The Habs were at the Bell Centre on Tuesday for a rare visit from Alexander Radulov and the Dallas Stars. The Stars were still looking for their first road win of the season so they had all the motivation needed to come out strong on this night. Coach Julien kept intact the lineup that played such a strong game in Saturday night’s shutout in Boston, which meant that Nikita Scherbak, Andrew Shaw, and Noah Juulsen (still day-to-day due to injury) were the scratches. Carey Price was starting in net and was opposed by Ben Bishop.
In the end, both teams had large stretches where they were the better team, but the Stars talent ended up ahead of the Habs at the end. It would be unfair to say that Dallas did not deserve his win, but the officiating definitely robbed the fans of what should have been an excellent end of the game. The Stars left Montreal with a 4-1 win as the Habs now must face the Washington Capitals on Thursday on the heels of a loss on home ice.
Both teams came out ready to skate as the Stars controlled the puck for much of the opening minutes despite the best chance of the sequence coming from Artturi Lehkonen tipping a Jordie Benn point shot just wide. Fans at the Bell Centre thought that the Habs had opened the scoring two minutes in when a Mike Reilly point shot was deflected by Phillip Danault and touched both posts before ultimately staying out of the net.
Roughly five minutes into the period, Karl Alzner played like a wily veteran as he ran into Radulov who was sent off for interference. The Montreal power play took several attempts to get organized and only really generated chances from far, so it wasn’t too dangerous of a man advantage.
After a shot by Alzner rang off the post, Brendan Gallagher attracted enough attention for Tyler Seguin to be sent off on a rather weak penalty call. For the second time, the power play lacked patience in their attempts to gain the zone with the result being zero shots on net once again.
After the second man advantage, it seemed that the puck was really starting to bounce as both teams struggled to complete accurate passes. The result was a conclusion to the period filled with icing calls and that lacked any type of coherence from either team; a stark contrast to the opening five minutes that were played at top speed and with good intensity.
The opening shift of the second period saw Danault take a slashing call that was as intelligent as it was necessary. Despite the penalty kill, it was Lehkonen who managed to fool John Klingberg and earn himself a penalty shot that Bishop turned aside with relative ease. The Stars then gained the zone where Seguin rang a shot off the iron. With under 20 seconds to go in the man advantage, Devin Shore skated into the Habs zone, faked a shot to freeze everyone before sliding a pass to Esa Lindell who had an empty net to shoot at for a 1-0 Dallas lead.
A few moments later, Jonathan Drouin broke in and fired a third shot on the night that beat Bishop but would not settle inside the post. After a few more minutes spent in the Dallas zone, a soft play by Nicolas Deslauriers exiting his own zone forced him into a situation where he took a penalty. As the penalty was expiring, Shore once again found the trailer as Miro Heiskanen was left wide open by Max Domi and released a laser to the top corner for a 2-0 lead.
This second goal turned the Canadiens into the proverbial deer in the headlights as they were suddenly reacting to the pucks’ movements as opposed to creating them. Therefore, Dallas spent just about the entirety of the second half of the period deep in the Habs’ zone, exhausting the already weak Montreal blue line and putting Price to the test. With two minutes to play, Drouin was called for a high stick, so the Stars ended the period with a third power play that the Habs would finally be successful at killing.
The third started like the second as the Stars dominated in the absence of Paul Byron who suffered a lower-body injury as Charles Hudon was playing with Armia and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. With three minutes expired, Tomas Tatar was on the rush when he cut to the middle and fired a shot. Bishop gave a juicy rebound and Gallagher chipped it high as it slowly resembled a Plinko chip as it made its way down and into the net. Dallas challenged the play claiming goaltender interference, but the goal counted and the Habs were back into the game.
When play resumed, Domi was penalized for tripping. It was a terrible call as Bishop was out of his net for the sole purpose of creating interference and Domi tried to avoid Bishop who went out of his way to create contact. The Habs killed the penalty and the cheap call against Domi appeared to get Montreal going as they returned to playing like they did in the first.
With 12 minutes to play, Lindell was called for a hooking penalty on Tatar, opening the door for the Habs. This power play was by far the best of the night for the Habs until Lehkonen was guilty of an Alex Galchenyuk-esque giveaway from the sideboard. The Stars broke out 2-on-1 and missed the net, but Radek Faksa continued to forecheck Lehkonen who coughed it up again as this time Shore beat Price to restore the two-goal lead.
Frustration was clear on the Habs side after so much acting by the Stars and Domi was caught in the middle as he and Roman Polak received obvious incidental minors. After the play, Domi continued to talk to the official and earned himself an extra two minutes that was rightfully hotly contested by both Brendan Gallagher and Claude Julien. The Dallas power play was being dominated by the Habs when Klingberg fell rather easily with Armia’s stick at his feet which created a 5-on-3 for Dallas.
The referee show continued as Jamie Benn was quickly called on a play about as bad as the last two. After all the penalties yielded no scoring, Radulov was able to find the back of the empty net to end this contest.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher played well on this night as his forecheck was noteworthy for most of the game. He wasn’t the agitator as Domi played that role but he was able to put the puck in the net for the Habs only goal. A less remarkable game for Gallagher if compared to Domi, but a more even-keeled effort that earns him the first star.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 1 shot, 1 hit, 16:14 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Max Domi
Domi was easily the most involved Habs player in this one. Unfortunately for him, this also meant that when the Habs needed him most, he lost his cool and found himself in the penalty box way too much. No matter if one thinks the first penalty (on Bishop) was bogus or not, Domi must refocus and remain the best pivot on the team in that situation.
Stats: 0 points, -2, 2 shots, 1 hit (I guess they don’t count cross-checks), 14:26 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Joel Armia
Allow me to preface this selection with: I, too, dislike Armia playing on Kotkaniemi’s wing at 5-on-5. Nor do I enjoy seeing him playing on the power play. Okay, now that this is out of the way, let’s be honest and admit that Armia created a ton of turnovers and was the premier penalty killer in the entire game. Armia has no finish and appears to be constantly surprised when Kotkaniemi finds him in traffic in the offensive zone, BUT, he played a strong game tonight all things considered.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 5 shots, 5 hits, 18:03 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Charles Hudon
If Hudon was upset about not being in the lineup for a few games, he took full advantage of the injury to Byron to play a strong third period and make a solid case for his playing higher in the lineup. It would be beneficial for his own career if he found a way to play like this with more regularity.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 4 shots, 5 hits, 11:56 T.O.I.
Following the game, the Canadiens announced that winger Nikita Scherbak has been assigned to Laval on a conditioning stint. The Rocket are in action on Wednesday so he’ll likely play his first game in nearly a month then.