After a rare disappointing effort on Saturday night against Nashville, the Habs attempted to get back in the win column on Monday night against the visiting Minnesota Wild. This was the second match against the Wild this season, the first game going Minnesota’s way in a contest the Habs never showed up for.
An important difference for Monday’s contest was the presence of Carey Price between the pipes as Antti Niemi was the goaltender on December 11th. Devan Dubnyk remained the Wild’s man in the blue paint as the opposition to Price. The Habs blue line went unchanged, but the forwards were tweaked as Joel Armia and Paul Byron switched spots on the team’s second and third lines. This was of little consequence since the team played shorthanded for much of the night. The situation went from bad to worse when Shea Weber joined an ejected Kenny Agostino in the locker room after the first. This led to Jeff Petry being overworked, which eventually led to a model road game from the Wild as they held on for a 1-0 road win against the Habs.
The opening two minutes of play saw both teams committed to forechecking and causing turnovers from the opposition defenders. With the forwards working hard defensively, not much was created offensively to start. In the next minute, Agostino was called for interference when he sent Eric Fehr to the boards from behind. Fehr was left bloody on the play and Agostino was shown the showers only three minutes into the contest. Agostino was given a five-minute penalty, though Nick Seeler was given a two-minute instigating minor for going after Agostino after the brutal hit. This meant a full two minutes of 4-on-4 action before an extended Wild power play.
The first two minutes were extremely quiet leading to the extended advantage that was also very quiet. The most notable events were Max Domi and Weber receiving pucks to the face in the sequence. With approximately a minute left in the power play, Price made his presence felt with a series of four saves, ending with an exclamation mark of a diving stop toward a loose puck. With 30 seconds left in the Minnesota man advantage, Jason Zucker was called for holding Phillip Danault to even the man power once again before the Habs deployed a short and weak power play.
The second half of the period continued to be eventful despite the lack of scoring. This started with Domi dancing around a few Wild defenders before forcing Dubnyk to make a strong save, one of the very few tests he received in the period. Additional strong forechecking by Domi forced Jonas Brodin to panic and fire the puck out of play from the defensive zone meaning another power play for the Canadiens.
This man advantage was started by the second unit and created enough pressure to spend most of the good-looking power play on the ice. Artturi Lehkonen was stopped on a few chances created by Jesperi Kotkaniemi while Paul Byron fanned on a chance created by Petry. The last six minutes of the period included some strong shifts by both teams, notably by the Kotkaniemi and Domi lines for the Habs. With 36 seconds left in the period, Mikael Granlund was guilty of an offensive zone holding penalty opening the door once again for the Habs advantage that was not convincing in its short sequence to end the period, one that featured an 11-9 shot advantage for the Habs.
The start of the second period came with some terrible news for the Habs as it was revealed that Weber would not return to the contest due to the puck to the face. This changed the personnel on the power play to start the period, but not the outcome. Before the end of it, Price was penalized for playing the puck in the restricted area sending Kotkaniemi to the box for the second time in the game without ever collecting the PIMs. Luckily for Price, Minnesota’s power play was about as convincing as the Montreal man advantage, so even strength play resumed two minutes later with Jordie Benn committing the only excellent defensive play to protect Price from his own mistake.
Luke Kunin was hit hard by Petry before the ten-minute mark and this got Minnesota riled up as they started playing much more physical against the diminutive Habs. This would not work as Montreal continued to pressure the Wild as Michael Chaput released a shot that Dubnyk had trouble with for what was one of the better scoring chances in the period. The overworked Petry then fanned on a puck in the defensive zone which allowed Zucker to walk in uncontested but Price was calm and forced him to miss the net by not biting on the few moves that Zucker attempted. The second would end with the game still scoreless and the Habs ahead in shots by a 22-14 margin.
