Following a good finish to their road trip, the Habs were back at home on Saturday to host the Penguins. However, a rough start proved costly as they were down big early and never came back, falling 5-1.
Claude Julien opted to not make any changes to his lineup that won in New York so Carey Price got the start in both ends of the back-to-back for the second time this week. Meanwhile, Jordan Weal continues to wait to make his Canadiens debut.
Montreal has had a knack for starting slow and getting away with it. They wound up starting slowly in this one but this time, they paid for it – badly.
On the opening shift, Jordie Benn turned the puck over as he cleared it into the neutral zone. Pittsburgh carried it back in and it went back to Benn who turned it over again. This time, it wound up leading to a two-on-one in Montreal’s end and Jake Guentzel set up Sidney Crosby who tipped it past Price on an odd angle.
Three minutes later, a bad decision by Max Domi to press on Dominik Simon wound up leaving Jeff Petry in a chase position. He was called for holding Simon on the play, sending the Penguins to the man advantage. They didn’t waste much time as Crosby sent a pass to Evgeni Malkin at the point whose half shot made it past a screened Price.
It got worse. Less than four minutes later, Crosby won a draw against Nate Thompson in the defensive end. The puck went back to Guentzel and Paul Byron was too far away to get in the shooting lane as the Penguins winger sent a shot that trickled through Price.
The good news for Montreal is that the Penguins didn’t have a shot the rest of the period. The bad news is that they were down three heading into the second half of the frame.
To their credit, the Habs were better after the third goal. They had a pair of power plays that were at least decent and Shea Weber rang one of the post on the second one. Montreal also didn’t lose momentum after not scoring as they often do.
There was some action for both sides in the dying moments of the period. Max Domi was stopped on a breakaway with roughly 1:30 to go and one minute later, Petry did well to break up a two-on-one with Crosby and Guentzel to keep it 3-0 heading to the break. Shots on goal were 12-4 for the Habs.
The Penguins were again the better team for the first few minutes of the second but fortunately for the Canadiens, it didn’t wind up in the back of the net early on. Brendan Gallagher was called for interference after dangerously shoving an off-balance Justin Schultz into Matt Murray. Crosby and Nick Bjugstad both had strong chances but Price made the stop. On the shift following the man advantage, he made another big stop on a Matt Cullen wraparound.
Unfortunately for the Habs, Price couldn’t stop them all. On the next shift, Guentzel got behind Brett Kulak and Christian Folin was slow to cover him. That allowed Crosby to get a pass through to Guentzel and he sniped one past Price to make it 4-0.
It didn’t take too long for Montreal to get that one back as they scored on the next shift. Phillip Danault did well to block a clearing attempt from two Penguins and skated with the puck behind the goal. His weak wraparound attempt wound up bouncing right to Gallagher who got it past Murray to get the home side on the board. A minute later, Thompson had a nice drive to the goal from the corner but Murray made the stop.
The Habs tried to pick up the physicality after that and they were able to string together three strong shifts in a row. On the third one, Marcus Pettersson got away with a missed hold on Domi and later in the shift, Andrew Shaw took an interference penalty.
Price was again tested with the Pittsburgh man advantage as he made a big stop on Patric Hornqvist. While the power play was going, Pettersson wound up with a holding penalty to make it four-on-four.
As that stretch ended, Domi pinched at the wrong time, allowing Guentzel to be sprung on a breakaway but Price came up with the stop. The Habs kept firing during their power play but couldn’t get one past Murray.
With a minute and a half to go, Price was yet again called on for a key stop. Petry fumbled the puck at the offensive blue line which sent Zach Aston-Reese in on a breakaway but he too didn’t score. The three-goal deficit remained intact after 40 minutes while Pittsburgh led on the shot clock with a 16-10 advantage in the period.
A strong defensive play from Gallagher kept Pittsburgh from scoring early in the period. He stick-checked Crosby who had Price down and out but it stayed 4-1. Play wasn’t particularly intense for most of the first half of the period as the Penguins were sitting back and Montreal wasn’t doing much with it.
Their best chance came just past the midway mark of the period as Joel Armia sent Paul Byron in on a breakaway but Murray made the stop and with it, any hopes of a comeback were finally extinguished.
Montreal pulled Price early in the hopes of getting one and they had a few chances, the best of which was Danault ringing one off the post. It hit Murray and bounced just wide of the goal. Eventually, the Penguins added the empty-netter with Jared McCann scoring from the side boards to end the night.
Murray had a strong showing in the win, making 36 saves for the win. Price’s rough start proved costly (though he did play better as the game went on but by then, the damage was done) and he turned aside 20 Penguins shots. The Habs again lost the special teams battle with Pittsburgh going 1/3 with the man advantage while Montreal didn’t score with their three opportunities (though it did look half decent).
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Shea Weber – He hasn’t scored in a while and it looked like he was making up his mind to just fire away. I like that approach from Weber and the Penguins weren’t getting in the shooting lane particularly often. He missed the net a bunch but he was dangerous every time he wound up, something that can’t be said for too many others.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 4 shots (13 attempts), 2 giveaways, 21:46 TOI
2nd Star: Brendan Gallagher – He had Montreal’s lone goal while his big defensive play against Crosby at least allowed them to maintain their outside shot at coming back early in the third. It wasn’t his best game (especially compared to some of his recent ones but Gallagher still had a pretty good night.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 5 shots, 18:47 TOI
3rd Star: Andrew Shaw – His line had a handful of good shifts at different times and Shaw’s physicality played a role in Montreal getting some chances when he was out there. He was a bit quiet offensively compared to the impact he’s had lately but it was still an effective game.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 1 shot, 6 hits, 5/8 faceoffs, 17:32 TOI
Honourable Mention: Max Domi – Domi was probably Montreal’s most noticeable forward. However, he had a couple of really bad defensive mistakes as well which bumps him down a spot. Like Weber, he had a shoot-first mentality, something he needs to show more often.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 6 shots (13 attempts), 2 takeaways, 2/8 faceoffs, 18:55 TOI