The Habs put their three-game win streak on the line on Tuesday as they were on the road to face the Minnesota Wild. The Wild represented an interesting challenge for the Habs, being a bigger, more physical, and more experienced squad. As Noah Juulsen returned to the ice, Mike Reilly was left in the press box, a somewhat surprising decision considering Jordie Benn’s recent play, the notion that Reilly’s style likely complements Juulsen more than Benn’s, and that Reilly would have had the opportunity to face his former team. The other change to the lineup was between the pipes as Antti Niemi got the start. Niemi was facing Devan Dubnyk as expected. Niemi wasn’t given much of a chance on this night as his team was a total no-show in a humiliating 7-1 defeat.
Niemi was tested immediately as the Wild exposed David Schlemko’s poor defensive coverage to offer themselves a few good scoring chances in the opening minute. Things then settled as both teams settled into some defensive play.
As the second quarter of the period started, the Wild’s aggressive forecheck got the better of Shea Weber, forcing Niemi to make a few more solid saves to keep the game scoreless. One of the numerous chances for the Wild finally got by Niemi, but Zucker’s shot hit Weber’s skate before striking the crossbar.
Immediately after this, Jesperi Kotkaniemi made a stellar defensive play to break up a Minnesota two-on-one opportunity. Montreal’s first real scoring chance arrived with 7:30 to play as Benn timed his slap pass with Jonathan Drouin’s passing in front of the net for Dubnyk’s first good save of the night. With six minutes to play, a point shot from Jonas Brodin was tipped home by Nino Niederreiter who was watched but untouched by Jeff Petry in front of Niemi. The rest of the frame was much of the same as the period ended with a 9-6 shot advantage for the Wild; a seemingly generous six shots for the Canadiens in this writer’s humble opinion.
The second period started with neither team executing properly which resulted in many whistles and sloppy play. The Habs finally showed some urgency when the Phillip Danault and Max Domi lines put together two consecutive shifts in the Wild zone where they won puck battles and created some offensive chances in the process.
That progress was quickly halted when Charlie Coyle caught Petry and Schlemko asleep at the wheel. His stretch pass found a wide open Niederreiter for a breakaway that Niemi stopped.
The best chances of the next five minutes of play belonged to Andrew Shaw who missed the net by a wide margin on two one-timers from the slot. Weber then delivered a cross-check to Zach Parise that earned him the game’s first minor penalty. Minnesota passed the puck around the Habs zone until Matt Dumba snuck in on the weak side for a one-timer to extend the lead.
The Wild’s Eric Fehr then tripped Danault for a Habs power play. As has been the case all season, it was atrocious as Coyle grabbed the puck in the defensive zone and skated up the ice unchallenged before deking Weber and beating Niemi for a shorthanded marker.
With five minutes left in the period, Petry missed a zone clearance and Artturi Lehkonen did not challenge the Wild player who intercepted the pass, giving him an easy pass to the centre. As Eric Staal accepted the pass, both Danault and Schlemko decided they did not want to engage physically so they chopped away at Staal who scored on his second chance while easily playing through the pathetic defensive coverage.
When play resumed, Nicolas Deslauriers tried to spark the team with a fight with Nick Seeler. In Deslauriers first fight since the preseason, he got the better of Seeler. Deslauriers’ effort was in vain as the Wild continued to pile-drive the Canadiens leading to a really stupid Shaw penalty for slashing with under two minutes to play.
The excellent Wild man advantage wasted no time scoring again. With three seconds left in the period, a juicy rebound by Niemi sent the Habs penalty killers sprawling all over the ice and Jason Zucker made a nifty pass to the centre of the slot for Spurgeon to score to make it 5-0 at the end of the period.
At 5-0, not much was expected from the third period. To make matters worse, Brendan Gallagher was guilty of a high stick only 20 seconds in. The Wild took all of 20 more seconds to score as Mikael Granlund completed yet another cross-ice saucer pass to Dumba who scored his second of the night.
Dubnyk then stopped Domi on a breakaway only seconds before the Habs finally got on the board. Michael Chaput won his race for the puck, circled the Minnesota zone and found a streaking Petry who one-timed the puck home to break the shutout bid.
Only four minutes later, Chaput tripped Joel Eriksson Ek to send the Wild to a fourth man advantage. The Wild once again made the Habs pay as they made it 4/4 on the power play. A stretch pass by Spurgeon sprang Parise on a breakaway and scored five-hole.
Down the stretch, brutal neutral zone coverage by Weber and Benn allowed a Wild breakaway while attempting to kill a penalty. As Niemi was finally and pitifully pulled from the game, Carey Price entered and made nine saves in his half period. The Habs showed little life and the Wild were going through the motions to keep it at 7-1 which held up as the final score.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jeff Petry
This was by no means a good game for Petry. He was firmly asleep at the wheel in his coverage on the Wild’s first goal of the night. He was guilty of more giveaways too. He gets the first star here because he scored a goal, he created some scoring chances with his power play time, and he covered often to the disaster that was his partner on the blue line in David Schlemko. It’s basically a pity first star for having to put up with Schlemko and Benn for most of the season while better defenders are eating hot dogs.
Stats: 1 goal, -1, 2 shots, 1 hit, 21:14 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Michael Chaput
He skated hard in the first two periods. He forechecked and created some turnovers. He also did the bulk of the work to create Petry’s only goal. That’s really all it took to be this high up on the list on this night.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 1 hit, 13:07 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Antti Niemi
When the goaltender allows seven goals and still gets one of the stars for your team, it says more about the team’s effort than the goaltenders. Niemi did everything he could to channel his inner Carey Price and keep the team in the game. Alas, he is not Price and the Habs were not facing the Blackhawks, so his luck ran out in the second period.
Stats: 17 saves, 24 shots, .708 Sv%, 9.10 GAA, 46:10 T.O.I. (Look at those stats and consider that this was one of the better players tonight…)