On this 17th of December, the Montreal Canadiens were back in action at the Bell Centre for their last home game until 2019 as they hit the road to end the year with six straight road contests. To end their home calendar year, the rival Boston Bruins were the opponents with only one point separating the two squads. While the Habs remained without Joel Armia, the Bruins were playing with far more important players missing as Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron (among others) remained on the sideline.
For the contest, Claude Julien opted to keep the forward lines intact while David Schlemko dressed in favour of Jordie Benn who was taking his turn in the press box. Between the pipes, it was a matchup filled with nostalgia as Carey Price was against Jaroslav Halak. Halak was tested very little, while Price did everything in his power to keep no-show of a team in the contest for as long as possible. In the end, he was completely hung out to dry as the Habs were outshot 35-22 (the scorekeeper may have been generous to the Habs here) while being outscored 4-0.
The Bruins came out with more energy than the Habs as in the first minute, a neutral zone giveaway by Tomas Tatar resulted in a David Pastrnak scoring chance. Price was up to the task, but the Bruins continued to pressure until it paid off. It was once again a terrible turnover that caused the goal as Michael Chaput tried an absolutely boneheaded pass through the middle of his defensive zone that was picked off. The attempted pass placed the defenders in an impossible position as the Bruins skated in and completed two zone passes in the zone before Joakim Nordstrom beat Price with a shot to the far side.
The following shift saw the Habs give the puck away with regularity as Tatar was guilty of three blind passes directly onto a Bruins’ stick before Brendan Gallagher did the same. Luckily for the trio, Brad Marchand let them off the hook when he got an errand stick up in Phillip Danault’s face to give the Habs the first power play of the night. The power play was its usual atrocious self, failing to even create momentum for the team before the Bruins immediately returned to the Habs zone afterwards.
Montreal’s first real scoring chance came with nine minutes left in the period when Danault broke in and sent a pass cross-ice just out of the reach of Tatar who stretched to get a weak shot on Halak on the 2-on-1 one-timer. After a borderline hit on Paul Byron, Noel Acciari got caught firing the puck in the stands in the defensive zone for a second Habs power play. The result of the advantage was much like the first as the Habs continued to be unwilling to pay the physical price required to win the puck battles all over the ice.
With the advantage over, David Pastrnak eluded Danault’s coverage, luring Danault to take a penalty. What’s most frustrating on the play is that if Danault simply played the body, he had the chance to handle Pastrnak without ever even placing himself in the position to take the penalty. While the Bruins were unable to get anything going on their own power play, they immediately returned to the offensive once the penalty was expired since the Habs continued to be unable to complete a pass to get out of their zone. Luckily for the Habs, the period ended at 1-0 with Price making simple but important saves to keep his team alive.
The first minute of play in the second looked much like the first as the Bruins outskated the Habs to every loose puck. Two and a half minutes into the period, Jeff Petry and Noah Juulsen were guilty of a sloppy line change and the Bruins found themselves on their second man advantage of the night. The one was as potent as the first three of the games between the two teams.
With the penalty over, the Price show continued as he made a few more point-blank saves to keep the Habs in the game. Though the Bruins continued to win every race, there was some improvement for the Habs compared to the first. They were starting to pay the price physically and therefore were able to control the puck somewhat. Some strong play by Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jeff Petry finally got the Habs in the game as they set up Byron who missed the net before Kotkaniemi himself was stopped point-blank by Halak. In this wave of momentum, Kenny Agostino was sent on a breakaway that Halak made a nice stop on. On the same shift, David Backes got away with a blatant cross-check to the back of Agostino.
As the second half of the period got underway, the Habs carried this momentum and controlled the puck in the Bruins zone. This resulted in Pastrnak rifling the puck out of play from their defensive zone. The Habs power play was once again nowhere to be found as it cost the Habs all the momentum they had gathered.
With the advantage over, Pastrnak was sent on a partial breakaway that Price stopped. Price then flashed the leather on Torey Krug. With two minutes to play in the period, Kotkaniemi ran interference on Sean Kuraly while Kuraly grabbed Kotkaniemi and threw him to the ice. As a result, both players found themselves in the sin bin and 4-on-4 play ensued.
With the Bruins continuing to skate better than the Canadiens, it comes as no surprise that this is when they were able to extend their lead. Price started the sequence with a nice save on an attempted wraparound. Then, Shea Weber missed a clearing attempt after Matthew Peca won his faceoff. The result was the Bruins circling the zone and scoring on a cross-ice pass with 26 seconds to play for Colby Cave’s first NHL goal.
The start of the third period made the first 40 minutes look like a cake walk. Price made a nice stop on Pastrnak before Gallagher coughed up the puck in the neutral zone while his defencemen were changing. This prompted a 3-on-0 as Petry and Mike Reilly dove to get back in the play. Unorganized as they were, Reilly overplayed his coverage which left Krejci all alone at the side of the net with Price floundering to try to save the situation. He was unable to make the stop and the Bruins added to their lead.
Four minutes into the period, Reilly got caught out of position and made up for it by punching the Bruins player, awarding the Bruins with a power play. On that advantage, the Habs overplayed their coverage again and Schlemko made things worse by hitting Pastrnak into Price while Marchand was left with a gaping cage to shoot in and he made no mistake. With the score finally looking like it should, the Bruins started to ease up and the Habs were able to get some offensive zone time.
The second half of the period included both teams going through the motions and very little action. Play was mostly in the Bruins’ zone for the first time in the game, but Boston was essentially content to keep the Habs to the outside of the zone which they did with relative ease. So much ease that Halak was able to finish the night with the shutout.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
Price kept the team in it for as long as he could. This included a long list of highlight-reel stops in the first 40 minutes of play. Finally, the Bruins crashed the net and the Habs defenders didn’t handle it well. Actually, they helped by often pushing the Bruins into Price and by not covering the right players in the low-slot area.
Stats: 31 saves, 35 shots, .886 save %, 4.00 G.A.A., 60:00 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Kotkaniemi and his line were the only players that got the puck out of the defensive zone regularly on this night. They easily outplayed the top six and should have been rewarded with more ice time. At some point, Julien will have to get over sheltering the kid, and on a night when Danault and Domi both mailed it in, it would have been the perfect scenario to try him in tougher situations with far less repercussions on the season.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 3 hits, 14:03 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Andrew Shaw
Shaw at least played physical and tried to get his teammates involved. That’s hard to do when playing with the floating pass princes also known as Domi and Drouin. When those two first started playing together, they didn’t attempt 75 face-high flip passes to each other per game. I don’t know where they got the idea that this was a good play or a good idea, but someone from the coaching staff needs to pull them aside and get them to cut that crap out.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 5 hits, 19:52 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Paul Byron
No one else fit the bill of being worthy of a mention, and Byron played hard enough to be in position for a few Kotkaniemi passes. He wasn’t able to capitalize, otherwise he may have swapped spots with Shaw.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 2 shots, 5 hits, 15:50 T.O.I.
Following the game, the Habs assigned Noah Juulsen to Laval following another rough outing. Victor Mete was recalled to take his place on the roster.