The Habs returned from a less than stellar trip in California in dire need of a winning streak as they continue their trek to a potential playoff position. Considering their position in the standings, it’s not inaccurate to state that the Canadiens have 13 must-win games remaining on their schedule. Their return to the friendly confines of the Bell Centre on Tuesday night came with the welcome visit of the Detroit Red Wings, a team the Habs have owned thus far this season. The Habs were able to sweep the season series but this one was much closer than other games. The 3-1 victory came in large part thanks to Carey Price in his crease as he faced Jonathan Bernier.
This was a big personal victory for Price who became the winningest goaltender in Canadiens history. The fans gave an awesome reaction (the arena remained packed for a standing ovation) for their star netminder after the game as Price was rightfully named the games first star and he got choked up in the post-game interview with RDS’s Marc Denis. This historic win was possible with the help of a lineup which remained mostly unchanged as Tomas Tatar, Brendan Gallagher, and Phillip Danault composed the top unit. Paul Byron, Andrew Shaw, and Max Domi played together, while Jonathan Drouin, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Joel Armia were the third forward unit. The fourth unit was made up of Artturi Lehkonen, Nate Thompson, and Jordan Weal. On the blue line, Shea Weber remained with Victor Mete, while Jordie Benn moved up to play with Jeff Petry and Brett Kulak drew in next to Christian Folin while Mike Reilly found the press box alongside Dale Weise.
The first period started with some strong goaltending as Price and Bernier exchanged breakaway saves on Andreas Athanasiou (who made Weber look slow) and Tatar. After these chances, the Habs controlled the opening segment of the game, but they were not able to pull the trigger to open the scoring as they missed some chances without getting many shots on net.
Luke Witkowski then tried to spark the Wings by spending a shift head-hunting. The result was taking himself out of position as the Habs continued to pepper Bernier without scoring. With 10:51 to play, Jacob de la Rose took the game’s first penalty for tripping, though the Montreal power play was a complete lame duck in their attempt to make the Red Wings pay for the infraction.
The Habs continued to look far more dangerous after the man advantage as the top forward line won some battles deep in the offensive zone before a shift for Domi between Weal and Lehkonen yielded some dangerous looks.
There were a few positives for the Wings to end the period as a bone-headed giveaway by Byron with 2:30 to play opened the door and forced Price to make a rare yet important save.
With 35 seconds to play in the period, Tatar was called for interference. This call bothered me because the officials allowed both teams to play for most of the period before calling this less dramatic infraction (it was a penalty… but really?!). The first period ended scoreless with the Habs dominating the shot clock 13-5.
The second period started with a strong penalty kill by the Habs as Benn stopped the Wings three consecutive times at his defensive blue line as the Detroit power play looked much like Montreal’s first chance. Despite a good penalty kill, the Habs remained on their heels after the man advantage which resulted in the Habs being buried in their defensive zone for much of the first five minutes of the period. This escalated when Benn got called for tripping.
This time, the power play looked dangerous but Price made two giant saves off one-timers before Folin stepped in and cleared the zone.
The Habs finally got going after the penalty, but Gallagher and Folin both fanned on decent shot attempts. Hronek was then called for tripping, sending the Habs to a second power play.
This man advantage looked great early as Bernier was forced to make a solid save on Weal, but the Wings caught the unit being too aggressive. This led to a Detroit 2-on-1 as Price once again made an important stop despite a low number of shots against.
The Habs finally broke the stalemate immediately after the advantage as Shaw sent a puck toward the net that Domi redirected to surprise Bernier. Weal followed the goal by hitting the post.
Finally, with 2:28 to play in the period, Tatar completed a nice zone entry before dropping a pass to Kulak who fired one home with Danault screening to double the lead after two periods with the shots 23-13 in favour of the home team.
Montreal started the third on their heels as the Wings attacked early and struck quickly. Only 40 seconds into the period, Athanasiou beat Kulak and Petry before sliding the puck five-hole on Price.
The goal woke the Habs up as Domi and Shaw had a good response shift but overall the third was full of back and forth play as both goaltenders made some excellent saves. Claude Julien also opted for a switch as Drouin returned to the Domi line while Byron returned to Kotkaniemi’s unit.
With 12 minutes to play, a dumb play by Armia at the offensive blue line left Benn in an impossible position. Benn coughed up the puck and Bertuzzi was off to the races. Price made the initial stop but was out of position with a rebound available on the other side of the net. He reached over and made a second stop before a rare sprawl was necessary to make the third stop on his goal line as he finally froze the puck.
With an empty net and a face-off in the Montreal zone with 1:05 to play, the Habs were able to block some shots before Weal came up with a monster effort to win a race and made a play that sent Domi in alone to make it 3-1 and seal the record-setting victory.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
Saves in the first two periods were more sporadic but were consistently big and timely. The third period is really where Price stood on his head to keep the Habs out of trouble and secure this important victory both personally, but also for the team who had to keep up with Pittsburgh and Columbus both winning their games. My belief is that the sequence where Price made three consecutive saves by sprawling after a Bertuzzi breakaway was the moment that Detroit knew they weren’t getting another by him. Game-changing stops by the team’s game changer. First star without a doubt.
Stats: 20 saves, 21 shots, .952 save %, 1.00 G.A.A., 59:58 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Tomas Tatar
Tatar has demolished his former team this season and tonight was no exception. Aside from his dominance of Detroit, Tatar reached the 50-point plateau and his presence and puck control on that top line was clearly sorely missed in Anaheim. His control of the play allows Danault to dig for pucks without worry and Gallagher to get to his office to cause mayhem. Who knew that his style would be so essential to this team so quickly? More importantly, in what world did this guy not fit in with the Golden Knights last season?
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 1 shot, 1 hit, 14:41 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Max Domi
The Habs catalyst on most nights (that can be positive or negative depending on the night), Domi used his emotion to keep his feet moving and had Detroit chasing him around the ice instead of the other way around. The result was two important goals and some solid defensive play down the stretch in the third. For a centre who doesn’t often get praised for his defensive work, some his most important plays came in that zone and that’s saying something considering he scored two of Montreal’s three goals.
Stats: 2 goals, +2, 6 shots, 16:32 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jonathan Drouin
It’s so easy to look at the stats with a player like Drouin. Heck, many Drouin fans will point to those same stats when he’s not playing well to show that he remains an important player on this team. Drouin didn’t score but he was competing hard and made some important defensive plays too. Don’t believe me, ask Julien why Drouin was bumped to Domi’s line in the third. My guess is because the coaching staff wanted to reward the player who was competing. I have no problem with criticizing the player when he has a subpar effort, but let’s be fair and praise him when the effort is there. Even on a night where it doesn’t result in a handful of points.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 1 shot, 16:23 T.O.I.