As this final week of the long 2017-2018 regular season got underway, the Habs faced the Winnipeg Jets. Being locked into their playoff position, the Jets decided to rest a handful of regulars which gave the Canadiens a fighting chance as they too continued to soldier on without numerous key pieces to their roster. Claude Julien iced a lineup similar to Sunday’s, though Jordie Benn was benched in favour of David Schlemko while Carey Price returned to the net.
As the final game of the regular season at the Bell Centre was about to get underway, Brendan Gallagher was awarded the season’s Molson Cup, while Paul Byron was awarded the Jacques Beauchamp award. Unfortunately for these two deserving players, their respective awards were overshadowed by Carey Price. Price was playing in his 557th game in the uniform, more than any other goaltender in franchise history. During the first TV timeout of the broadcast, a tribute to this accomplishment was seen in the arena as greats like Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy congratulated Price on his milestone. Price was then greeted with a great ovation by the fans in attendance, an ovation that appeared to choke up the Habs netminder. To add to these great moments off the ice, the fans were treated to quite a game as the Habs finally competed with the Jets and left for the last road trip of the season with a 5-4 overtime loss.
The game started slowly for both teams as all players on the ice were really feeling out the opposition with little willingness to pay the price to complete plays. The result was tentative hockey until Brett Lernout was caught flat-footed and took a holding penalty two minutes in. This penalty was killed but gave Winnipeg the needed offensive zone time to find their legs. As Price made numerous highlight-reel stops during and after the power play, one could easily observe the Jets taking the game over as the period wore on. The Habs kept pace in terms of shots, but the quality of said shots on Price and Mason were not even close to being at the same level.
If Lernout’s penalty was an obvious one, the Habs second penalty of the frame, this time to Logan Shaw for slashing, was less obvious. The Jets wasted little time in taking advantage of this second man advantage as they loaded a Patrik Laine one-timer for Laine’s 44th goal of the season. A few minutes later, the Jets broke out on a 3-on-1 as Noah Juulsen was guilty of a terrible giveaway in the neutral zone. With Laine on the right, Paul Stastny caught the goaltender cheating as he returned the puck to Nikolaj Ehlers instead of Laine who scored on an awkwardly sprawled out Price. The final quarter of the frame was rather eventless except for yet another few saves by Price of the highlight reel variety. Even the Jets taking a penalty with a minute left in the period was not enough to get the Habs to create a quality scoring chance as they skated off the ice lucky to be down only two goals.
Byron started the second by doing what he does best as he skated and created a breakaway for himself. Mason stood tall, allowing Montreal’s power play to continue. Moments later, Juulsen sent a pass to Nikita Scherbak. Scherbak made a nice move to create room for himself but opted for a flashy pass that would have given Daniel Carr an empty-netter if it wasn’t intercepted. The play was a nice one, but Scherbak was in the slot on the man advantage. I’m sure the coaching staff would rather see Scherbak shoot in that situation. Regardless of my opinion, the unsuccessful power play got a second chance a few minutes later after Dustin Byfuglien was beaten by Byron for an icing and reacted by tripping Byron.
The man advantage was quite creative this time around but couldn’t score as Byron fanned on a chance in the slot, and both Artturi Lehkonen and Mike Reilly were stopped on point-blank chances. These chances really turned the momentum as the Habs controlled play for the first time all game. With the Jets reeling, Kerby Rychel imposed his physical style of play which drew a crowd. The sequence sent the game to a 4-on-4 until the Jets took yet another penalty. The 4-on-3 advantage was also unsuccessful as the story of the season continued. The Habs often look dangerous but never finish off the opponent. With four minutes to play in the period, Jacob de la Rose and Lernout got completely lost in coverage which opened up Jack Roslovic for a one-timer that fooled Price.
However, the Habs would finally get on the board with only one minute left. After Galchenyuk had his shot attempt stuffed, Lehkonen jumped on a loose puck in the slot and fired it past a surprised Mason.
