The Habs went into Minnesota on Saturday with the hopes of sweeping their season series against the Wild. Unfortunately for Montreal, some early-season demons came back to bite them as they fell 4-3.
Claude Julien opted to make a pair of lineup changes for this one. As expected, Keith Kinkaid got the nod with this game being the second half of a back-to-back while Cale Fleury, who missed Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury and was believed to be doubtful, was given the green light to play and replaced Christian Folin.
The Habs had the first good chance of the game when Domi set up a cutting Fleury but his backhander was stopped by Devan Dubnyk. A couple of minutes later, Kevin Fiala had a chance in front for Minnesota. It resulted in a flurry of shots with Kinkaid doing something resembling a snow angel in the crease by the end of it.
Shortly after that, Artturi Lehkonen was given a double minor for high sticking. Montreal’s penalty kill has improved as of late but regressed to their early struggles here. Early in the first half of the penalty, Jason Zucker redirected a Mikko Koivu shot past Kinkaid to open up the scoring.
While the Canadiens were able to kill the second half of the penalty, they were back on their heels for most of the period with Minnesota taking it to them frequently. Jesperi Kotkaniemi had the lone good chance on a shot from the slot with four minutes left but couldn’t beat Dubnyk.
Brett Kulak then had a shift to forget. He had a horrendous giveaway behind Kinkaid with two minutes to go which resulted in prime chances for Eric Staal and Jordan Greenway and to make matters worse, he took a holding penalty on the play as well. The Habs were able to kill it off though with Jared Spurgeon being denied on Minnesota’s lone good chance. The Wild held a significant shot advantage through 20 minutes with a 19-7 advantage; Kinkaid did well to keep it close.
Mathew Dumba took an interference penalty early in the second to give the Habs their first power play of the game. The first unit was completely ineffective but the second wave had more success. Jeff Petry’s point shot bounced off Dubnyk’s pad and provided a juicy rebound to Tomas Tatar who deposited it into the open net to tie the game.
Just 16 seconds later, Dumba’s rough start to the period continued. A Phillip Danault pass went off his stick and behind the net. Danault beat the defender to the puck and managed to bank his centring attempt off Dubnyk’s skate and in to give the Habs their first lead.
Kinkaid got some revenge on Zucker for the early goal just past the eight-minute mark. Zucker took the cross-ice feed and looked to have Kinkaid down and out but the netminder sprawled across to make the highlight-reel glove stop, one that this description doesn’t do justice for. A minute later, Ryan Hartman had a good tip in close but it went just wide.
A couple of minutes after that attempt, the Habs got a couple of good looks from Petry after a well-timed pinch resulted in him with the puck heading towards Dubnyk but he wasn’t able to double the lead.
That wound up proving costly as in the final minute of the frame, Staal missed an open net but the Wild kept possession. The veteran centre wound up with the puck back on his stick and his cross-ice feed took some bounces and went right to Marcus Foligno who was left all alone in front with an open net to tie it up with just 15 seconds to go. Nonetheless, the Canadiens went to the intermission tied up (a better outcome than the first) and they flipped the tables on the shot clock as they held the 12-9 advantage.
Considering Fleury was just returning from an injury, his first shift of the third yielded some cause for concern when former Hab Gabriel Dumont got him with an awkward hit from behind near the boards. Fortunately for the youngster, he was able to stay in the game.
Barely a minute after that, the Habs got a good bounce as Brendan Gallagher’s feed in front bounced off Danault and in to restore their one-goal lead. Not even a minute later, Montreal had a chance to double the lead as they had numbers in transition but Shea Weber rang a shot off the iron. A few shifts after that, Tatar was stopped in the slot on a good give-and-go with Gallagher. They had their chances but couldn’t capitalize and it came back to bite them.
Paul Byron took a bad holding penalty in the offensive zone to send the Wild to the power play. They won the opening draw and quickly got it over to Brad Hunt who one-timed it past Kinkaid’s blocker to tie the game; the length of their power play was about as long as it takes to read this sentence.
Dumba gave the Habs another chance with the man advantage when he was called for cross-checking all of nine seconds after Hunt’s equalizer but Montreal did little with it; their best chance was a Tatar one-timer that missed the mark.
Once again, their inability to capitalize proved costly. Minnesota had yet to score a goal in transition all season long until a Zucker cross-ice pass was deftly redirected by Zach Parise over Kinkaid.
That seemed to knock the wind out of Montreal’s sails as they weren’t able to muster up much. Even with Kinkaid pulled for the extra attacker, they couldn’t even get set up in the Minnesota end let alone get a scoring chance (or a goal). As a result, they head home splitting the season series and their brief two-game Central sojourn.
Kinkaid wound up making 29 saves in a losing effort while Dubnyk turned aside 30 of 33 Montreal shots. Both teams had some success with the power play as the Habs went 1/2 while the Wild were 2/5.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Keith Kinkaid – The numbers don’t look pretty but he actually played quite well; Julien mentioned postgame that he felt Kinkaid was Montreal’s best player. He kept them afloat when they were sleepwalking early on and other than the third goal, there wasn’t much he could do on the ones that beat him.
Stats: 4 goals on 33 shots, 4.11 GAA, .879 SV%
2nd Star: Phillip Danault – I’d say Danault had a quiet two-goal game but it was a two-goal game nonetheless. If a player does that, they deserve a mention here.
Stats: 2 goals, +1 rating, 3 shots, 9/22 faceoffs, 17:25 TOI
3rd Star: Jeff Petry – He continued his strong start to the season and was particularly effective at the offensive end. If there’s one small quibble about Petry, he tends to drift to the puck defensively a little too quickly which leaves the backdoor open but Minnesota wasn’t able to take advantage of those chances.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 5 shots, 2 hits, 26:38 TOI
Honourable Mention: Victor Mete – This one isn’t based on any numbers, just an observation that he had a very quietly effective night. He made several good plays in his own end, was strong in transition, and pinched at the right times offensively. That’s all they need for him to really provide and he did exactly that in this one.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 1 shot, 3 blocks, 17:22 TOI