The Habs hit the ice on Thursday for their first game in the 2019 calendar year. In doing so, they hoped to avoid the cliché “laying of an egg in the first game home after a road trip”. This was especially true since they had such a good road trip and were facing Vancouver who was likely wanting some revenge after their loss to the Habs on November 17th, a game they had under control until some really stupid penalties cost them the game in regulation.
Andrew Shaw was placed on IR with a neck issue but Joel Armia was making his return after a lengthy absence. Armia was playing on the Finnish line with Artturi Lehkonen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The rest of the lines went unchanged from last game, save for the return of Carey Price between the pipes facing off with Jacob Markstrom for the Canucks.
An unfortunate injury to Elias Pettersson was the headline that followed the game that was otherwise marked by strong defensive play and a strong return to the crease for Price. In the end, the Habs skated away with a W, as Price shutout the Canucks for the 2-0 win.
The fourth line started the game for the Habs and it was an uneventful start. A first strong shift for Jonathan Drouin opened a lane for a pass to Kotkaniemi forcing Markstrom to make his first strong save of the period. The ensuing shift for the Kotkaniemi line was one filled with chances that they simply did not convert. The next shift was less pleasant as an attempted pass from Jordie Benn to Brett Kulak was picked off by Pettersson who lost the handle on his breakaway attempt as he crashed into Price’s net.
A minute later, Kulak sent a pass up the middle of the defensive zone and was picked off by Brock Boeser for a second scoring chance for the Canucks. Yet another offensive charge by Pettersson and Boeser was too much for the Habs to handle as Tomas Tatar was called for hooking on the play. The mentioned duo continued to threaten and test Price during the power play as the Habs bent but did not break, escaping the sequence unscathed.
The second half of the period started with a scare as Phillip Danault lost a faceoff and Ben Hutton fired a puck on Brendan Gallagher’s hand. Luckily for Habs fans, Hutton does not possess a shot equal in velocity to Shea Weber and Gallagher would return. On the same shift, a strong forecheck by Armia caused a turnover by Troy Stecher to Kotkaniemi. The lanky rookie found a streaking Benn down the middle of the offensive zone and Benn fired a shot to the top shelf for the game’s first goal.
The next shift had Montreal carrying the goal’s momentum as the overwhelming pressure by the Habs caused Tim Schaller to take a penalty for hooking. The power play did not score but this was mostly due to excellent shot blocking by Vancouver’s penalty kill.
The final three minutes of the period saw the Canucks push back with a strong forecheck, but the Habs defended well and even if the play was mostly in their zone, there was no significant scoring chance given to the Canucks as proven by the 10-4 shot advantage for Montreal by the end of the period.
After the opening shift in the second was spent in the defensive zone, it was the Danault line trying to get back on track after such a successful road trip for them as they forechecked hard and created a golden scoring chance for Tatar who barely missed the net. That shift was the only push by the Habs in the opening five minutes of play as the Canucks had them hemmed in their zone struggling to get the puck out while under control.
Montreal continued to block the middle and blocked shots when the middle was exposed so Price did not have to make too many saves, though he did make a strong stop against Jay Beagle.
The second quarter of the period started with an awkward play where Kotkaniemi and Pettersson got tangled up. Kotkaniemi was guilty of the initial hook while Pettersson initiated physical contact but got the worst of the altercation as his leg rolled under Kotkaniemi and the rookie of the year in the first half of the season would not return to the game. Worth noting that without knowing the extent of the injury, Pettersson did skate off the ice using both of his legs, and Kotkaniemi went to see and speak with Pettersson as he was being escorted off the ice.
As play started up again, Mike Reilly sent Lehkonen on a breakaway as he just missed the net while shooting short side. Before the midway point of the period, Max Domi lost a defensive zone faceoff, but Jonathan Drouin blocked the point shot. The puck landed on Domi’s stick as Drouin flew the zone and was sent in alone. The short side shot worked this time as Drouin scored his 13th of the season to extend the lead.
