After taking three of a possible four points against the Leafs and Lightning last week, the Habs looked to continue their positive results as this difficult stretch of games continued on Thursday against Nashville. This was also a rematch from a game in Montreal on January 5th that the Preds took by a 4-1 score.
This matchup came on the heels of a four-day break for the Habs, but it was all but quiet for them who saw many changes at the bottom end of their forward group since then. Michael Chaput cleared waivers and found himself in Laval after the Habs moved David Schlemko to re-acquire fan favourite Dale Weise. The second move made saw the Habs sacrifice approximately ten draft positions to acquire Nate Thompson from the Kings. This meant that Charles Hudon and Matthew Peca returned to the press box while Nicolas Deslauriers joined Weise and Thompson on the team’s new fourth line. The top three lines, as well as the defensive pairings, remained unchanged. Guarding the blue paint, Carey Price was back in his office as he faced reigning Vezina winner Pekka Rinne. Both goaltenders were sharp early, but it was a game where the Habs played a 20-minute effort and weren’t bailed out by Price. Essentially, this is the type of effort that can’t happen against the better teams around the league, and they paid for it with a 3-1 loss.
The Predators came out strong as they completely dominated the opening moments and Price bailed out his team with consecutive saves that he made look easy. These stops were the focal point of the first five minutes as both teams settled into a holding pattern after the flurry.
Brendan Gallagher ended this eventless streak when he got his stick up in the face of a Nashville player for the first penalty of the night. Gallagher was fortunate that the Predator power play was completely out of sorts as Montreal’s penalty killers continually denied access to their zone and easily killed the penalty.
The sequence energized the Habs as the next shift saw the Max Domi line buzz around the Nashville zone until Ryan Johansen held Andrew Shaw’s stick to send the Habs to the power play. The Montreal man advantage gained the offensive zone and passed it around, but it did not create much in terms of offensive chances and the game remained scoreless.
Play remained in the neutral zone for the five minutes that followed the Johansen penalty. This sequence came to an end when P.K. Subban sold a hold by Artturi Lehkonen that the trailing official fell for and called. With five minutes to play in the period, the penalty kill came up big again, this time aided by a few keys saves by Price. The period ended scoreless with the Predators ahead 16-7 on the shot clock.
The Habs came out with a much strong start to the second period as Jonathan Drouin created scoring chances for both Gallagher and Phillip Danault on the opening shift. Joel Armia then accepted a sweet feed by Tomas Tatar in the slot to attempt a deke that Rinne stopped. Montreal’s speed continued to be an issue for Nashville as Victor Mete attacked the zone and found Danault who was once again stopped by Rinne. Five minutes into the period, with the shots 10-0 for the Habs, Nashville got their first attack in the offensive zone.
With 13 minutes to play, Gallagher was tripped by Craig Smith for another Montreal power play. This edition of the man advantage was completely unorganized and created zero offence.
At the midway point in the period, Drouin attempted an impossible cross-ice pass that got picked off. Jordie Benn did an excellent job of covering Smith who opted for a simple shot on goal. Price left the rebound out and both Drouin and Kulak did not cover Ryan Hartman who placed a shot behind Price to finally put a goal on the board.
The next seven minutes saw strong forechecks by both teams but defending that was equal to the task as neither team really threatened with dangerous scoring chances. With three minutes to play, Jeff Petry’s point shot was blocked by Arvidsson who used the block to get a breakaway. Price made what was potentially his biggest save of the night on that sequence. Rinne responded immediately as a Victor Mete point shot was deflected directly to Shaw but the netminder sprawled to absolutely rob him of what should have been a sure goal. The period ended with the score 1-0 and a 29-27 shot clock advantage for the Canadiens.
The third started tentatively for both teams until Dale Weise delivered a high stick in the offensive zone. The best scoring chances of Nashville’s power play went to Danault who hit the post followed by Armia who barely missed the net.
The successful kill appeared to be a turning point when the Habs scored on the following shift. A patient and intelligent breakout by Benn led to a beautiful give-and-go between Shaw and Tatar with Shaw completing a gorgeous pass for Tatar to bang home the tying goal with 14:34 to play.
Three minutes later, the Habs had a strange shift where the entire team appeared to be late on their coverage. This allowed newly acquired Brian Boyle to skate in and take a slap shot that beat Price, likely a goal Price would like to see again.
The goal completely tilted the ice as the Predators were suddenly first on every loose puck and winning every single puck battle. With 9:00 left to play and the team in the middle of a change, Benn completely crapped on what was a solid game thus far for him. He tried to deke three Predators to dump the puck without an icing. He failed, allowing the Preds to pick his pocket, creating an odd-man rush against. With his teammates scrambling to get into position, Johansen found Arvidsson for a tap-in and a 3-1 lead.
With a now comfortable lead, the Predators made it interesting by taking a delay of game penalty where the Habs got established but weren’t moving the puck fast enough to earn a few good scoring chances from the slot.
After the penalty, the Preds went into a defensive shell, but they did so effectively while blocking off the centre of the ice and forcing the Habs to attempt multiple unsuccessful zone entries.
With four minutes to play, Tatar and Domi completed a nice zone entry and teed up Shea Weber. Weber’s blast missed the net, but the rebound came out to a pinching Mete who missed the wide-open cage that would have been his first career goal. The potential goal would have made the last minutes far more entertaining, but the Habs just didn’t have it in the third, and so the game ended with the same 3-1 score.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
Although the Boyle goal in the third period was his weakest allowed since before Christmas, it takes nothing away from the fact that Price is the only reason this game wasn’t out of reach by the end of the first period. If the Habs skate away with a lesson here, it’s that a 20-minute effort against one of the leagues best simply isn’t good enough.
Stats: 35 saves, 38 shots, .921 save %, 3.09 G.A.A., 58:11 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Andrew Shaw
Shaw was the most notable Habs forward as he forechecked, finished his hits, and made nice plays with the puck when they were available to him. He was also responsible for the Habs only goal of the night with a sweet pass across the crease to Tatar.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 16:29 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Tomas Tatar
Also very noticeable on the forecheck, Tatar was the recipient of the Shaw feed and unlike many others on the team, he actually finished his scoring chance.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 7 shots, 1 hit, 16:23 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Nate Thompson and Dale Weise
Many questions surrounded these acquisitions since the team’s identity of speed are not known to be particularly strong attributes for these players. In their first game with the team, they appeared to hold their own as they didn’t spend too many shifts in their own zone. They were even able to create some scoring chances. The sample size is ridiculously small, but if this is what we see from the fourth line on a consistent basis, no one will be missing Hudon, Peca, or Chaput anytime soon.