The Habs stepped onto the ice on Thursday night with plenty to motivate them. Firstly, despite holding a decent recent record, their last outing was their worst of the season, a 7-1 destruction at the hands of Minnesota. Also, their opponent on the night was the Carolina Hurricanes, a team who had two points from them on November 27th as Curtis McElhinney had made 48 stops to rob the Habs of two points.
On this night, they opted to challenge the Hurricanes with speed as David Schlemko was sent to the press box in favour of Mike Reilly. Likewise, Nicolas Deslauriers sat out in favour of Matthew Peca. Carey Price returned to the Montreal net, while the Hurricanes dressed Petr Mrazek in place of an injured McElhinney. Mrazek’s performance was excellent for the first half of the game, but he was left by himself far too often on this night as both offences came to life in a spirited 6-4 victory for the Habs.
The game started with some wide-open play as both teams created a few good scoring chances in the opening minutes, forcing both netminders to be sharp early. As the five-minute mark approached, a nice spin-o-rama breakout pass by Brendan Gallagher allowed Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault to make their way to the net where they were both stopped by Mrazek on some good scoring opportunities. The Max Domi line was on next and they buzzed for the entire shift without being able to beat Mrazek, appearing to rekindle the spirits of November 27th and McElhinney.
With 12 minutes to play, Jesperi Kotkaniemi took a hooking penalty. The Carolina power play gained access to the Montreal zone a little too easily, but the penalty killers were ready to block the passing lanes to keep the ‘Canes off the board. The momentum swing was evident as the play remained in the Habs defensive zone following the penalty, going as far as Jordan Martinook beating Price but hitting the post.
Play was relatively even until Dougie Hamilton fired the puck over the glass to offer the Habs their first power play of the night. The man advantage was as threatening as usual, with the best scoring chance belonging to a 2-on-1 in favour of the Hurricanes. With no goals and limited scoring chances after the opening period, one may suggest that the Habs wearing white jerseys confused Claude Julien coaching this as though this was a road game.
The Habs remained strong to start the second as they played in the offensive zone, winning races and puck battles. Two minutes into the period, Jordie Benn and Janne Kuokkanen were sent to the box as it was judged that Benn embellished the Kuokkanen hook. 4-on-4 play ensued and it favoured the Hurricanes as Andrei Svechnikov blew by Shea Weber with speed before releasing a laser of a backhand into the top corner to open the scoring.
A minute later, Artturi Lehkonen was guilty of a horrendous giveaway only to be bailed out as Price robbed Brock McGinn with a beautiful glove save.
With 14 minutes to play, Justin Faulk held Domi to prevent an odd-man rush. The second Habs advantage did not last 20 seconds before Paul Byron took an offensive zone tripping penalty. 40 seconds later, Svechnikov was called for hooking. The brief 4-on-3 power play looked dangerous but didn’t score. With the first two penalties expired, Weber released a vintage rocket that was tipped by Byron. Mrazek was up to the challenge as this game started resembling their last matchup in terms of scoring chances not materializing for the Canadiens.
At the midway point of the period, Faulk returned to the box, this time for tripping Andrew Shaw. This latest Habs man advantage was a typical one as even though it looked productive, it ultimately did not produce.
With six minutes left in the period, a solid forecheck by the fourth line created a turnover for Kenny Agostino. Agostino quickly found Peca in the slot who fired a shot home to even the score. The goal prompted some pushback from Carolina but it did not last long. After a few good saves by Price, Danault missed another scoring chance against Mrazek.
Only two minutes after the Peca goal, Domi was patient with the puck and found Jeff Petry who roofed it over Mrazek for a 2-1 lead. The Petry goal really gave the Habs all the momentum as they continued to play in the Carolina zone to end the period, retreating to the locker room with a 29-15 shot advantage after forty minutes.
