After a regulation loss to the Predators on Thursday, Habs fans were hoping for a motivated team as they were in Tampa Bay to take on the NHL leading Lightning, a team they were 0-2 against so far this season. Thursday’s lineup remained the same for this tilt, and that included Carey Price facing Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Lightning were also sporting a recently revealed silver on black jerseys that looked more like practice jerseys than game ones with the lack of colour.
This mattered little once the puck dropped as the Lightning displayed exactly why they are atop the league by a wide margin. They used their speed, discipline, and skill to earn a 3-0 win. The Habs dropped a second game in a row despite playing respectable hockey. These last two games, against potential Stanley Cup Finals participants, shows that while the Habs have taken a gigantic step since last year, some work remains for Marc Bergevin before this team is seen as elite across the league.
The game started with a Mike Reilly mistake as he turned over the puck in the defensive zone. While the Lightning were incapable of capitalizing, this was not a good first sign for young Reilly. His blunder aside, it was a good first shift for the Max Domi line who was the only line to drive play in favour of the Habs in the first five minutes. The rest of the team appeared to be trying to find their legs to keep up with the speedy Lightning.
The struggles for the defence were perfectly highlighted with twelve minutes to play in the period when both Brett Kulak and Jordie Benn pinched on a play. These pinches were errors because they didn’t have support from their forwards. The outcome was two consecutive Lightning players taking hits to keep the play alive and ended with a J.T. Miller breakaway from centre ice. Luckily for the defensive pair, Miller missed the net with his scoring chance.
At the midway point of the period, Kulak earned himself the game’s first penalty when he tripped Adam Erne. The Habs killed off the penalty with Artturi Lehkonen shining on the sequence, but the league’s best power play got plenty of zone time to ensure that they kept the momentum on their side.
In the last five minutes of the period, it was nice to see someone outside of the Domi line creating offence as Phillip Danault got a scoring chance and then set up Drouin with a nice looking back pass to Drouin. Drouin’s scoring chance never happened though as Dan Girardi tripped him and sent Montreal to the man advantage with two minutes to play in the period. Montreal’s power play was atrocious as they never established control in the offensive zone and so the period ended scoreless with an 8-7 shot advantage for the Lightning.
The first five minutes of the second saw the Habs control play with strong forechecking and a few scoring chances. The high scoring Lightning pushed back every time Montreal made a mistake. An example of this was when Drouin played softly in his defensive zone and therefore played the rest of his shift there. For the most part, the Habs did control the first half of the period though.
Much like Tampa in the first, dominance in possession did not mean dominance on the shot clock since the opposition did excellent work to keep them to the perimeter. With nine minutes to play in the period, Weber was beaten by speed and Tampa smelled blood. However, Price made up for the rebound he gave by making a great stop on Brayden Point. After the save, Yanni Gourde slashed Price and Max Domi tried to fight him. The scrum sent the teams to 4-on-4 hockey.
Surprisingly, it was Montreal that would score on the sequence as Jesperi Kotkaniemi broke in, found Brendan Gallagher who centred to the trailing Kulak who beat Vasilevskiy. Jon Cooper challenged for offside, and he was right so the score remained 0-0.
This call really got the game going as both teams had dominant shifts and missed glorious scoring chances. After a first shift in the Montreal zone, Gourde gave Price yet another late whack, and in my opinion, Weber should have dropped him right there to prevent the momentum from swinging too far in Tampa’s favour. Gallagher and Drouin were notably stoned by Vasilevskiy in the final moments of the period. The second period also ended goalless, though the Lightning increased their shot advantage with a 12-9 shot win for the period.
After an opening shift spent in the Lightning zone by the Danault line, none of the forwards covered for Victor Mete taking the puck deep in the offensive zone. When the play aborted, this left Weber alone to defend a 2-on-1 and to help Weber, Danault took a hooking penalty on the back-check. The Lightning did not give the Habs a second free pass on the power play. A minute into the man advantage, a zone entry saw the puck start bouncing. Stamkos found it and passed it to Kucherov for a one-timer that finally beat Price for a 1-0 lead.
A little over a minute later, a cross-ice neutral zone pass by Drouin was intercepted for the second game in a row. Gourde took the interception and beat Price with a perfect shot to the top corner for a 2-0 lead.
At this point, the Lightning could smell blood and were skating circles around the Habs. With 12 minutes to play, Erne took a light check from Nicolas Deslauriers and threw himself into the boards. Deslauriers would be called, but it was Nate Thompson’s reaction that was worth the mention. Thompson stayed behind and absolutely roasted Erne for the obvious over-reaction, telling him to “Get up!” and kicking away his stick.
With eight minutes to play, Mete had a rough shift as he was beaten to the puck by Johnson and then beaten to the front of the net by the same player. Luckily for Mete, Johnson’s arm clipped Price in passing and so his deflection of the Hedman point shot did not count and the score remained 2-0.
This mattered little because Dale Weise decided to go after Erne on the next shift which resulted in an obvious penalty and a bad one. Immediately after the penalty, Petry tried to get the offence going and found himself deep in the offensive zone. Kotkaniemi covered, but then made an ill-advised pinch that left Reilly alone to defend. Reilly ultimately decided to cover Stamkos but Johnson wristed one over Price’s shoulder to end the game with a 3-0 score. In the dying moments of the game, Anthony Cirelli and Hedman took exception to Andrew Shaw finishing his check and piled on him. Shaw did not accept this and dropped his mitts and went after Cirelli with both picking up ten-minute misconducts.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Andrew Shaw
Shaw was all over the ice in the first half of this game. Tatar and Domi found him often and he was the Montreal player who tested Vasilevskiy the most. Next to Kotkaniemi, Shaw has to be the best surprise of the season on this team as he seems to be constantly earning himself scoring chances and creating turnovers. Now if he could just stay healthy.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 1 shot, 1 hit, 15:49 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher ends the night with the same amount of points as the rest of the team, but the move he pulled to get the puck to Kulak on the denied goal was awesome and deserves recognition anyway. As usual, Gallagher’s effort is not one to be questioned and his intensity has become this team’s identity.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 4 shots, 4 hits, 14:40 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Carey Price
Price made a few important saves in the first 40 minutes but came up huge early in the third period. This series of saves allowed the fans to believe in the possibility of a comeback even though it appears like the team weren’t as confident as it took little to get them off their game in the third. Regardless, Price made many great stops and can’t be blamed for this loss. Regardless, he was left to himself in the third and the score could have been much worse.
Stats: 34 saves, 37 shots, .919 save %, 3.00 G.A.A., 60:00 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Max Domi
On some nights, Domi looking for fights annoys me to no end. On this night, he went after Gourde who was clearly looking for the attention, and then he acted in front of Tampa’s net the same way Gourde was acting in front of Price. I like the intensity and the take no crap attitude when oppositions start to take liberties or dive around the way Tampa did in the third. This is when Domi’s antics become a positive for this team even if the results are not what the team would like to see.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 0 shot, 0 hit, 15:21 T.O.I.