The Habs returned to action on Thursday night in yet another must-win game. After gutting out a win against the Flyers, the Habs faced the New York Islanders and had the added incentive of revenge after they bested the Habs 2-1 only a week ago. Claude Julien opted to keep Tuesday’s lineup together which meant that Artturi Lehkonen remained on the team’s second line. The goaltending matchup was the same as last week as Carey Price faced Thomas Greiss. For everyone claiming that Julien was outcoached of late, this was an excellent example of a coach using the last change to his advantage as he sheltered Jesperi Kotkaniemi from having to face Mathew Barzal for a different result than last week. The Habs rode a strong second period to a comfortable 4-0 victory as they gained ground, at least momentarily, in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race.
The game had a slow start as there were only a few shots on the net over the first four minutes. With 13 minutes to play, Jeff Petry took the game’s first penalty for cross-checking. A minute into the penalty, a strong forecheck by Nate Thompson earned the Habs consecutive scoring chances. The sequence was stopped when Thompson was cross-checked much like Barzal before him.
As the play came up the ice, Shea Weber was called for hooking after he was beaten with speed by Nick Leddy. The Habs were able to kill the 19-second 5-on-3 and then the second penalty due to hard work by Thompson, Lehkonen, and Phillip Danault.
With the penalties expired, the teams exchanged shifts in the opposition zone and some big hits, the best of which was a Max Domi hit on Casey Cizikas who returned to the bench shaken. With 2:36 to play, Brock Nelson pushed Tatar offside and was called for interference on the play. As that penalty expired, Leo Komarov caught Brendan Gallagher knee-on-knee for a tripping penalty.
This time the Islanders paid the price when a nice passing play between Jonathan Drouin and Jordan Weal allowed Joel Armia to get open in the slot and one-time home the game’s first goal, a Montreal power play tally with six seconds left in the period. Shots in the first were 12-10 for the Habs.
A minute into the second, a Habs flurry caused confusion and this started with a Lehkonen wraparound that hit the post. While this happened, Andrew Shaw was clipped with a high stick. With half the Islanders believing Lehkonen had scored, and the other half seeing a pending penalty, they stopped skating, and this opened the zone for a Weber blast that beat Greiss to extend the lead.
This goal gave Montreal momentum as they were all over the Islanders for the first five minutes of the period with numerous pucks coming within inches of again extending the lead.
The Habs finally put one home on a highlight reel passing play. Drouin came into the zone and found Kotkaniemi up the middle. Kotkaniemi sent the puck to the opposite side to Armia who promptly returned the puck to Drouin who came across and waited for Greiss to commit before going around him for a pretty goal.
With still 12 minutes to play in the period, Montreal’s forecheck continued. Thompson grabbed the puck in the offensive zone and sent it back to Jordie Benn who fired a puck that was deflected by Weal for a 4-0 lead that sent Greiss to the showers in favour of Robin Lehner. Lehner’s arrival coincided with the game calming down as the Habs continued to control the play, though the Islanders did push back and created a few chances that Price turned aside in the second half of the period. The period ended with a 13-10 shot advantage for the Habs.
With a comfortable lead, the Habs came out and played a defensive third period. The Islanders, desperately trying to claw back into the game, forechecked, but were not successful in creating much offence against the Habs. The few scoring chances they were able to create early in the period were turned aside by Price.
Seven minutes into the period, Cal Clutterbuck finally got a real scoring chance with Price down and out, but he rang the puck off the crossbar to keep the score 4-0. The Clutterbuck scoring chance scared the Habs enough to see them tighten their defensive coverage.
With the Islanders pressing, the tight coverage caused the Habs to get a scoring chance of their own as Domi came close to making it 5-0.
With five minutes to play, Shaw absolutely clocked Scott Mayfield and earned himself an interference penalty. A hit like that with the game decided meant that the Islanders were going to come with a response and they did when Thomas Hickey lined up Gallagher before the two dropped the gloves and had a short fight with no punches landing. Matt Martin then tried to fight Brett Kulak before Thompson stepped in. Thompson was smart enough not to fight and the officials sent Martin to the showers for his efforts. The shots were eight apiece in the period with the Habs holding the 34-28 advantage for the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jonathan Drouin
Drouin has been working hard over the last few weeks and the flood gates finally opened. After the power play goal in the first, it was clear that Drouin would have himself a multi-point night as the puck appeared to be sticking to his stick everywhere on the ice that allowed him to do whatever he wanted with the puck all night long.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 12:15 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jordan Weal
After taking his share of criticism, not for his play but rather for his usage by the coaching staff, Weal was one of the few Habs with a quiet night in Philadelphia. The fourth liner made up for it in this game with a nice power play point before he beat that play with a Gallagher-like deflection for a goal.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 4 shots, 14:50 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Nate Thompson
How different this game could have been without Nate Thompson’s important shifts in the first killing penalties. He created some offence during the sequence too and this got Montreal some momentum heading back to even strength play. Then, he added some points on the board in the second period. Can’t ask much more from a fourth line centre.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 4 hits, 14:42 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Joel Armia
Armia finally scored his first career power play goal and it was a nice one too. He was an important physical presence when the Islanders attempted to get back in the game by using their size. More importantly, it was a strong game on the forecheck for Armia, who had his best moments earlier in the season when he was able to establish a strong forechecking presence to cause turnovers. Here’s hoping he can have another sequence like that starting with this game.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 6 hits, 14:04 T.O.I.