After a rebound effort wound up paying off big time for the Habs on Tuesday against Detroit, the Canadiens were back in action on Friday night as they begun yet another back-to-back situation. On Friday, they played the rubber match against the New York Rangers after both teams won earlier contests this season. It’s hard to change a lineup after an 8-1 win, so Claude Julien dressed the same lineup as Tuesday, including Carey Price who faced Henrik Lundqvist. He did tweak the defensive pairings though as Shea Weber returned to seeing Victor Mete as his regular partner while Jeff Petry played with Jordie Benn and Christian Folin remained with Brett Kulak on the third pairing. On the ice, Price held the game close for the first half of the game before Joel Armia took over and scored a hat trick as the Habs won 4-2.
The home team Rangers came out a bit stronger and were helped early with a now rare Jeff Petry giveaway. Petry continued his awkward start to the game by losing a battle in the defensive zone that allowed the Rangers to cycle the puck to their blue line. Brady Skjei’s point shot was deflected by Vladislav Namestnikov with Jordie Benn screening Price for a Rangers lead only 4:41 into the contest.
The sloppy play continued for the Habs as the Rangers held the advantage for much of the first half of the period, but the Habs were able to keep them on the perimeter for the most part and Carey Price made some big saves when necessary.
The silver lining of the period was the play of Artturi Lehkonen who drew a penalty with 5:26 to play in the period. The power play was capable of getting to the Rangers zone but their plays were once again painfully predictable and so easily stopped by Lundqvist. It’s worth noting that Shea Weber was dropped to the second unit as Julien continues to experiment with ways to improve their performance with the man advantage. The final three minutes of the period were again in the Rangers favour as Price made three big stops to keep the game within reach. The period ended with the shot clock 11-9 in favour of the Habs but those numbers did not reflect the flow of the play in the period.
The Habs came out much stronger in the second after a first that undoubtedly did not please the coaching staff. On the first shift of the period, Brendan Gallagher ran into Chris Kreider and was left shaken up.
Moments later, Jordie Benn took an obvious cross-checking penalty which could have really hurt the Habs. The Rangers power play looked dangerous, but Price was up to the task; an exclamation mark on this sequence came in the dying moments of the penalty as he came across to absolutely rob Namestnikov who was left shaking his head.
Their man advantage created enough momentum to replay their domination in the minutes that followed the penalty. Once again, it was Price keeping the game within striking distance.
Finally, it was another Lehkonen shift that turned the tide. With 12:33 to play, a basic dump-in by Benn was completely misplayed by Skjei. This left Tomas Tatar alone with the puck as he spun and passed to the front where Gallagher tipped it home expertly to tie the game.
This got the Habs skating as they were suddenly in complete control of the game. After four minutes of this, the Rangers finally got a scoring chance that Price handled.
Both teams killed off brief power plays shortly after this before the Habs saw karma strike as they received what they gave away to Toronto last Saturday. Once again on a dump-in, the puck hit something on the boards and kicked out to the slot to Joel Armia who immediately shot to beat Lundqvist high to give the Habs the lead.
The final five minutes saw Tatar get a breakaway and both Lundqvist and Price continue to shine. No other goals were scored though as the period finished 21-9 in shots for the Habs.
The third started with teams exchanging scoring chances as the Rangers shot a puck off Benn that almost fooled both Benn and Price. This was quickly followed by a full beast-mode shift by Armia who earned himself a few good scoring chances through his own hard work and solid forechecking.
On his next shift, with 15:31 to play, Armia accepted a pass from a strong defensive play by Jesperi Kotkaniemi and skated down the ice and buried it short-side on Lundqvist to extend the lead. The goal stunned the young Rangers who were suddenly slow to loose pucks and in their decision making.
As is often the case with a team that lacks experience, the Rangers took too much time to find their bearings after the goal. They would reclaim momentum for the final eight minutes, but the damage had been done.
Price made a few more big stops before the Rangers made it interesting with 2:32 to go in the game. It was Armia that lost a puck battle in the defensive zone that allowed Kevin Shattenkirk to send the puck across to Skjei. Skjei made a pass across to Jesper Fast who couldn’t control the pass but the puck bounced across to Brendan Lemieux who had a wide-open net with Price moving toward Fast and he made no mistake.
With two minutes to play, the Rangers pulled Lundqvist. The Rangers never got close to Price though and Armia eventually completed the trick with 37 seconds to play in the empty net.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Joel Armia
Armia has been getting better and better as the season moves along. He scored a hat trick in this one but he also missed several scoring chances. If he were slightly more opportunistic, he could have easily scored a double trick. He was all over the ice and the young Rangers did not know how to handle his big body presence.
Stats: 3 goals, +2, 4 shots, 1 hit, 14:17 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Brendan Gallagher
With the Habs completely out of sorts and very much looking like a team ready to be beaten, they turned to their offensive leader in Gallagher to swing that momentum. Gallagher once again scored a crazy important goal, one that allowed his team to breathe, gain confidence, and find their stride.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 6 shots, 1 hit, 15:56 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Carey Price
Price was huge in the first. He held the fort long enough for Gallagher to get the team going offensively. He was tested less often in the second but the quality of the chances he faced was still very high. He was tested even less in the third but the Rangers ramped it up near the end and Price was present.
Stats: 28 saves, 30 shots, .933 save %, 2.00 G.A.A., 60:00 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Artturi Lehkonen
While it is true that everyone around the Habs expected more from Lehkonen this season, including Lehkonen himself, the type of game he played here is what will get him out of the slump he finds himself in. Lehkonen skated, forechecked, played the body, and got himself in the dirty areas on the ice. He was rewarded with some scoring chances which he’ll need to get himself back on the scoreboard with regularity.
Stats: 0 points, +1, 4 shots, 5 hits, 13:15 T.O.I.