The goal really stunned the Canucks’ momentum as play shifted from the Habs’ zone to Vancouver’s for a few shifts. This momentum shift ended when Shea Weber expertly blocked a 3-on-1 chance for the Canucks after a risky Drouin neutral zone pass didn’t work. Price made some excellent saves in the final minutes of the frame, notably a glove save on Bo Horvat after a brutal Armia giveaway up the middle to preserve the 2-0 lead despite the 17-9 shot advantage for Vancouver in the period.
The Habs had a strong start to the third as both the Kotkaniemi and Danault lines created some scoring chances thanks to winning some puck battles along the boards. However, this momentum would be stopped with a Danault tripping penalty.
After some strong shot blocking by Benn, Sven Baertschi was called for interference. The call was aided by Lehkonen and the Canucks did not like it one bit. As the Habs got on an abbreviated man advantage, Domi retaliated on Markus Granlund after a missed high stick and took a rather stupid cross-checking penalty. The 4-on-4 action didn’t amount to much, and then Vancouver’s power play was nowhere to be found.
The second half of the period got off to a weird start as the Canucks appeared to be targeting Kotkaniemi. Granlund finally took a penalty for high sticking Kotkaniemi. The latest power play was about as dangerous as the others before it, but the atmosphere of the game became strange as the Canucks appeared completely distracted in attempting to physically get a message through to the Habs about injuring Pettersson. To me, this makes little sense since the injury appeared to be more accidental than voluntary. Also, this game was still within reach for them so it was weird to watch the team appear to accept the loss and start head-hunting.
With eight minutes to play, the Canucks got caught on a bad pinch sending the Domi line on a 3-on-1. Drouin hit the breaks and then found Domi on a cross-ice pass but Markstrom made an awesome sliding stop on Domi and was helped by his defender stopping Byron on the rebound. On the next shift, Chaput was called for slashing, opening the door for the Canucks yet again. Price made a few solid saves on the man advantage, but nothing of the highlight reel variety.
The Canadiens continued to play with fire as they sent the Canucks right back to the advantage with a too many men penalty. Price once again was the star of this kill as he made a sliding save in the opening seconds of the sequence. Price had to make another three stops, and that did not account the blocked shots and the two broken sticks. Vancouver pulled Markstrom with 2:45 left in the period, but once again the Habs bent but did not break as the game ended with a 2-0 score.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
Price didn’t have to do much in the first and third periods. In the first, the team was dominant, so he just had to keep the puck moving. In the third, the Canucks were preoccupied with the chippy play for the first half of the period. But Price faced 17 shots in the second, many of which came with the score still 1-0 and he held on until the lead could be extended. Then in the second half of the third, he made important saves to ensure the Canucks never got a sniff that they could come back in the game.
Stats: 33 saves, 33 shots, 1.00 save %, 0.00 G.A.A, 59:23 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Joel Armia
As was the case with Weber, Armia’s return saw him in full force as he won many puck battles, forechecked with effort and intelligence, and created some scoring chances. He was guilty of a bad turnover in the second period, but his presence in the defensive zone was important in the third. A successful return to the lineup in his case.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 2 hits, 15:56 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Tomas Tatar
Once again, this star could really go to any player on that line. In fact, Gallagher had some superb moments in this game. However, Tatar was a consistent force in applying back pressure, intercepting passes in the neutral zone, and creating the forechecking opportunities for his teammates. He’s also the line member that got the most scoring chances even though he was unable to cash in.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 2 shots, 16:10 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Canucks fans on social media think the injury was purposely done by Kotkaniemi. I think anyone with a bit of logic can see Kotkaniemi skate over to Pettersson after the play to check up on him. I think anyone with a bit of logic can see that Kotkaniemi absolutely deserved a two-minute penalty for hooking on the play, but that it was actually Pettersson that initiated the physical confrontation. No matter what, here’s hoping Pettersson isn’t out for too long. Regardless of one’s take on the play, Kotkaniemi was on fire in the faceoff circle, his pass to Benn on the opening goal was typically brilliant, and this play with Pettersson should not overshadow a solid performance.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 64% on faceoffs, 13:50 T.O.I.