The Habs stepped onto the ice on Tuesday night with plenty of bulletin board material. They were riding a season-worst four-game losing streak. They welcomed back Shea Weber who was playing his first game in nearly a year, his first since being named Captain. It was their last contest in a brutal stretch of games that would see them finally get an extended rest as their next game isn’t until Saturday. To make it even more motivating, the Habs were facing the Carolina Hurricanes, a team hot on their trail in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Sure, it’s early to talk about the playoff picture, but if this team is to be taken seriously as a contender for a playoff spot, they must begin to look at games from that angle immediately.
For this headline filled match, Claude Julien opted to keep the same forward lines, while Weber’s return sent Karl Alzner further than the press box as he was sent to Laval earlier in the day after clearing waivers. In the blue paint, Carey Price faced Curtis McElhinney. The long list of motivational factors provided the Habs with enough energy, but not enough execution. The Canadiens missed a ton of chances and had to skate away with a 2-1 defeat despite outshooting the Hurricanes 49-22; clearly deserving of a better fate.
The game saw the Habs fly out of the gate and dominate for most of the opening frame as Charles Hudon missed the net on the first good chance of the game in the opening minute. A minute later, a point shot from Brett Kulak was tipped by Andrew Shaw, forcing McElhinney into an awkward looking save.
After a first excursion for the Hurricanes that Price stopped, the pace of play remained high though the scoring chances were nowhere to be found for the next five minutes.
With 12:15 left, Jordie Benn checked Victor Rask into Victor Mete. With Mete on the ice, Benn left Rask for Mete to cover (which was impossible considering his last action). As the puck circled the zone and Jaccob Slavin committed to his point shot, Mete barely got to Rask to cover him while Benn was covering air. Slavin’s point shot was skillfully tipped by Price by Rask for a 1-0 Carolina lead.
The goal whipped the Habs into action as the Danault line reacted well to the goal and pressured the Carolina D into a few turnovers which resulted in scoring chances. On the next shift, Jesperi Kotkaniemi won his puck race to find Artturi Lehkonen who was once again placed perfectly in front of the net, but he fired the puck wide with his glorious scoring chance. Other than the fourth line of Kenny Agostino, Michael Chaput, and Nicolas Deslauriers who struggled in the first, the Habs continued to apply pressure and create chances offensively. Unfortunately, a lack of finish forced them to end the period with a 15-9 shot advantage while trailing the Hurricanes after a period of play.
After a failed 2-on-1 by Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin to start the second period, the Hurricanes took over the opening segment as the Habs were skating circled in their zone. Luckily for them, a fumbled puck in the offensive zone forced Slavin to trip Kotkaniemi awarding the Habs the first power play of the night. The power play got the puck to Weber for a bomb in the opening ten seconds, but that was the best chance they could muster until the second unit really controlled the puck and looked dangerous with some slick play by Charles Hudon and Tomas Tatar.
With roughly eight minutes expired in the period, Weber put a puck on net that bounced right to Deslauriers with McElhinney down and out. All Deslauriers had to do was to slide the puck home, but he somehow managed to miss the net.
A few moments later, Shaw was called for tripping as Carolina got their first power play of the night but the Habs’ penalty kill really played an excellent two minutes to limit any scoring chances against.
On the first shift that followed the penalty, yet another point shot, this time by Trevor van Riemsdyk, hit Mete in the skate to deflect into the net for a 2-0 Carolina lead.
This second goal rattled the Canadiens slightly as the Hurricanes took over for the rest of the period as the Habs were fanning on many passes and shots, while the Canes forced Price to complete at least three solid saves before the end of the period. In the final two minutes, McElhinney robbed Benn and then made a second nice glove save against Hudon to end the period in style before Teuvo Teravainen rang a shot off the post in the last seconds of the period.
The third had a much slower pace to start until the third Habs unit hit the ice. Schlemko got the ball rolling as he appeared to be a deer in the headlights in his own end. Firstly, he was surprised by Weber losing a board battle and poorly covered his man. Luckily for him, the Carolina pass missed and then Schlemko coughed up the puck again when he appeared surprised to receive a pass by Kotkaniemi. He was lucky once again as strong defensive plays by Weber and Kotkaniemi got the puck out of the zone for Hudon to create a scoring chance that would fail at the other end of the ice.
A few shifts later, Schlemko attempted to redeem himself with a good shot on net that Shaw tipped just wide. Drouin quickly grabbed the rebound and had McElhinney at his mercy on the wraparound, but van Riemsdyk got his stick on the shot right on the goal line and deflected it out of harm’s way.
With 13 minutes to play, an offensive zone penalty by Warren Foegele would open the door for the Habs to get back into the game. Unfortunately for the Habs, their zone entries continued to be abysmal as the Canes easily killed off this important penalty.
Immediately after it expired, the Habs would finally have a bounce go their way. A strong forecheck by Lehkonen and Danault led to a Weber point shot which he fanned on. The puck ended up on the stick of Lehkonen who completed a short back pass to Danault who also fanned on the puck but it was enough to beat McElhinney for a one-goal game with half a period to play.
The Habs had the ice tilted in their favour after the goal as Tatar, Deslauriers, and Kotkaniemi missed the net on slot chances in the minutes that followed the goal. Finally, another offensive zone penalty by the Hurricanes would send Montreal back to the man advantage with six minutes to play. This time, the power play got some zone time and a few chances, but McElhinney stood tall in keeping the Habs off the board.
After the power play ended, a masterful pass by Tatar across to Domi left McElhinney beat, but Domi hit the post and then Tatar fanned on the puck with an open net on a Weber rebound as the Habs did everything except tie the game up in the dying seconds.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Phillip Danault
Danault was not a huge factor in the first half of the game, but an altercation with Jordan Staal woke him up. From that point on, that line was effective in their forecheck, creating scoring chances, and even winning all their physical battles against the bigger Canes. Danault was also the lone scorer on this night.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 4 shots, 3 hits, 16:33 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Artturi Lehkonen
Lehkonen is looking more and more like a player destined for the third line as he just can’t finish. Despite his scoring woes, he’s such a complete player that when he does get on the board, it’s hard not to insert him somewhere in this section. A nice pass on the Danault goal, another handful of successful forechecks and backchecks, and another handful of plays where a fan simply wonders why he isn’t scoring with more regularity.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 4 shots, 15:01 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Shea Weber
In his return to the lineup, Weber led the team in ice time and though he’ll likely get better, he looked like the best defender on the ice tonight. He had a small issue with the synchronisation of his shot and hitting the net. It looked like all Weber needs is a bit of game action to get his decision making up to speed before he’s back to the 30-minute workhorse this team wants and needs.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 25:19 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Charles Hudon
In my opinion, Hudon is a player that gets too much attention for someone who shows up to play once every four games and is a defensive liability when he isn’t showing up offensively. That being said, he was a beast in offensive creation on this night and deserves to be recognized as such. If he and Kotkaniemi can get on the same page, this team could really start creating headaches for the opposition. For now, it’s clear that the team is regularly sending their defensive best against Domi and Drouin.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 2 shots, 2 hits, 14:37 T.O.I.