The third period saw the perimeter play by both teams continue as the Wild were playing a model road game, wasting as little energy as possible while staying in the game long enough to catch a break. Three minutes into the period, Kotkaniemi made a nice play to get into the offensive zone before sending the puck to Lehkonen who sent it toward the net. Mike Reilly went barrelling into Dubnyk on the play and he was penalized.
This time, the Wild power play looked much more like the four-goal group that was seen a month ago. Price stood tall but it was without a doubt the moment that the momentum shifted in the game.
The play eventually returned to even strength but the Wild continued to apply pressure in the Montreal zone and a little over a minute later, they would break the scoreless tie. As Petry retreated to his zone with the puck, he attempted a backhand pass towards Reilly that went astray and found Granlund who walked in and outwaited Price before firing home the only goal of the game.
Montreal pushed back immediately as play returned to the Minnesota zone. However, they continued to circle the zone instead of penetrating to the centre of the ice to gain higher quality scoring chances.
As the second half of the period got underway, the officiating somewhat took centre stage for the remainder of the game. After the call against Reilly, it’s hard to fathom the blatant calls that the Wild were not penalized for – a blatant trip against Byron in the defensive zone, a crazy hold/interference against Tatar immediately after, and finally the second and third high sticks against Domi. Domi eventually lost his cool and entirely deserved his penalty that led to four-on-four play with four minutes to play in the game, but it really should have never gotten to that point. That’s NHL officiating looking at the score and the even penalties up to this point and actively deciding to put the whistles away. Some will undoubtedly point to this likely becoming a more common scenario as teams prepare for the playoffs, but it seemed a bit off for a 1-0 game in early January.
In the last four minutes, what was seen was disheartening. Down only one goal, at least three of the supposed leaders on the team refused to take a hit to make a play. This started with Drouin down low in the offensive zone, though I would argue that this isn’t new with him. Then Petry stayed away from contact when pinching offensively. Finally, with Price on the bench (since the two minutes to go mark), Tatar twice tried and failed fancy dekes instead of making the hard play and getting the play to teammates in better positions. All this while Danault, Lehkonen, and Brendan Gallagher continued to pay the price to attempt to make this game count. In the end, the Habs never were able to penetrate the Wild’s slot, and the game was lost 1-0.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
It’s hard not to pick the goaltender as the best player in a game that was lost 1-0. Price made important saves to keep the game close in this one, but really, both teams defended well and kept the game boring. Unfortunately, that’s the inexperienced Habs falling into the style that the Wild wanted them to play; not much Price can do about that other than his job in keeping the team in contention for as long as possible and he did that on this night.
Stats: 24 saves, 25 shots, .960 SV%, 1.02 GAA, 57:59 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Kotkaniemi continues to create opportunities at five-on-five that simply aren’t cashed in. Kotkaniemi also continues to be a fraction of a second too late on his own scoring chances. He showed another important aspect to his game tonight as he quarterbacked the only power play that looked dangerous all night. I continue to say that I’m not entirely against keeping on the third line but it seems ridiculous that he isn’t quarterbacking the first power play wave instead of Drouin who simply isn’t prepared to pay the price regularly to make a play.
Stats: 0 points, 1 shot, 15:23 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Max Domi
He was creating all night long, showed a lack of discipline in the third, and must be getting rather anxious for the puck to start going in again. Then again, he’s also become predictable. It might be time to get him away from Drouin and playing with wingers that will work to get to the rebounds that he seems to continuously create.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 17:11 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Shea Weber
Petry made some terrible plays with the puck and without it in the second and third period. He was responsible for the only goal of the game, and that’s not a compliment as the backhand pass was disgusting. Petry played a solid first as has been the case since Weber’s return. He was then asked to take over as the only right-handed defender after Weber left the game. With the major increase in ice time came the inconsistent play by Petry. Petry, but also the rest of the team, needs Shea Weber on the blueline. Luckily, it was revealed after the game that Weber’s injury is not as serious as first thought as he is travelling with the team and expected to play tomorrow night in Detroit.
Stats: 0 points, 2 shots, 7:58 T.O.I.