The Habs had little time to digest Monday’s 1-0 loss to the Wild as they were back in action on Tuesday, taking on a division rival Detroit. The Habs only other game against the Red Wings came on October 15th when they dismantled them by a 7-3 score.
Antti Niemi got the start with Price playing 24 hours earlier. The blue line remained unchanged which was great news since it meant that Shea Weber was back in the lineup after taking a puck to the face. Up front, a pair of changes took place to the fourth line as Nicolas Deslauriers and Michael Chaput were sent to the press box in favour of Matthew Peca and Charles Hudon.
Jimmy Howard was the starting goaltender for the Red Wings, but he didn’t fare much better than the last time these two teams met as he was the losing goaltender of record. In a game that appeared far less entertaining than many others played the Canadiens this season, the Habs were outshot by the Red Wings but managed to outscore the young Detroit squad by a 3-2 margin.
The opening minute of play saw the Habs find themselves in the defensive zone as the Red Wings attacked with speed from the beginning. After the opening faceoff, the game took some time to get going as not much was going on save for the line featuring Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, and Andreas Athanasiou outskating and working the line of Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, and Tomas Tatar.
With seven minutes expired, Artturi Lehkonen attempted a pass toward Paul Byron that bounced off a defender and forced Howard to make his first good save of the night. A minute later, it was Jonathan Drouin’s turn to show more than he offered in Monday’s game as he took the puck down low and crashed the net, accepting the physical play to create a rebound opportunity for linemate Max Domi.
The second half of the period was filled with penalties and unsuccessful power plays. The first penalty went to Jacob de la Rose as he was unable to handle Peca’s speed in the defensive zone. Montreal’s power play was typically terrible as they continued to roll out a first unit that did not include Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
Less than two minutes later, Danault was called for high sticking Helm in the offensive zone. The Detroit man advantage looked far more dangerous than Montreal’s as Niemi was forced to make a solid sliding save and to get help from his post on a second occasion to keep the game scoreless.
The Habs received the third and final power play of the period with three minutes to play when Niklas Kronwall was called for a very weak hooking call. The advantage was yet again atrocious as Kotkaniemi got the only shot and it wasn’t a great scoring chance, but the period ended with the shots 9-8 in favour of Detroit.
The second period started much better for the Habs as Gallagher opened the scoring just 30 seconds in. Danault and Tatar worked the puck around Detroit’s zone before Gallagher outworked the defender to the loose puck in front of the net to get the Habs the lead.
A minute later, a strong breakout pass by Benn sent in Joel Armia. Armia attempted a pass to Domi which bounced off the defender and returned to Armia who fired a shot on net that beat Howard for a quick 2-0 lead.
If the first goal stunned the Wings, the second appeared to whip them back into shape as they forechecked the Habs defenders and spent most of the next five minutes in the Montreal zone. At the end of the sequence, the Wings finally closed the gap when Danault’s attempt at a breakout pass hit Tatar, who quickly got the puck back before he misplayed it. The poor puck management allowed Athanasiou to walk in and roof a shot over Niemi’s shoulder as Jordie Benn took away a potential cross-ice pass to Helm.
The second half of the period started with Tatar just barely getting out of the way of Luke Witkowski who had lined him up and was looking to hit him hard in open ice. Play continued in the Montreal end for the most part as the Habs defencemen were simply unable to move quickly enough to get the puck cleanly out of the zone.
Finally, with eight minutes to play in the period, Shea Weber was sent to the sin bin for interference. This second Detroit power play on the night was able to gain the Montreal zone but they were never able to duplicate the scoring chances generated on their first man advantage. After a strong shift by Hudon and Agostino, the Wings would get a third power play in the final two minutes of the period as Kotkaniemi was called for hooking on a call that was about as legitimate as Kronwall’s in the first. However, it was not threatening as the period ended with a 2-1 Habs lead.
The Habs were once again strong out of the gate in the third as they extended their lead after only 19 seconds. Jeff Petry started the play with a strong breakout pass to Tatar who skated up the ice while Gallagher and Danault pushed the defenders back by skating toward the opposition net. This opened a clear pass to Petry who followed his pass and joined the rush. Petry accepted the pass and ripped a shot to the far side for a 3-1 lead.
After the Petry marker, play mostly found itself in the neutral zone as neither team made crisp and accurate passes which meant sloppy play all over the ice. Domi put an end to this with a terrible offensive zone penalty for holding that was entirely unnecessary. The Wings made Domi pay on their fourth man advantage when Anthony Mantha recovered a juicy rebound and made a slick little pass to Athanasiou who one-timed it home to make it a one-goal game once again.
Before the second half could begin, the teams opened up and exchanged some good scoring chances as Danault and Glendening both got stopped point blank from the netminders. After a solid Benn defensive shift, the Wings were flying through the neutral zone when Tatar tripped Dylan Larkin sending the Wings to their fifth power play. Luckily for the former Wing, Detroit’s man advantage looked like the first three occasions and not like the last one.
With the Habs entrenched in their defensive posture, the Wings continued to push only to be kept to the outside from strong shifts by Benn, Petry, and Weber. At the end of the game, the Canadiens were tired but found a way to win a game they desperately needed.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Tomas Tatar
Tatar was motivated against his former team and it showed as he was all over the ice making solid plays all night long. He was responsible for the zone entry and the rebound control on Gallagher’s opening marker. Then, he made the sweet pass to an open Petry on the third goal. He was also guilty of the giveaway that allowed Detroit’s first goal but it’s not entirely surprising to see a player that is highly motivated attempt to do a bit too much. Overall, a solid game from Tatar.
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 1 shot, 14:33 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher scored the first goal by paying the price in front of the opposition net. It might be time for the Domi-Drouin duo to look at some game tape of where Gallagher’s goals are happening. Gallagher was also responsible for some strong defensive play and being a puck hound on the forecheck.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 4 shots, 3 hits, 14:47 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Antti Niemi
Niemi played a strong game if not unspectacular. He made a few big saves, but really, he simply did the work that was in front of him with poise and professionalism. Well, okay, there were a few excellent saves, most notably on the numerous Detroit power plays as Montreal showed a lack of discipline in flirting with disaster. The perfect game from the backup netminder to help them win the second game in a back-to-back situation.
Stats: 30 saves, 32 shots, .938 SV%, 2.00 GAA, 60:00 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jordie Benn
Benn has found himself upon his return to the third pairing of late. He has covered his defensive assignment well, made strong decisions with the limited puck action he’s received (Kulak enjoys joining the rush much more than Benn), and this return to confidence has also seen him play a far more physical game in his defensive zone, notably in clearing the front of the net.
Stats: 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 1 hit, 22:20 T.O.I.