The Habs faced off against the Rangers on Saturday as they looked to snap a five-game losing streak. They did just that as they put forth one of their better performances of the season en route to a 5-2 win.
Montreal made a pair of lineup changes from their loss on Tuesday night against Carolina. Mike Reilly returned to the lineup in place of Victor Mete who is now in Laval (and scored this afternoon in a 5-4 loss to Utica). Up front, Paul Byron made his return to the lineup with Charles Hudon ceding his spot.
The Rangers had the first good chance of the game. They got Montreal’s defence to spread wide, creating a mini two-on-one with Jesper Fast and Jimmy Vesey. Fast slid the puck over to Vesey but Carey Price was up to the task.
On the following shift, the Habs had a three-on-two. Although they didn’t get a shot on the play, the puck was worked back to the point with Jonathan Drouin setting up a one-timer for Shea Weber. He blasted it past Alexandar Georgiev to open up the scoring.
A few minutes later, a good rush from Brett Kulak set the fourth line up for a good scoring chance. However, both Michael Chaput and Kenny Agostino were tripped in front of the net, sending the home side to the power play. The Habs had a couple of chances with the man advantage – Brendan Gallagher was stopped on a shot from the slot while Tomas Tatar swung the puck through the slot on the second unit but they weren’t able to beat Georgiev.
With seven minutes left, the Rangers got their best chance of the period. Brett Howden had plenty of time and space to get a shot off near the faceoff dot and while he beat Price, he didn’t beat the post. Several minutes later, a Brady Skjei point shot took a significant change of direction, forcing Price to make a sharp toe save.
With 1:20 to, Max Domi was stopped on a two-on-one and it looked like the one-goal lead would carry over to the second. However, in the dying seconds of the frame, Gallagher chipped the puck out of the defensive zone to Tatar. He was tripped up but managed to get the puck to a streaking Weber who walked in uncontested and wristed one past Georgiev with just seven seconds left. Shots in the period were 14-8 for Montreal.
The second period was hectic, to say the least. It got off to a great start for the Habs. A big hit from David Schlemko sent the Habs on the attack and the Domi line had a couple of good chances. They changed and the Jesperi Kotkaniemi trio came on. Kotkaniemi was stopped on a two-on-one but seconds later, they got another one. Artturi Lehkonen had the puck, kept it, and scored to make it 3-0.
Three minutes after that, Lehkonen struck again. Byron put pressure on Neal Pionk behind the Rangers net and eventually the defenceman coughed up the puck to Lehkonen who was wide open to make it 4-0. David Quinn called timeout and that seemed to wake New York up.
After Domi was called for embellishment to negate a potential Montreal power play, Jeff Petry got caught hanging onto the puck too long in his own end. Mika Zibanejad took the puck away and the puck was worked back to Brendan Smith at the point. He sent a perfect pass over to Vesey who beat Price to get the Rangers on the board.
The Canadiens then had some misfortune. After Tatar was stopped on a two-on-one (there were a lot of these in the game), Gallagher (who had taken a penalty a few minutes earlier) had a wide-open net but hit the post. As the goal siren was going off, Phillip Danault was called for hooking, sending the Rangers back to the power play. With the man advantage, Ryan Strome was left wide open and beat Price to make it 4-2.
On the next shift, Petry made up in part for his mistake on the first goal by breaking up a Ranger two-on-one. Both sides traded chances the rest of the way, the most notable of which came on a brutal giveaway from Jordie Benn behind his own net with less than 90 seconds left. Howden got the puck and sent it to a wide open Strome but he rang it off the post. At the end of the period, Montreal still had a two-goal lead but their collapse still stung. Shots on goal in the frame were 17-9 for the home side.
The Habs have been fragile in the third in recent weeks but this wasn’t the case on Saturday night. Instead, they went with the approach of a good defence is a good offence and that if the Rangers didn’t have the puck, they couldn’t score.
Near the 5:30 mark of the frame, David Schlemko rang a shot off the post. Moments later, the fourth line was on the ice and Agostino had the puck in a good shooting position. However, they tried to get a little too cute and passed their way out of a decent scoring chance.
A few minutes after that, Skjei was called for delay of game after he gloved the puck into the crowd. In a bid for his third goal of the game, Weber fired one that snapped a strap on Georgiev’s mask but didn’t get into the net. However, the Habs had some success on this power play. Tatar got the puck to Agostino who had some space and speed coming in off the wing. His shot was stopped but Tatar followed up and potted the rebound.
That seemed to take the wing out of New York’s sails as they didn’t put up much of a fight the rest of the way. I don’t think the Habs seemed to mind as they cruised to the victory.
Price made 20 stops in a winning effort while Georgiev was much busier, kicking aside 36 of 41 shots. Each team went 1/2 with the man advantage.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Shea Weber – Boy, is it ever nice to have him back. He really does stabilize the back end and his point shot gives them a true threat from the point (with all due respect to Jeff Petry). It’s not often that he joins the rush but that late goal in the first when he did so was critical. There’s still some rust to work off but this was a strong performance.
Stats: 2 goals, +1 rating, 5 shots, 4 hits, 23:59 TOI
2nd Star: Artturi Lehkonen – Was he ever due to get one… He had a great shot on his first goal and then picked up his second moments later to basically put the game out of reach. I’m not convinced that this is going to start a scoring streak but it’s nice to see him get rewarded.
Stats: 2 goals, +2 rating, 2 shots, 3 hits, 14:30 TOI
3rd Star: Tomas Tatar – He wasn’t the most noticeable in terms of flashy plays but he made some nice subtle plays that led to goals. His feed to Weber from the ice set up the second goal while he made a good feed at centre ice to Agostino that ultimately led to his own power play tally.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1 rating 3 shots, 14:32 TOI
Honourable Mention: Brett Kulak – What a whirlwind couple of weeks it has been for Kulak. He gets promoted from Laval, quickly passes Karl Alzner and Victor Mete on the depth chart, and moves onto the top pairing with Weber. Considering he’s in his second week with the team and hasn’t been in this situation in the NHL before (being on the top pairing), he acquitted himself very well. He used his speed effectively to join the rush and was stable in his own end as well. It’s too early to say he’s an ideal fit but he has earned another look at least.
Stats: 0 points, +2 rating, 3 shots, 4 hits, 20:38 TOI