The third period started with a contrast to the rest of the game as both teams capitalized in the first minute of play. First, some rather poor defensive coverage by Petry left Svechnikov all alone. His initial shot was stopped by Price, but Svechnikov was able to gather his own rebound and score to tie the game. 20 seconds later, strong forechecks by Tatar and Gallagher had the Carolina defenders’ heads spinning. The result was a nice pass from the top of the zone to the bottom from Danault to Gallagher who put his head down, drove the net, and tucked the puck five-hole on Mrazek to quickly restore the one-goal advantage at the 45-second mark of the frame.
A minute later, Lucas Wallmark was called for high sticking, once again opening the door to an inept Montreal power play that simply was not able to capitalize on this chance to distance their opponent.
Immediately after the advantage, a strong defensive zone play by Agostino got the Habs out of their zone. Danault took the puck and gave it to a streaking Artturi Lehkonen. Lehkonen drove the net, protected the puck and scored a power forwards goal as he outwaited everyone on the ice to open his shot. After the Habs laid an egg on yet another power play, the momentum swung for the Hurricanes.
At the 11-minute mark, Jaccob Slavin brought the Canes to within one when he accepted a pass from Phillip Di Giuseppe as the late man joining the rush to get into the slot untouched and ripped a shot over Price’s shoulder.
Two minutes later, a perfect breakout by the Domi line led to a zone entry tic-tac-toe between Drouin and Weber to spring Shaw on a partial break that he scored on to restore the two-goal lead.
The ‘Canes simply did not want to go away on this night as they crawled back into the game three minutes later. Sebastian Aho accepted a pass, broke into the zone, and took advantage of Brett Kulak being on the wrong side of the puck. Aho protected the puck to block Kulak and then pulled a quick move on Price to find an opening and tucked the puck into the net with four minutes to play.
Carolina pulled Mrazek with a little over two minutes left and shortly after that, a zone clearing by Petry led to the puck snailing its way toward the empty net and getting in just before the defender to secure the win for the Habs.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jeff Petry
Petry will always be a risky player in the defensive zone and this game was no different as he clearly cost the team a goal. However, he was skating and joining the rush regularly while making the right decisions regarding when he should join for the most part. This is when Petry is at his best, and he was rewarded for this good decision making with two goals. If you, as a fan, don’t appreciate this effort by Petry, then you should also be favouring Jordie Benn and David Schlemko over Mike Reilly and Victor Mete.
Stats: 2 goals, 0 (+/-), 7 shots, 2 hits, 21:14 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Kenny Agostino
Strong forechecking, little defensive liability, and intelligent puck management – these are all reasons Agostino continues to be part of this lineup while guys like Charles Hudon and Nikita Scherbak (now in LA) are not. Agostino had an extra gear playing with the more skilled Matthew Peca (compared to Nicolas Deslauriers). He also gets some points for taking a spear to the family jewels and finishing his shift to get the puck out of the zone.
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 0 shots, 1 hit, 10:50 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Brendan Gallagher
The story goes that Gallagher challenged the locker room ahead of the game to bounce back after the terrible effort in Minnesota on Tuesday. Did anyone doubt that Gallagher would back it up on the ice? On the stat sheet, he may leave with only one goal, but that goal was likely the most important of the night as he scored 20 seconds after Svechnikov had tied the game. It was the goal that gave the Habs the lead for good and was one that prevented the ‘Canes from gaining important momentum in a key moment of the game. He didn’t stop there as he was responsible for many solid defensive plays throughout the night.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 4 shots, 4 hits, 16:47 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Carey Price
The team in front of him was in full offensive control for most of the night so Price didn’t earn an official star. The saves he had to make were timely and important as the defensive zone lapses were in terrible spots on the ice most of the night. This means that though the team gets credit for once again bouncing back after a bad performance, Price also gets credit for making the big saves he needed to make all night long.
Stats: 27 saves, 31 shots, .871 SV%, 4.00 G.A.A., 59:34 T.O.I.