The Habs finally returned to action for a Thursday night tilt with the San Jose Sharks. This promised a stark contrast in playing styles so whichever team could impose its identity on the opposition had a good chance of coming out on top.
Claude Julien opted to change his second line ahead of this contest as Jonathan Drouin joined Max Domi and Joel Armia. This meant that Artturi Lehkonen, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Paul Byron formed the team’s third line. With Armia’s return to the lineup, Jordan Weal was relegated to the press box.
In the crease, Carey Price was back in his net as he faced Aaron Dell. Price was not focused in this game as he allowed four goals on 14 shots through two periods which allowed the Sharks to slow the game down, take an unlimited amount of icings, and essentially bore the Habs and their fans on route to a rather easy 4-2 win.
Young Cale Fleury started the night on the wrong side of two errant passes to kick things off. With the Sharks attacking, Fleury then delivered a big hit on Marcus Sorensen to change the momentum. From that moment, the Habs controlled most of the period as Dell was required to make some solid saves.
With a little over 12 minutes left in the period, a quick rush through Joe Thornton found Barclay Goodrow who split Fleury and Ben Chiarot before slipping the puck through Price’s five-hole. Fortunately for the Habs, the play was quickly challenged as Goodrow was well offside.
The reversed goal rejuvenated the Habs as they controlled the rest of the period. With 7:29 to play, Melker Karlsson took the game’s first penalty though the Habs were unable to capitalize against an excellent Sharks penalty kill.
The fourth line finally opened the scoring with 3:24 to play when Nate Thompson won a puck battle in the neutral zone to send Cousins on a 2-on-1 with Brendan Gallagher. Cousins opted for the shot and buried his own rebound.
However, the lead would be short-lived thanks to a hooking penalty to Shea Weber. Montreal’s penalty kill continued to be atrocious as Evander Kane evened the score with only 55 seconds to play.
A cautious start to the second period by both teams was interrupted when the officials completely botched a penalty call. Two skates collided which caused a Shark player to fall. Kulak was called, then it was switched to Petry. The Sharks wasted little time in gaining their first lead of the night as Kane grabbed a rebound to score his second of the night.
The phantom call appeared to rattle the Habs as they lost their focus. With 12 minutes to play in the period, Kevin Labanc ended a passing play with the Habs top line watching in their zone.
With a 3-1 lead, the Sharks began an icing festival to slow the game and take away the speed game for the Habs. With seven minutes to play, Brent Burns took a penalty that the Habs once again failed to capitalize on despite many scoring chances although this created some momentum for the Habs as they peppered Dell to end the period.
With 36 seconds to play, Melker Karlsson extended the lead when Tatar misplayed a puck in his own zone (why is he the only player back in the last minute of a period?) and Price poorly covered his angle on the shot.
The Habs made it 4-2 just 22 seconds later when Armia tipped in an inoffensive shot toward the net by Domi giving a little bit of hope to the Habs heading to the third.
Timo Meier started the third period by attempting to re-create some playoff magic but this version of the handball goal was called off quickly by the officials.
After this attempt, the Sharks completely lulled the Habs to sleep as they slowed the game, iced the puck, and generally played the savvy veteran game on conserving energy with a comfortable lead.
With five minutes to play, Drouin took a penalty that essentially ended any hopes of a comeback. The Habs would finally kill the penalty and pulled Price with two minutes to play but it was too little, too late as the Sharks exit Montreal with the two points.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Joel Armia
Armia continued his strong start to the season by being all over the offensive zone in this game. His forecheck is strong, his puck support is strong; if he can continue to capitalize on his chances, this will be the player Marc Bergevin was hoping he acquired for cap space from the Jets only one year ago.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 4 shots, 6 hits, 19:37 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nick Cousins
Cousins looked poised to be the best player on both teams in the first period. Special teams completely took him out of his strong start and a limited amount of ice time quieted him as the night progressed. He still scored the game’s first goal and played an overall solid contest.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 6 shots, 3 hits, 13:20 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Paul Byron
Byron was determined to answer questions about his lack of productivity since the start of the season tonight. He ultimately was not able to gain points but this was easily his best game of the season as he looked engaged and created many scoring chances.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 1 shot, 4 hits, 11:25 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Cale Fleury
Remove a subpar first shift and Fleury was likely Montreal’s most consistent defenceman on this night. He made strong plays with the puck, completed some good breakouts, and landed two big hits, one in the first, one in the third. This type of game is what will make sure that Fleury stays in the lineup.
Stats: 0 points, +1, 2 shots, 1 hit (though he should have been credited with more), 17:23 T.O.I.