In the final game before a brief holiday break, the Habs were in Las Vegas to take on the Golden Knights for a rare Saturday afternoon contest. The Habs were trying to duplicate the results of their 5-4 win over the Knights on November 10th at the Bell Centre.
The goaltending matchup featured Carey Price and Marc-André Fleury as expected. Claude Julien opted to change things up despite coming off a win against the Arizona Coyotes. He reunited the line of Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, and Phillip Danault which was a happy decision. He also decided to play Paul Byron with Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin. This meant that Jesperi Kotkaniemi was aligned with Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Shaw. Due to Vegas’ physical presence on their fourth line, Julien opted to dress Nicolas Deslauriers instead of Charles Hudon on the fourth line. On the blue line, Victor Mete played his first game next to Shea Weber while Jeff Petry was paired with Mike Reilly. The final pair was Jordie Benn and Brett Kulak which meant David Schlemko was watching the game.
The 60 plus minutes of play was filled with errors but was entertaining for the fans as solid saves were made, glorious chances were missed, and there were a few lead changes to keep the game interesting too. In the end, Danault powered the Canadiens onto a 4-3 overtime victory for the Habs.
The opening two minutes of play prepared the fans for the back-and-forth nature of this entire game as Tatar tested Fleury immediately while a terrible first shift in which both Benn and Kulak were guilty of turnovers got Price some stops early.
Three minutes into the game, Tatar rushed the net while Gallagher entered the zone with the puck. Tatar’s rush opened a passing lane across to Danault who fired home a one-timer for the game’s first goal.
The Knights’ response was a familiar one by now as Vegas tried to intimidate their much smaller opponents. Over the course of the next five minutes, Lehkonen and Petry were victims of some borderline plays. Just before the midway point in the period, Lehkonen was sent in on a partial break after savvy passes by both Petry and Reilly but was stopped.
Moments later, Byron blocked a shot from Brayden McNabb and was able to get a true breakaway. He missed but gathered the rebound and centred to Domi who was stopped by Fleury before the puck got to Mete who hit the post. Fleury lost his mask on the play which resulted in the play being blown dead despite the Habs having possession. Fleury would be warned on the play, but the Habs’ scoring chance was still thwarted by the loose mask.
McNabb would get his revenge on Byron for the sequence with a blatant interference that would send Montreal on the first power play of the night. The first wave was unproductive while the second created momentum with zone control and a good scoring chance for Shaw.
With 3:36 left to play in the period, Vegas buzzed around the Montreal zone after poor puck battles by Weber and Petry. It led to a wrap-around attempt that Price stopped but Danault was lackadaisical in clearing the front of the net. Brandon Pirri beat him to the loose puck and swatted it over Price to tie the game despite the 17-8 shot advantage for Montreal at the end of the period. Of note was the difficult period by the Domi line and some typical play by Lehkonen who was so often in the right spot but as he often does, he treated the puck like a hot potato.
Vegas had a much stronger start to the second period as the Habs struggled to get out of their zone due to poor execution. The Domi line specifically continued to try some fancy plays in risky areas on the ice and got burned on more than one occasion.
The Golden Knights took the lead after a strong forecheck that caused havoc for the Montreal defenders. The confusion occurred when Reilly decided to cover the same player as Petry leaving the latter late on coverage which left Jonathan Marchessault alone to convert a rebound.
The Habs would tie the game before the midway point in the period as a fantastic shift by Gallagher and Tatar down low in the offensive zone created a point shot by Benn that Danault tipped home. Danault’s second of the night was reviewed for a potential high stick, but the decision went in favour of the Canadiens and the goal stood.
After over eight minutes of playing mostly in the defensive zone, the Danault goal gave the Habs momentum and returned to the dominant play of the opening period. This included Domi who appeared determined to make everyone forget his poor performance in the first half of the game. He broke in with speed and found Drouin who fanned on an open shot to start the second half of the game.