The Habs came out strong to start the third as they took advantage of a Jets team who had played yesterday and appeared content to defend their two-goal lead. A defensive zone faceoff win by Jonathan Drouin was directly responsible for the Habs’ second goal. Gallagher and Byron took advantage of the situation to break out quickly and applied pressure to the Jets defence. Gallagher’s shot was finally stopped by Mason but Byron was all over the rebound to cut the lead to 3-2 with just over three minutes expired in the period.
A few shifts after the goal, Tyler Myers delivered a dangerous looking crosscheck to the back of Daniel Carr. Michael McCarron took exception to go after Myers. In the end, Myers received two minor penalties and McCarron one minor infraction sending the Habs to yet another power play. The man advantage was unable to score but continued the night’s work of creating good scoring chances.
With 10:15 to play, Rychel scored his first in the Habs uniform as he drove the net immediately following a Logan Shaw offensive zone faceoff win. The puck found itself on Petry’s stick who put it on net where Rychel would deflect the puck to score. On the very next shift, Scherbak, Logan Shaw, and Rychel all got caught out of position in defensive coverage creating openings all over their zone. The Jets made no mistake and restored the lead with Sami Niku picking up his first career NHL goal in his first game.
Once the lead was restored, the Habs immediately returned to controlling the pace of the period. In typical Habs fashion, this included a lot of play deep in the Winnipeg zone but was frustratingly lacking in attempts to bring the puck to the front of the Jets net.
Luckily for the Habs, Byfuglien was called for slashing with 2:13 to play. The penalty was a completely obvious call, and Byfuglien intensely disagreed with it as he argued that Rychel had purposely run into Mason on the play to excuse his blatant stupid slash behind Rychel’s leg. As the Habs returned to the power play, Julien took advantage of the situation to pull Price and make it a 6-on-4. As the Habs started to get set up, Galchenyuk surprised everyone including Mason as he took a wrist shot that would make it to the back of the net. After the goal, Byfuglien would direct some more comments to the official. This additional stupid behaviour earned him an early shower, though no additional man-advantage would benefit the Habs on the sequence.
With a point in the bank (regardless of whether one is a fan of that outcome), the Habs started the overtime strongly as Mason was forced to make an excellent save on Gallagher to save the second point for the Jets. Mason then made a point-blank stop on Byron. The goaltender’s saves would be the turning point as Kyle Connor would score with two minutes to play as he was left alone by Juulsen in the slot to release a lethal one-timer.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star – Jeff Petry
Petry played an excellent game as he was involved in the offensive zone all night long. He ends the night with the most ice time (again) on the team, and two assists, though this last stat could have been even nicer if certain players had a little finish in them.
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 4 shots, 2 hits, 23:23 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Artturi Lehkonen
With the effort and intelligent positioning that he displays with consistency, it’s a shame that Lehkonen can’t bury a higher amount of chances. In the second period alone, Lehkonen should have completed a hat trick with the amount of chances he got. Alas, there has to be a reason he was not a first round selection.
Stats: 1 assist, 0 rating, 1 shot, 14:35 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Carey Price
In a season where things just don’t want to work for Carey Price, it’s worth noting that this game was very much like the rest of his season. A few of the goals allowed were shots that the 2015 Price stops. This being said, he was also left out to dry in the first period, and if not for his stellar saves, the game would have over in the initial 20 minutes. He continued to make good saves mixed in with the awkward goals, but his play in the first is the reason for his name appearing here.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 rating, 2 shots, 17:16 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Kerby Rychel
Rychel may not be ready for everyday duty in the NHL; heck, he may never be. However, his presence in the current edition to end the season underlines just how badly the Habs need a player of this type in their lineup. Rychel has shown that he plays physical, and then finds the front of the net in the offensive zone. If this sounds like Gallagher, or Andrew Shaw, or Carr, one must point out that he plays with a much bigger mean streak, so if he can catch up to the speed of play in all three zones, his mean streak could be an added bonus for the Habs. Will he have the patience to develop his overall play? He wasn’t with his previous two organizations. Time will tell.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 1 shot, 5 hits, 10:14 T.O.I.