After Thursday’s disappointment, the Habs were back in action at the Bell Centre on Saturday night. The Habs were trying to get their first home goal of the season while their opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins, was trying to avenge last Saturday’s 5-1 defeat. Due to a battle with the flu, Carey Price was not available so Antti Niemi got the start, with Charlie Lindgren up on an emergency basis to back him up. For the Penguins, Matt Murray has been out with a concussion since last Saturday’s contest, meaning that Casey DeSmith got the start in net for the Penguins. This one ended up being a back-and-forth affair with the Habs coming out on top with a 4-3 final score after a successful shootout effort by the Habs.
As the first period got underway, it was clear that Pittsburgh was going to present a better test than last Saturday. Jordie Benn, Brendan Gallagher, and Phillip Danault were all guilty of missed zone clears in their first shifts which allowed Pittsburgh to get their confidence early in this contest.
With three minutes expired in the period, and the Habs finally getting into the game, Mike Reilly, Jeff Petry, and Danault were all guilty of stick-checks instead of taking their player out of the play. The result, as one would expect, was Dominik Simon cutting across the zone NHL ’94 style to tuck the puck under Niemi for an early Pens lead.
At the five-minute mark, Noah Juulsen blew a tire at the offensive blue line which allowed Sidney Crosby to escape on a breakaway only to be denied by Niemi. The positive for the period was without a doubt the play of Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin who appeared excited to play together.
The Pens thin blueline then appeared to get a bit thinner as Tomas Plekanec finished a check on Justin Schultz which ended with Schultz’ ankle absorbing most of his fall. The defender needed significant help to get off the ice and he would not return.
With under five minutes to play, Malkin and Kessel overpowered Victor Mete and Joel Armia while Paul Byron overskated his coverage allowing Kris Letang to be wide-open for a one-timer that beat Niemi for a 2-0 lead.
The second period looked much more like last Saturday. Danault and Gallagher started the period with a strong forecheck that got the puck in front of the Pens’ net where Tomas Tatar chipped over DeSmith’s shoulder. It was Tatar’s first goal as a Hab and the team’s first home goal of the season.
After this, Dumoulin was penalized for hooking as the Habs got the first power play of the game. The struggling man advantage didn’t create much on their first chance of the night but was followed by another intense shift by the Danault line that ensured that the Pens would continue to spend the period hemmed in their zone. Another strong forechecking effort by the top line resulted in a point shot by Petry. The rebound landed right on Gallagher’s stick who tied the game.
The period got worse for the Pens as Jonathan Drouin got to work, creating scoring chances before Evgeni Malkin was sent off for a weak hooking call. The man advantage was successful this time as Drouin’s shot deflected to Tatar who quickly put it home for a 3-2 lead.
The Penguins would finally get some help in settling down the game as Jordie Benn was penalized for slashing; a call about as strong as the Malkin minor. The power play did not last long as Letang chipped a puck by Danault to Malkin who started a quick passing play with Crosby and Phil Kessel, the latter wasting little time tying the game.
Play settled down for some time until the Pens got into more penalty trouble. It started with Simon getting his stick caught in Xavier Ouellet’s feet. Hagelin then batted the puck into the stands to create a lengthy 5-on-3. This advantage started with Petry firing one off the post, but that’s really all that would be created by the Habs until the dying seconds when Tatar beat DeSmith before losing the handle and seeing the puck move away from the net as opposed to in it.
The Habs were called for too many men on the ice to end the second (a play I certainly missed), so the Pens started the third on a power play. The Habs were far more aggressive on this penalty kill, ensuring that the Pens could not get set up in their zone. Following that, play was relatively safe by both teams for a long stretch as neither team wanted to make a mistake.
With a little under 13 minutes to play, Jesperi Kotkaniemi came in and rang a wrister off the post and this appeared to ignite the Habs. As play continued and the Habs were buzzing, Victor Mete finally broke in, accepted a nice cross-ice pass from Charles Hudon, and snuck a shot under DeSmith to give the Habs a 4-3 lead. However, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan challenged the goal for Andrew Shaw’s goaltender interference as Mete’s first NHL goal was denied by such a small technicality.
After the goal, the Penguins started skating as they started to control the play. Luckily for the Habs, Niemi was sharp when he needed to be. With nine minutes to play, Malkin took a bad penalty for holding Byron. The Habs’ man advantage was never able to penetrate the offensive zone until the last moments where Artturi Lehkonen and Drouin both missed glorious chances to put the Habs ahead.
After the penalty, it was the Niemi show for the last five minutes of regulation as the Pens were buzzing all over the Montreal zone.
The overtime once again opened the door for the Habs as the Pens were called early for too many men. The Habs looked good on the man advantage but a risky play by Petry really gave the Pens a few dangerous chances shorthanded. Finally, the power play did not finish the game though it did cause much of the OT to be played at 4-on-4 instead of 3-on-3. The dying seconds were interesting with both teams coming close to scoring. Max Domi rang a shot off the post while Crosby was stopped on a buzzer-beating shot at the other end.
That sent it to a shootout where Niemi stopped Malkin and Crosby while Byron and Drouin both exposed DeSmith’s low stick side for the win.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Tomas Tatar
Tatar is making sure that Habs fans aren’t spending too much time missing Max Pacioretty. Tatar was all over the ice in the second period, forechecking hard, controlling the play, and putting points on the board. Playing with Gallagher and Danault, he’ll be the benefactor of their relentless puck pursuit. If he can display this type of finish on many nights, he’ll be setting career highs for sure.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +2, 6 shots, 1 hit, 21:30 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Brendan Gallagher
There is a reason why people refer to Gallagher as the heart and soul of the Canadiens. After the team stunk in the first, Gallagher’s effort level was through the roof in the second period as he led the way in getting the Habs back in the game. Tatar put more numbers on the board, but Gallagher was without a doubt the spark plug that got the team going.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 6 shots, 3 hits, 21:19 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jonathan Drouin
With the Montreal talk shows a buzz about the Habs most skilled forwards’ struggles to start the season, tonight’s effort by Drouin was what the team and the player desperately needed. Drouin controlled the play on almost every shift, creating many scoring chances for Domi and Lehkonen in the process. If he continues to work this hard and to create these chances, they’ll start going in. For many fans around the team this season, this type of effort is more important and than the result too, so Drouin needs more nights like this one.
Stats: 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 1 shot, 2 hits, 24:06 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Phillip Danault
Danault mentioned after the Kings game that his performance in the faceoff circle got to him as the game wore on. It’s worth noting then that Danault struggled in the first period, but he turned it around and played a huge second period. That he rebounded better than he did on Thursday is the kind of battle fans want to see from the young players as they continue to learn on the fly. A commendable effort by Danault on this night from the second period on.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 1 hit, 19:08 T.O.I.
Following the game, Lindgren was immediately sent back down to Laval as he was recalled under emergency conditions. The team will be hoping that Price will be available on Monday night against Detroit.