The Habs were back in action on Tuesday as they attempted to right the ship after a less than stellar Saturday night. As they prepared to battle the Flames at the Bell Centre, Victor Mete returned to the lineup, forcing Karl Alzner to return to the press box. Up front, it was status quo as Nicolas Deslauriers and Andrew Shaw remained in the lineup over the disgruntled Charles Hudon. In net, the expected matchup did not take place as Carey Price was confronted by David Rittich as the Habs had the luxury of facing the Flames’ backup instead of Mike Smith.
The Habs were all over the Flames for the first two periods until they went into a defensive shell in the third. The final score of 3-2 in favour of the Habs is perhaps generous to the Flames who did not look at all like they were on the same competitive footing as Montreal. This was a complete team win, one that will settle the fan base after their first poor effort last Saturday.
The game started with a penalty to Jeff Petry before the first two minutes were expired. The Flames power play was unable to get much going as the best chance of the sequence came when a solid forecheck by both Phillip Danault and Artturi Lehkonen created a breakaway for the latter that Rittich stopped.
Calgary continued to control most of the action, but the Habs’ defenders did an excellent job of keeping the Flames to the outside and the forwards looked dangerous every time they got the puck in the offensive zone. Jonathan Drouin and Lehkonen were particularly dangerous, looking like they could break this game open on each of their shifts.
With 10:36 to play, Andrew Shaw took an offensive zone penalty, one that won’t sit well with the coaching staff. Once again, the Habs created the better chances during their shorthanded stint as Paul Byron broke away with speed to create an opening for Joel Armia, but Rittich had the answer.
The Max Domi line, who was clearly the best for Montreal in the first, went back to work as they created multiple scoring chances for themselves with under five minutes to play in the period. Unfortunately, they could not capitalize, and this would haunt the Habs.
With 3:30 to play, Danault won the faceoff but the puck was mishandled by Jordie Benn. Danault and Petry both consecutively left Matthew Tkachuk alone in the slot. The pass got to Tkachuk who misfired his shot off Danault’s skate and past Price who was facing the shot for a 1-0 lead to end the period. In the dying moments of the frame, Armia’s strong forecheck created a Flames penalty to start the second.
The Habs power play to start the second was unsuccessful despite numerous chances. However, they created momentum as they remained the dominant team for the entire period. The Danault line with Mete created approximately seven chances at the end of their first shift and Rittich was completely sprawled yet managed to keep the puck out. Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s pass to Armia in the slot on the next shift was ridiculous, but once again Rittich appeared to make a save despite himself.
On the next shift, Petry was sent to the box for an offensive zone penalty. Ten seconds later, Lehkonen’s forecheck lured Mark Giordano to make it a 4-on-4 and negate the Petry penalty. At the midway point of the period, shots were 13-1 in favour of the Habs as Rittich was the first star in this half period.
Calgary took another penalty to start the second half as Tomas Tatar was tripped entering the Calgary zone. Tatar hit the post on a one-timer, but that was the only chance created by the Habs on this man advantage.
The Habs would get yet another power play with approximately five minutes to play as T.J. Brodie was guilty of an absolutely stupid interference penalty that was a retaliation act and penalty. This time, the man advantage came alive as Domi and Drouin worked the top of the zone before finding Petry for a one-timer that finally beat Rittich.
The Petry goal caused the floodgates to open as the Flames were once again penalized on an obvious hooking minor by Noah Hanifin against Petry. The power play would strike again when Domi and Petry completed back-to-back cross-ice passes in the Calgary zone that gave Brendan Gallagher a completely open net to give the Habs their first lead of the night.
With under a minute to play, the Habs extended the lead as Xavier Ouellet intercepted a clearing attempt by the Flames and quickly found Drouin who released a one-timer that beat Rittich to end the period with a 3-1 lead. Shaw took another penalty to end the period, opening the door for the Flames.
The Habs started the period shorthanded and with the dreaded two-goal lead. The shorthanded situation was handled well as they kept the shots to the outside and allowed Price to see the puck. With three minutes expired, Price made a few sliding saves to protect the lead after some bad reads by Petry. Really, the opening five minutes was spent in the Habs zone, but credit to the entire team for buying in, making the defensive sacrifices to ensure that the scoring chances were kept to a minimum.
At the five-minute mark, a nice passing play between Kotkaniemi and Armia created an opening that both Kotkaniemi and Byron missed. This was followed by Benn delivering a dangerous looking hit against Gaudreau. The Flames took exception and a melee ensued with no penalty being handed out. Play resumed and the Habs were happy to play a safe and settled period while the Flames obliged.
With nine minutes left, Tkachuk completed a pretty cross-zone pass to Mikael Backlund which destabilized the defence. With Benn sprawling, Backlund found Elias Lindholm for an empty net to make it 3-2.
After the goal is when the Carey Price show began with a first save against Backlund as he sprawled to his left to keep the puck out. With six minutes to play, Domi was called for hooking which opened the door to the Flames. Strong play by Benn, Armia, and Noah Juulsen kept the Flames at 0/5 on the power play. The Habs play in the final three minutes was indicative of the night as their strong forecheck kept the Flames completely bottled up in their zone for most of the last few minutes, allowing them to close the game out to get the victory.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jonathan Drouin
Frankly, this was Drouin’s best game in his two seasons in Montreal. He was intense, forechecked hard, hit, and controlled the play without needlessly giving the puck away. He was rewarded for it and hopefully, we get to see many more games like this from Drouin.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 4 hits, 16:15 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Artturi Lehkonen
Lehkonen was the player on the line that was kept off the scoreboard, but it was his intensity and smart forecheck in the opening period that really set the tone for the rest of this game. This line was by far the best one, and Lehkonen was the spark plug that got them going early.
Stats: 0 points, +1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 13:58 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Max Domi
With everything positive I just said about Drouin, Domi remains, to me, the best Montreal forward at gaining the offensive zone while controlling the puck. At the onset of the season, I thought playing these two apart would be better to gain the zone more often in control, but it appears that the thought that two players with the ability to do this has forced the opposing teams to back off their blue line. Of course, getting burned so often in the first by the Lehkonen forecheck certainly helped this as well. On this night, Domi was everywhere and created a series of chances for his two companions. This line could have easily scored eight goals on their own.
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 17:55 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
The numbers would suggest that Jeff Petry should get this spot and the second period would support this idea. However, Petry was wild and ineffective in the first and third periods, being a part of the problem on the first Calgary goal in the first. Jesperi Kotkaniemi was playing in his ninth game tonight and anyone who still think this kid needs a season in Finland or Laval simply needs to watch this game. Responsible defensively, active on the forecheck, and oh so intelligent with the puck. That pass in the second period was crazy good and one gets the feeling that when the pucks start going in, they’ll never stop. At 18 years old, a player this defensively responsible that doesn’t put his team in trouble is awesome, since he can focus on growing his offensive timing and risk-taking to become (we can all agree that he’s not there yet, right?) the centre this franchise has been waiting for over two decades.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 2 shots, 3 hits, 12:46 T.O.I.