The Habs were looking to get back into the win column when they hosted the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night. There were a couple of lineup changes to note before the game. Nick Cousins made his Habs debut as Jordan Weal was a healthy scratch. Cousins lined up on the fourth line with Nate Thompson and Nick Suzuki while Paul Byron was promoted to the second line with Artturi Lehkonen and Max Domi. On defence, youngster Cale Fleury found his way back into the lineup and was paired with Ben Chiarot. This resulted in Christian Folin watching from the sideline. Carey Price was once again between the pipes for the Habs.
Montreal had a dominating effort from start to finish and left the arena with a 4-0 win.
The Habs had a good start and were outshooting the Wild in the early going. Just four minutes into the first, Brendan Gallagher was caught by a high stick and the Habs had their first power play. Montreal could not get organized with the man advantage, and the two minutes expired with only one shot on net.
With under ten minutes to go, Lehkonen was called for holding in the offensive zone, sending the Habs to the penalty kill. There was only one high-danger chance for the Wild, but Price came up with a big toe save. The Canadiens also had a couple of two on one rushes but could not convert. Lehkonen stepped out of the box, and the Habs were back to the attack.
With five minutes to go in the period, it finally happened. Nick Cousins made a hard forecheck and forced a turnover behind the net. He centred a pass out front right on the stick of Victor Mete and he fired the shot past Alex Stalock for his first career NHL goal. Teammates and fans went crazy to congratulate the young defenceman, who had waited 127 games to finally light the lamp.
With four minutes left, Minnesota was called for sending the puck over the glass. This led to power play number two for the Habs. With forty-five seconds left in the man advantage, Drouin was hit by a high stick, sending the Canadiens to a two-man advantage. The Habs found a way to double their lead with the power play. Weber found Jonathan Drouin down low. Drouin then made a perfect pass across the crease, and Joel Armia was there to fire it home.
Just as the penalty expired, a second Habs’ youngster scored his first career goal. Nick Suzuki was at the right place at the right time and put a backhand in to extend the Habs lead to three. The crowd went wild as PA announcer Michel Lacroix called Suzuki’s name. Montreal took their confidence and a 3-0 lead into the intermission.
The Habs kept rolling to start the second frame. They used their speed to force the Wild to take an early penalty, giving them another man advantage. The Habs had a couple of turnovers on the power play, and Weber was forced to take a holding penalty, negating the advantage.
The resulting power play and four on four action saw some very solid saves from Price. He was moving across his net quickly and challenged shooters. His positioning was very good as every shot appeared to hit him in the chest.
Just seconds after the penalty expired, the Habs had another power play when Gerald Mayhew was called for holding. The Habs had a much better-looking power play than the last one; they had their chances but could not find the back of the net.
Just under halfway through the period, after some great pressure by the Habs, Tatar was called for interference behind Montreal’s net. They didn’t give Minnesota any time or space on the penalty kill and they were able to kill it off with no damage done.
The Habs slowed down a little bit for the rest of the period but they were still out playing and out-chancing Minnesota. This was also the best defensive performance that the Habs have had this season, granted, the Wild are not the best offensive team in the league. This was still an encouraging sign, as the Habs went into the second intermission having given up just 13 shots on goal.
The Canadiens continued to dominate Minnesota in the third period. It seemed as though the puck was always in the Wild zone, and when it did get to the Habs zone, it was out very quickly. Four minutes into the third period, the Canadiens owned a dominating 29-14 advantage on the shot clock.
Minnesota was given a power play chance with nine minutes to go in the game when Fleury was sent off for high-sticking. The Canadiens had another very good penalty kill. The forwards got their sticks in the passing lanes and barely even let the Wild get through centre ice.
Just after the penalty expired, Gallagher intercepted a pass from Mathew Dumba. He went in alone on Stalock and fired a shot short side to extend the lead to four.
Minnesota got another power play chance when Chiarot was called for roughing after the whistle with five minutes left in the game. The penalty for the Habs was just a continuation of the last one, as the Habs did not allow Minnesota to get anything going.
The Habs kept their solid play going right through to the final buzzer to collect the 4-0 victory. This was a very impressive and dominating performance. It was against a struggling team, but this is a performance that the Habs can build confidence and momentum going into St. Louis on Saturday.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Victor Mete
Mete had the most memorable night of his young career tonight. After numerous missed chances and close calls, he was finally able to put a puck in the net. This also stood as the game-winning goal. Beyond the goal, he also looked very good on defence and had chances for many more.
Stats: 1G (GWG), +1, 3 SOG, 17:10 TOI
Second Star – Nick Suzuki
Suzuki followed in Mete’s footsteps and also potted his first NHL goal. He picked up a loose puck by the net and made a nice backhand to put the puck home. He also came alive after the goal and could have easily scored a few more in this game. After being demoted to the fourth line, he has come back well and has looked a lot better. It was the first time since 2005 that two Montreal players scored their first NHL goals in the same game.
Stats: 1G, +1, 4 SOG, 14:49 TOI
Third Star – Carey Price
Price was not tested very often in this game, but when he was, he looked very good. He was not giving up any rebounds and was in perfect position for every shot that he faced for his first shutout of the season.
Stats: 17 save shutout
Honourable Mention – Brendan Gallagher
I feel like I am putting Gallagher in the Three Stars every game. He continues to be a very important forward for the Habs. He worked incredibly hard tonight and had a lot of chances to score. His hard work showed on his goal where he forced the turnover and drove the puck to the net for the goal.
Stats: 1G, +1, 6 SOG, 14:21 TOI