Unfortunately, it was Vegas that would take the lead before the end of the period. Poor recognition of who was on the ice by Kulak led him to jump up the ice and join the rush with the fourth line on. A poor dump-in attempt by Deslauriers turned the puck over and Benn was not covering for Kulak. A stretch pass sent Pirri in on a breakaway and he scored five-hole on Price for a 3-2 lead.
The Habs, specifically Domi, did not give up and dominated the next three minutes of play until Weber took a tripping penalty that the Habs killed with relative ease to end the period.
The Habs were asleep in the first two minutes of the third but slowly regained their form as the first half of the period wore on. Shaw drew a penalty early as he crashed the net after accepting a nice pass from Kotkaniemi. Once again, the top unit was not productive, but the second group created some chances and momentum, but Tatar could not convert on the two great chances he received here.
This power play was followed by one for Vegas as Petry was called for tripping. Their man advantage mirrored the first Montreal unit as it really never threatened Price. This once again created momentum for Montreal who was continuously attacking the Vegas zone. The problem was that they did not attack the net often enough so they remained a goal behind with only five minutes left to play. At this point, Victor Mete started joining the rush and it forced the Knights to back-up even more and it opened some passing lanes for the more skilled Montreal players.
With the Habs in full control, Julien opted to pull Price with two minutes to play. This almost backfired as Vegas got the puck for a rush that forced Mete to make a game-saving backcheck. This turned out to be very important as after a timeout by the Habs, Domi showed great patience before finding Danault in front of the net. Danault’s redirect hit the post behind Fleury but Danault would wrestle through the defenceman’s mauling to get behind Fleury and push the puck in the net for his first career NHL hat-trick. Before getting to overtime, Cody Eakin broke in and forced Price to make a diving save with seconds left on the clock. The Habs were lucky to get to overtime despite their 46-25 shot advantage.
The overtime would be short as Mete got on the ice with a minute expired and completely dominated the final 59 seconds to win the game. This started with a great defensive play to take the puck from the Knights. He then flew up the ice with the puck which opened the zone for Domi. The initial stop was made by Fleury, but Mete was all over the rebound. Mete found Domi again, who once again showed great patience before finding the seam, this time to Byron who fired home the game-winner.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Phillip Danault
For all the nights Danault does the dirty work in all four corners of the ice and allows his linemates to create offensively, he was the recipient of that creativity in this one and he made it count. It was an up and down game for Danault and the rest of his line as they were also on the ice for some important goals against. That being said, it’s impossible to not recognize such an honest worker getting his share of the glory with his first career hat trick.
Stats: 3 goals, 0 (+/-), 6 shots, 1 hit, 19:23 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Paul Byron
The scoresheet won’t reflect it but scoring the game-winner was only the tip of the iceberg for Byron as he was Montreal’s best player. He spent the first half of the game saving his linemates butts from being scored on and the second half of the game complementing their speed game and creating more scoring chances. Let’s not forget a few really solid plays on the penalty kill. It seems that wherever Julien places Byron in the lineup, the line in question suddenly finds themselves playing good hockey and exiting slumps.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 2 hits, 17:39 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Victor Mete
The defender that was in Laval last week was paired with Weber and he did pretty well. Check that, he played a fantastic game, making big plays in the biggest moments the game had to offer. His performance in the overtime alone is worthy of this nomination as one of the stars. Now if he could only get the monkey off his back and score a goal.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 19:37 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Max Domi
This was Tomas Tatar’s best game in a long time, and he played an entire 60-minute game whereas Domi did not. BUT, Domi’s effort was representative of this team this season. After a terrible first half of the game, Domi never gave up, put his nose to the grindstone and was responsible for crazy good passes on both the equalizer and the game-winner. Hopefully, this will get Domi going again and we can see the November Domi after the holidays.
Stats: 2 assists, +2, 5 shots, 17:44 T.O.I.