Fresh off a disappointing loss to Ottawa, the Habs were looking to get back in the win column as they hosted the Rangers on Saturday night. They got off to a blistering start before collapsing terribly, blowing a four-goal lead to lose 6-5.
Claude Julien opted to make some tweaks to his lineup, shaking up the bottom three lines. Max Domi moved back to the middle and was flanked by Artturi Lehkonen and Nick Suzuki while Charles Hudon was promoted to the third line while Jordan Weal dropped back to the fourth. On the back end, Mike Reilly drew back in after sitting six straight games with Brett Kulak returning to the press box.
The Habs didn’t get off to a great start defensively. One minute in, Brady Skjei was left all alone in front of the net but fortunately for Montreal, the shot went wide. On the same sequence, Chris Kreider got a high hit in on Tomas Tatar which sent him to the quiet room for concussion evaluation. He was able to return.
Things got better though. Just a minute later, an awkward angle shot from Lehkonen wasn’t handled cleanly by Alexandar Georgiev. The rebound came out in the slot and Suzuki was able to get the puck over to Domi who quickly ended his scoring drought. The Canadiens had a chance to quickly double that lead as Jacob Trouba was called for holding Brendan Gallagher but the power play wasn’t able to generate much other than a couple of long shots from Suzuki.
The Rangers started to take some control back after that. Filip Chytil had a good chance as he skated around Victor Mete and tried to stuff one past Carey Price but couldn’t. Price did well to settle things down and he was rewarded for it.
Just shy of the midway mark of the frame, New York turned it over in the neutral zone. Reilly quickly got the puck to Joel Armia who fed it to Lehkonen and he beat Georgiev from distance on a goal he’d like to have back. It was a strong shot from Lehkonen to his credit but one that was stoppable.
The Rangers didn’t back down though. A couple of minutes later, Brendan Lemieux rang one off the post. The rebound came to Libor Hajek but he missed the open net. Shortly after, Micheal Haley found Brendan Smith alone in front but Price made the save. On the next shift, Pavel Buchnevich found Chytil in the crease but the centre wasn’t able to tip it past Price.
Over the final few minutes, Montreal started to retake control following some good shifts from the second and fourth lines. It looked like the Habs were going to take a two-goal lead to the break but with just over 30 seconds left, Suzuki dropped a pass for Domi who was able to snipe it past Georgiev (who was screened on the play but it’s another one he’d like back). Montreal certainly wasn’t complaining though as they took the lead to the break while leading 18-12 in shots.
Once again, there was a defensive breakdown for the Habs to start a period as Adam Fox set up Jesper Fast on a 2-on-1 but Price made the stop. That turned out to be a critical save.
Less than two minutes later, Joel Armia missed a chance from the slot. Play continued and on the back end of the shift, Charles Hudon was stopped on a wraparound attempt. The puck worked its way to the point and Shea Weber was able to sneak one through Georgiev to make it 4-0.
Trouba was sent off for a penalty of Gallagher a minute later, nearly a carbon copy from the first period. The power play had the same result too as they weren’t able to score; their best chance was Armia’s but he missed in the slot again. The successful penalty woke the Rangers up.
Shortly after the successful kill, Skjei rushed the puck up the ice from his own end. He gained the offensive zone before flipping it to Panarin who quickly fed Chytil and this time, he was able to beat Price to get New York on the board.
On the next shift, the Rangers had a mini 2-on-1 in the Montreal end. Pavel Buchnevich basically skated untouched to the crease and wound up banking one off Cale Fleury and in.
Ben Chiarot rang one off the post seconds later but Phillip Danault took an unnecessary holding penalty on Panarin as he skated in transition.
On the penalty kill, Montreal had the first good chance as Nate Thompson and Chiarot formed a slow-developing 2-on-1 but Thompson’s pass skipped over Chiarot’s stick. Technically, Montreal killed the penalty but as it expired, Fox’s point shot was redirected by Lemieux to make it 4-3.
