In a rare visit to the Arizona desert on Thursday, the Montreal Canadiens had plenty of motivational material to provide a strong effort. They attempted to find the win column after consecutive losses to Boston and Colorado. They were playing in their third game in the last four nights. Also, two players were facing their former teams after the trade that sent Alex Galchenyuk to the Coyotes in exchange for new fan favourite Max Domi.
Claude Julien changed the line composition as Artturi Lehkonen was promoted to the top unit to play alongside Domi and Jonathan Drouin. Paul Byron found himself on the second line with Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault. The third group consisted of Andrew Shaw, Tomas Tatar, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi while Michael Chaput, Charles Hudon, and Kenny Agostino remained together on the fourth line. The defensive pairings remained questionable as Jordie Benn was paired with Shea Weber, while Mike Reilly played with Jeff Petry and Victor Mete played with David Schlemko, meaning that Brett Kulak, Matthew Peca, and Nicolas Deslauriers were watching the game. The matchup between the pipes featured Darcy Kuemper facing Carey Price, the latter playing his third game of the week.
If the Habs deserved a better fate in Denver on Wednesday night, the Coyotes likely feel the same after this one. The Habs were outplayed for large portions of the opening 40 minutes before the Habs took a lead and shut things down in the third. After this 2-1 victory, the Habs likely skate away with a win and a loss while deserving a win and a loss and getting reversed results.
The game’s opening shift saw Gallagher with a good shot on Kuemper before the Coyotes returned the favour and hemmed in the Domi line for the better part of a minute. Before the five-minute mark, Kuemper made two more excellent saves on Gallagher as Byron made a nice redirected pass on the first occasion before Danault made a smart play to get Gallagher his second chance.
The Habs pressured the Coyotes and cycled in the offensive zone for the next five minutes. A few good shots were had during this time, notably by Reilly. Just before the half of the period, Tatar broke in and fired a shot on the crossbar after Kotkaniemi won a defensive zone faceoff. After Schlemko fell asleep and allowed a Coyote behind him for a breakaway, Mete backchecked hard and caught up with the player to stop the scoring chance.
With eight minutes to play, Lehkonen was guilty of tripping for the first penalty of the game. Price made a brilliant save on Christian Fischer in the open seconds of their man advantage before the team settled down and killed the rest of the penalty without much danger. What the power play did manage though was to break Montreal’s momentum as the teams shared short shifts in each others zone throughout the final five minutes of the period. Most notably were consecutive 2-on-1’s as Domi sailed a pass past Lehkonen before Clayton Keller found Nick Cousins forcing Price to make a solid save. As the period expired, Cousins was called for a high hit on Petry.
The Habs started the period on the power play and the struggling man advantage wasted little time in capitalizing against the league’s best penalty-killing unit. Domi tied up Brad Richardson on the draw and Drouin was on his toes to go get the puck at the dot. The puck was sent to Petry who send the puck across the blueline for a vintage Weber bomb to the top of the net for the game’s first goal. Immediately after the goal, an errant pass fooled Weber and sent the Coyotes on a 2-on-1 that was misplayed by Benn forcing Price to bail him out with a nice sliding stop.
Five minutes into the period, Jacob Chychrun tripped Chaput for a second Habs man advantage. Some strong forecheck work by Gallagher opened the play and created chances for Weber and Domi. Tatar then took a holding penalty while playing the point on the second power play unit.
In an identical play to the Weber goal, the Coyotes’ tied the game with a point shot by Oliver Ekman-Larsson after a tied draw was collected by Nick Schmaltz and quarterbacked by Chychrun. The goal set the Habs on their heels as the play shifted heavily to the defensive zone where Price had to make several key saves to keep the game tied.
The Canadiens found their legs for the final five minutes of the period as they exchanged rather uneventful rushes with the Coyotes until Shaw lured Niklas Hjalmarsson into taking a tripping penalty. The power play looked dangerous this time around, but the Coyotes held on and retreated to the locker room tied.
The Habs once again started the period on a power play, but this time they could not score. The shift that followed saw Danault sent out with Shaw and Byron. Mete grabbed a puck at the blue line and fired it on net. The rebound found Danault who made a slick pass to Byron for the tap-in to restore the one-goal advantage less than two minutes into the period.
The Coyotes immediately went on the offensive, but the Habs were playing a strong defensive period. This was the case until Danault took a penalty for hooking with 13 minutes to play. The Arizona man advantage spent much of the time in the Habs zone without getting a quality chance against Price.
With eight minutes to play, it was Weber’s turn to trip Stepan and place the Habs in a precarious position. Once again, some strong puck pressure in the defensive zone allowed them to escape the shorthanded situation unscathed. The Coyotes removed Kuemper with 90 seconds to play and Domi missed the empty net. This caused some nervous moments as Arizona made a strong push to tie the game. Strong defensive play helped Price immensely in the third period, as the netminder was elite in the first 40 minutes before not being tested too much in the last period.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
Price was without a doubt the best Montreal player as the team scored just enough to help him finally win his 300th game in the NHL. Price made a show-stopping save against Galchenyuk and a series of other important stops when the Habs fell asleep for long sections of the game, particularly in the second period.
Stats: 36 saves, 37 shots, 1.00 G.A.A., .973 save %, 60:00 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher was tenacious in this game and was visible on the forecheck all night long. He missed a few glorious scoring chances but was still a strong enough contributor for this selection.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 5 shots, 16:14 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jeff Petry
Usually, when Petry finds his way into this selection, it is because of strong offensive play. He remained a factor at that end of the ice with his assist, but I want to take the time to highlight the numerous defensive plays made by Petry tonight. He stopped a 2-on-1 by swatting a puck out of mid-air and made several other strong defensive plays to help young Mike Reilly who once again struggled at times. Luckily for Reilly, he was still better than Schlemko on this night.
Stats: 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 1 shot, 3 hits, 24:32 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jonathan Drouin
Often criticized for his play away from the puck, it was a strong play on a power play faceoff that created the Shea Weber goal. Though not entirely consistent, Drouin was much better at taking hits to make plays. This is a facet to his game that doesn’t show up every night, so it’s worth noting that he played quite well away from the puck.
Stats: 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 1 hit, 17:12 T.O.I.