After two strong road showings, the Habs finally got to show their fans what they could expect in 2018-2019 as they made their debut on Thursday night at the Bell Centre. It was, as per usual, a lengthy pregame ceremony to start the season and this, unfortunately, appeared to bother or excite the young Canadiens at the onset of this match as many little nervous gestures could be observed all over the ice.
On the other hand, the Kings were methodical in absorbing the Habs speed and playing a safe and easy road game. The other notable on this night was that the Habs chased the physical play, instead of acknowledging its presence and sticking to their own game plan that would lead to more success for them. Both of these negative points come down to one rather obvious observation which is that the Canadiens lost because the Kings are an experienced team that knew how to handle the situation at hand, and the Habs’ lack of experience made them uneasy in these unusual circumstances. The result was a 3-0 Los Angeles victory, despite the Habs controlling the puck for most of the night, and despite a marked advantage in net as Carey Price faced off with rookie Jack Campbell.
The game’s opening sequence favoured the home team as a strong forecheck by Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia lured the Kings and sent the Habs to their first power play of the night. During the man advantage, Drew Doughty should have been called for cross-checking, but he was not as this was a theme on this night for him and Dion Phaneuf. Ultimately, the Kings killed the penalty which was a pivotal moment.
As the penalty expired, Victor Mete was caught deep in the offensive zone. This created a 2-on-1 that an excellent back-check by Artturi Lehkonen negated. However, Mike Reilly misread the situation and continued to play it as an odd-man rush. This gave Adrian Kempe the time required to beat Price with a low blocker-side shot for a 1-0 Kings lead.
As play resumed, Kotkaniemi was called for hooking. Luckily for the rookie, the best chance of the man advantage went to Reilly as Paul Byron showed great patience with the puck to send Reilly in on a breakaway that Campbell turned aside. As the penalty expired, it was Phillip Danault’s turn to find a streaking Tomas Tatar for yet another breakaway. He too was denied by Campbell who was really the star of the game early on.
With 8:30 to play in the period, Jordie Benn and Xavier Ouellet decided to show the coaching staff that they’ve had enough of Karl Alzner in the press box. After being soundly beaten at his blue line, Benn came back in the zone and had no idea who he was covering. To compound the mistake, Ouellet lost a puck battle and then proceeded to cover the same guy that Andrew Shaw (who also lost his puck battle) was already covering. The result of the confused coverage was a shot in the slot for Michael Amadio who made it 2-0.
The second period started with some extremely sloppy play by both teams which resulted in little to no action or scoring chances. Strangely, the Habs come out of the intermission looking for the hits all over the ice. As the smallest team in the league facing one of the bigger ones, logic would suggest the Habs stay away from this type of play and focus on utilizing their speed as a bigger factor than their bodies. As mentioned at the onset, their lack of experience showed in these moments as they clearly fell into the Kings game plan, spending their energy on physical confrontations that they could rarely win.
One such instance of needlessly taking the body placed Byron out of position, which sent the Habs reeling and Benn eventually took a penalty to get Montreal out of that predicament. Noah Juulsen committed two big shot-blocks at the onset of that penalty kill which paced the Habs to kill it off.
This swung momentum for the Habs somewhat as Kotkaniemi then created an unsuccessful chance for Ouellet which was followed by consecutive penalties by Muzzin and Doughty. On the second advantage, Tatar finally beat Campbell but was denied by the crossbar. In the last minute of play of the period, the Kings would take a third penalty, this time it was Tanner Pearson. Of note in this period was the much-improved play of Ouellet and Benn. Negatively, by the time the third power play had expired, I was mostly certain that I had seen enough of Joel Armia on the first unit, as he coughed up the puck twice and provides little more than a big body to screen the opposition goaltender.
The Habs started the final frame in need of offence and on the man advantage. However, they continued to lack any coherence in their play which really took the wind out of their sails right from the start of the period. Shaw created a few chances for himself with some strong forechecking.
Near the midway point of the period, Juulsen panicked in puck recovery which caused a turnover. With Byron sleeping on his defensive assignment, the play shifted quickly to the middle of the ice where Jeff Carter was able to slap home a backhand to make it 3-0.
If there is one aspect that can’t be questioned, it’s that the Habs never gave up. A minute after the Carter goal, a point shot from Reilly finally beat Campbell to make it 3-1. The official immediately refused the goal thinking that Shaw had struck the puck out of the goalie’s glove. The league called down to the ice and the play was reversed and the goal was allowed. Kings coach John Stevens contested the ruling, challenging that Shaw had made contact with Campbell. The review showed that Shaw had indeed bumped the goaltender and the goal was once again disallowed.
This latest bounce going the Kings way was the final straw to the game as the Habs continued to press, but seemed resigned to defeat, and the Kings continued to control the middle of the ice, even though the Canadiens controlled the puck for a much larger portion of the game. In all, Campbell finished the night with 40 saves, most of them easy, for his first NHL shutout.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Mike Reilly
Reilly continued to use his speed and his poise to get out of tight situations in the defensive zone and into great shooting situations in the offensive zone. The revamped coaching staff appears to be favouring the young defender who continues to take a firm hold on the opportunity being presented to him as he was the most used skater on the entire team on this night (it’s worth noting that this may be due to Jeff Petry having a rather bad performance too).
Stats: 0 points, -2, 3 shots, 23:52 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Carey Price
Price did not make a volume of saves on this particular night, but he was solid. He made some important saves to keep the team within striking distance, particularly during the second half of the opening period. After the second Kings goal, it looked like the wheels could completely fall off, but Price held the fort and gave his team a chance to get composed and refocus on the task at hand.
Stats: 26 saves on 29 shots, .897 SV %, 3.00 G.A.A., 59:44 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Andrew Shaw
This star could have also been awarded to Charles Hudon and Matthew Peca as the fourth line was easily the best forward group for Julien tonight. Shaw was in Campbell’s face for the would-be goal and was the most visible of the three. He was also the most consistent of the three. Although I expect some lineup changes for Saturday, I think Shaw did enough tonight to not be a scratch versus the Penguins.
Stats: 0 points, -2, 3 shots, 3 hits, 10 PIMs, 12:12 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Noah Juulsen
Juulsen was paired with Reilly and was easily the most physically capable defender when came time to handle the big Kings forwards down low in the defensive zone. He did just that most of the night, but there were a few lapses, notably on the last Kings goal that prevented me from placing him higher than Shaw. He still played an excellent game. If he can find consistency over his 20-minute efforts, the coaching staff will have quite the conundrum on the right side once Weber is ready to return. This is even truer if Petry continues to struggle every second game.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 1 shot, 7 hits, 20:25 T.O.I.