With a little less than eight minutes left, Lehkonen rang a shot off the outside of the post. Seconds later, Trouba had an end-to-end rush of his own, drawing a Jeff Petry holding penalty for his trouble. The Rangers didn’t do much with the power play but got another chance as Chiarot was called for puck over glass, sending them to a 33-second two-man advantage. They didn’t get much going there either, nor were they able to capitalize on the 5-on-4 afterwards on what was a strong kill by the Habs.
Just before that penalty ended, Montreal’s clearing attempt went to Lehkonen who was in on a breakaway. He was tied up by Trouba and while it could have been a penalty shot, it was called a hook instead. Jesperi Kotkaniemi was left all alone in the slot during the man advantage but his one-time shot went wide. On the next wave, Petry had a shot go wide as well and once again, they failed to capitalize and headed to the room only up on. Shots in the period were 14-13 Montreal.
The Habs survived the opening minute without a defensive miscue this time and it was actually the home side that had the first good chance when Mete rang one off the post just past the two-minute mark. On the same shift, Suzuki just missed in tight.
That line was able to score on their next shift though. Off a lost draw, Domi intercepted a clearing attempt and sent it to Lehkonen who potted his second goal of the night.
The two-goal lead was short-lived as on the ensuing shift, Ryan Strome won a puck battle with Chiarot and sent a pass to Kreider. He made a great play to get it to Panarin who tapped it in to make a one-goal game again.
Panarin gave the Habs another chance with the man advantage less than two minutes later as he tied up Nick Cousins as he tried to leave the zone in transition. The Habs didn’t get much going early and then allowed yet another 2-on-1. This time, they paid for it as Brett Howden set up Lemieux for his second goal of the night.
That really seemed to lift the air out of Montreal’s sails. With a little less than eight minutes to go, Trouba took a weak shot off a won draw that snuck past Price to give New York their first lead.
The Habs then got another crack on the power play with the Rangers getting called for too many men. Kotkaniemi was robbed early on while Weber missed the net (one of 19 misses on the night for the team). The Rangers came into the night having allowed a dozen power play goals in their last six games but once again, Montreal couldn’t get one with the extra man.
Price was pulled with a little more than two minutes to go. The Canadiens had a few reasonable chances – a couple from the point while Jordan Weal just missed in the dying seconds but it wasn’t enough. The Habs lost the game when they had a four-goal lead on home ice for the first time in nearly 24 years.
Georgiev was shaky early but stood tall in the end while making 38 saves for the victory; Price kicked aside 28 in the losing effort. Special teams proved to be the difference – the Rangers were 0/3 but scored just as one advantage ended while Montreal was 0/5 with New York getting the crucial shorthanded goal.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Max Domi – If all it took to wake him up was spending a bit of time on the wing, the Habs should have made the switch a while ago. He looked like the Domi from last season – he was hunting the puck down, was aggressive, and made several strong plays. While it’s hard to be particularly enthusiastic with the end result of the game, his performance is certainly promising.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +3 rating, 4 shots, 8/15 faceoffs, 19:13 TOI
2nd Star: Artturi Lehkonen – Watching him struggle offensively, it’s hard to remember that there are times where he plays like a real top-six forward. This was one of those games. He seems to work relatively well with Domi as his defensive complement and at least for one game, his shot was going in.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +4 rating, 4 shots, 15:56 TOI
3rd Star: Nick Suzuki – Technically, he was the quieter one of his line for the game but it was still a solid showing overall. He didn’t struggle with his position change and instead just picked up where he left off. That’s impressive for anyone but for a rookie still finding his way in the league, it’s even more so.
Stats: 2 assists, +1 rating, 3 shots, 1 block, 2/4 faceoffs, 14:43 TOI
Honourable Mention: Shea Weber – On a night where a lot of the defenders had some ugly moments, Weber wasn’t one of them despite leading the team in ice time by a country mile. He was aggressive with his shot and generally speaking, when he was on the ice, the Habs weren’t defending a whole lot.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 5 shots (11 attempts – game high), 2 hits, 3 blocks, 28:17 TOI