game. Honourable mention goes to Noah Juulsen who absolutely rocked Dan Hamhuis deep in Dallas territory. To make the point, Montreal had 32 hits by the five-minute mark of the second period. This physical play created the rest of the period that was penalty-filled.
The first penalty went to Hamhuis who was guilty of a high-sticking double-minor immediately following a glorious scoring chance for de la Rose that was created by Galchenyuk. A nice, patient play by Galchenyuk at the blueline offered Petry an opening. Petry found Drouin who quickly sent the puck to Lehkonen in front of the net where he scored his second of the game. As play resumed (with the Habs still on the power play), Faksa caught Hudon with a dangerous looking knee-on-knee collision that sent the Habs to a 5-on-3. The man advantage would produce once again as Galchenyuk and Petry played catch before giving the puck to Drouin who once again made quick work in finding Gallagher next to the net for a one-timer. In a matter of 35 seconds, the Habs had taken a two-goal lead thanks to their special teams.
The rest of the advantage was cut short with Galchenyuk taking an obvious slashing penalty trying to extend a play. Luckily for Galchenyuk, his team would not be shorthanded for long as one minute later, Tyler Seguin was also penalized for tripping as de la Rose appeared to fall rather easily on the play. The last two minutes of the period were full of action as it began with Brett Ritchie brutally hitting Juulsen from behind. Hudon faced Ritchie but gave up way too much size, though he would be given a roughing minor. Karl Alzner followed and dropped the gloves with the much bigger Ritchie. Allow me to side with Julien in expressing disbelief in Dallas coming out of this scenario with a power play, but so it was. The Stars would make quick work on it as they scored 14 seconds later after a few cross-ice passes got through the zone ending with Jamie Benn and an empty net.
The physicality of the game did not suit every player however as was obvious to start the third when Hudon was guilty of a bad turnover when he heard footsteps, but Niemi made the save for his diminutive teammate. This was pretty much it for action in the opening five minutes as the Habs played a safe and secure start to the period with a two-goal cushion.
As the period progressed, the animosity created over the opening 40 minutes returned and so did the penalties. This all started at the 7:40 mark when Deslauriers and Jason Dickinson exchanged words, actions, penalties, and eventually decided to drop the gloves as both players took seven minutes of penalties on the play. The exchange happened after Deslauriers delivered two more huge hits that Dickinson took exception to, understandable considering Deslauriers was up to 11 hits in the game without being challenged (Lernout was up to nine). As play resumed, Andrew Shaw took a cheap shot from Faksa and attempted to retaliate. He lined up Greg Pateryn but took the worst of the hit, only to be punched in the face by Pateryn once he was down and out on the ice. Shaw’s recent history with concussions leads one to believe that it would be intelligent to end his season immediately.
The Shaw injury really calmed down the physical play and sent Montreal to the man advantage. The power play would strike for a third time in this game as Nikita Scherbak forechecked effectively, poked the puck free and outwaited both defenders and Lehtonen to score an absolute beauty to make it 4-2 with 10:34 to play.
The next five minutes saw both teams exchange excellent scoring chances with both netminders make some excellent saves. This is noteworthy because with ten minutes to play and a two-goal lead, the Canadiens did not sit in a defensive shell until there were only five minutes to play. Even if the Canadiens did fall back defensively in the last four minutes, they remained positively aggressive on the puck, creating uncomfortable situations with the puck for the Stars. This was the case until there were two minutes left in the game and Lernout took a high-sticking penalty. Only 38 seconds later, Byron Froese would be guilty of a high stick of his own on Radulov sending Dallas to a rare 6-on-3 advantage. Despite the advantage, Dallas would never get organized and the game would end 4-2.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Alex Galchenyuk
Galchenyuk appeared engaged from the start of this game, likely taking advantage of playing a far more offensively-minded Dallas D-corps. He created scoring chances, was effective in his forecheck, and even made a few good defensive plays.
Stats: 2 assists, +1 rating, 2 hits, 16:21 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Artturi Lehkonen
The ever-reliable Lehkonen has been missing scoring chances all season long. It was nice to watch him being able to finish a few of those chances. It even gave him the confidence to shoot in a few scenarios where he needs to shoot, but he finds himself passing too often this season. Lehkonen creating confidence for himself in the remaining games can be an important key to getting this team in a better position next year. Let’s hope tonight’s game can perhaps have a trampoline effect in getting Lehkonen going.
Stats: 2 goals, +1 rating, 4 shots, 17:18 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jonathan Drouin
Drouin had a great game in the faceoff circle and was the power play catalyst in establishing the lead for the Canadiens. Drouin and his linemates Gallagher and Byron were more discreet at even strength, even though they created some chances and gave up very little. Perhaps Drouin could play as a second line centre and flourish as the power play general without the pressures of being the top pivot on the team. Then again, he may be called upon to be the top line option on the wing next season depending on the fate of Max Pacioretty.
Stats: 2 assists, 0 rating, 2 shots, 18:41 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Nicolas Deslauriers
The league leader in hits padded this stat tonight. Deslauriers had himself a game on the physical front, creating a ton of momentum for his team and doubt in the minds of Dallas defenders. Even if he was soft on the first Dallas goal, his overall play was excellent and the effect his physical play created was noticeable. 11 hits, as he and fellow bash brother Lernout (nine hits) pummelled the Stars.
Stats: No points, -1 rating, 0 shots, 11 hits, 9:08 T.O.I.