On Saturday, the Habs returned to the road as they travelled to Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs. They got off to a great start but faltered in the final two periods as they were doubled up 6-3.
The Habs were forced to make one lineup change for this one as Jonathan Drouin was a late scratch with the flu. As a result, Nicolas Deslauriers drew back into the lineup instead of Charles Hudon which, with the trade deadline approaching, is notable.
Toronto was the better team by a considerable margin early on. They had three good chances just past the three-minute mark but Carey Price was up to the task. Three minutes after that, Mitch Marner went in 2-on-1 with John Tavares and opted for the shot which Price stopped.
That seemed to wake the Habs up. Two minutes after the Marner chance, Jake Muzzin made a brutal clearing attempt, throwing the puck to the side instead of out. Montreal kept it and cycled the puck around until it came to Brett Kulak at the point. He threw it on goal and while Frederik Andersen made the initial stop, Andrew Shaw was able to pot the rebound. Shaw did bump Andersen on the Kulak shot so Toronto challenged for goalie interference but the referees deemed it a good goal.
Play settled down for a few minutes after that but with a little over seven minutes left in the frame, Jeff Petry intercepted the puck at centre and skated into the Toronto end. He had enough time and space to skate in and spin around, sending the puck to Tomas Tatar who beat Andersen top shelf.
20 seconds after that, Brendan Gallagher was stopped on a partial breakaway. 20 seconds after that, Shaw forced a turnover in the neutral zone, sending Paul Byron in with speed. He dropped it to Max Domi who was tripped up by Travis Dermott, sending Montreal to the power play.
The strangest thing happened on the man advantage – the Habs scored (and early). Shaw dug the puck out of the corner and sent a diagonal pass to Petry at the point. He was left wide open, allowing him to skate in and wrist one past Andersen, a goal that the Toronto netminder would clearly like back.
The Habs had two other opportunities with the power play and while they moved the puck a lot better than normal, they weren’t able to add another one and headed to the room with the 3-0 lead and a 20-10 advantage in shots.
Things did not go well for the Habs in the 2nd, however. Victor Mete took a needless holding the stick penalty in the opening minute of the frame. While Montreal did well at the beginning of the kill against Toronto’s second unit, the top group for the Maple Leafs made the Canadiens pay. Auston Matthews was left alone (not a good idea). He had time and instead of trying to beat Price high as the goalie was expected, he sent a dribbler shot that went right through the wickets and in.
Things settled down for a while after that but near the seven-minute mark, Montreal had their first good chance of the period as a Mike Reilly pass to the front of the net was tipped just wide by Gallagher. Two minutes after that, the Leafs had a similar opportunity when Patrick Marleau sent a cross-ice feed to Connor Brown. However, he wasn’t able to get the shot off. On the next shift, Domi sent Byron in on a breakaway but Andersen shut the door. Montreal kept on the attack and the puck worked its way to Domi but Andersen made a sprawling stop.
Things were looking good for the Habs as a strong end to the period would have sent them to the room with a two-goal lead. However, Artturi Lehkonen tripped Andersen behind his net, giving Toronto another man advantage. The Leafs had a good flurry of chances with their top unit but Price stood tall. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, their defensive coverage against the second group was spotty, allowing Marleau to send a pass to a wide-open Tyler Ennis who had an open net to shoot at and made no mistake.
The Leafs nearly tied it up in the dying seconds as Price was forced to make a strong stop on Auston Matthews with just two seconds left in the period. The Habs still had the lead through 40 but it was a rough period for them as they were outshot 15-10 and outscored 2-0.
Montreal didn’t come out any better for the third period as Toronto had the best chances in the early going. The harder-working team then got a crucial bounce as a harmless dump-in from Marleau hit the boards and instead of going around the net, it bounced right in front to William Nylander who had a wide-open net and beat Price who had dived to try to make the miraculous stop.
Matthew Peca had a decent chance on the following shift but again, the Leafs were carrying the play. Near the midway mark, Domi laid out a questionable hit on Andreas Johnsson, catching him in the side of the head. He clearly had targeted Johnsson before the period as he had went after him before a faceoff and feigned a hit against him after the whistle later on in the period.
The Habs picked up a power play shortly after as Johnsson was sent off for hooking but Montreal’s performance looked a lot like their usual. Nothing was generated in the offensive zone and the opponent got the better chance as Kasperi Kapanen rang one off the post.
The Canadiens had their best chance of the period a couple minutes after the power play as Byron and Domi attacked with speed. Byron sent a bouncing pass towards Domi who was crashing the net but he wasn’t able to corral it and the redirection sailed over the goal. That proved costly.
With less than two minutes to go, Phillip Danault made a weak play in the defensive zone, turning the puck over to Marner. His initial shot was stopped by Price but the rebound bounced to Zach Hyman. Victor Mete was in the area but failed to cover him properly, allowing the winger to tap home the rebound, giving Toronto a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Habs pulled Price for the extra attacker shortly after the goal but looked disorganized and quite frankly, they panicked with the puck in Toronto’s end. Instead of trying to set something up, they were blindly throwing passes as if there were ten seconds left instead of a minute. That came back to bite them as Kapanen and Johnsson broke out 2-on-1 with the former setting up the latter for an empty-netter. The Leafs added one more for good measure with Price out as Hyman was awarded a goal after being hooked from behind by Weber with 20 seconds to go.
Andersen was shaky early on but rebounded well after the first period to pick up the win while turning aside 32 Montreal shots. Price didn’t have his best night, allowing four goals on 35 Toronto shots (not including the empty-netters). The power play proved to be the difference in this one as the Leafs scored on both of their opportunities while Montreal could only convert once in four chances.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Jeff Petry – His dad was at the game and apparently predicted that Petry would have a couple of points. He was right. Petry was dominant in the opening period and while he was quieter after that, he still had a solid game overall. (And if his dad could predict the number of points his son would get, I wonder what his crystal ball says about his post-deadline partner?)
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, -1 rating, 2 shots, 23:19 TOI
2nd Star: Andrew Shaw – Shaw was nearly unstoppable in the opening period which is a word that isn’t usually used with him. He was digging pucks out of the corner, engaging in front of the net, and picked up the opening goal. Again, he was quieter after that but he has certainly made his mark since returning from injury.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, -1 rating, 5 shots, 2 hits, 2 blocks, 4/8 faceoffs, 16:16 TOI
3rd Star: Tomas Tatar – Tatar had a nice goal in the first period but unlike the first two stars, he was more of a consistent threat for the rest of the game. He didn’t miss a beat being reunited with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher as he took Drouin’s vacated spot in the lineup.
Stats: 1 goal, -2 rating, 2 shots, 2 giveaways, 18:37 TOI
Honourable Mention: Paul Byron – This was a game that was played at high speed for the most part. Byron’s speed still found a way to stand out and he used it to generate several quality opportunities. None of them were really converted but that wasn’t his fault.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 3 shots, 2 hits, 15:07 TOI