The Habs returned to action after a frustrating effort on Saturday to face the team with the best winning percentage in the entire league in the Boston Bruins. This was the old rivals’ first contest of the season and promised much speed and skill to be on display.
Between the pipes, Carey Price battled Tuukka Rask. Jesperi Kotkaniemi remained sidelined with a groin injury but Jordan Weal returned to the press box nonetheless as Ryan Poehling was called up and made his season debut. He centred the third line between Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron which meant Nick Suzuki returned to the wing with Nate Thompson and Nick Cousins. On the blue line, Claude Julien decided that Ben Chiarot and Shea Weber would face the Patrice Bergeron line while Victor Mete was paired with Jeff Petry. Mike Reilly and Cale Fleury remained the team’s bottom pair.
With both goaltenders having terrible games, it was this gutsy decision on the blue line by the coaching staff that was the difference as the Habs squeaked out a 5-4 win against their rivals.
The Habs started the game by continuing a recent trend of scoring early in a period. This time it was Mete who scored after a big save by Price and some solid cycling from Max Domi and Petry. Mete was able to jump on a loose puck and sneak a puck through traffic to open the scoring. The rest of the opening ten minutes was a chess match as both teams committed a few errors, landed a few hits, missed a few great chances, and kept the game entertaining despite a lack of scoring.
The second half of the period looked much the same until a flurry of goals came as three goals were scored within two minutes and twenty seconds. This started with a hooking penalty for Mete to prevent a partial break for Boston. The penalty kill continued to struggle against the league’s best power play as David Pastrnak scored on a one-timer five seconds into the man-advantage.
The Habs responded well as 1:50 later, Tomas Tatar was sprung on a two-on-one with Phillip Danault. He opted for the shot and fooled Rask on a shot the netminder likely wanted to see again. Thirty seconds later, some strong defensive play by Poehling allowed a quick transition that resulted in Paul Byron scoring his first of the season on a weak shot that Rask should have stopped as the Habs retreated to the locker room up by two.
Another strong start to a period lured Bergeron into a hooking penalty to start the second. The Habs continued their strong play but didn’t score with the man advantage. A few moments later, Pastrnak was penalized for hooking. The Habs once again struggled on the power play and this time it proved costly as the Bruins closed the gap a minute later. Connor Clifton intercepted a Fleury clearing attempt catching all three Montreal forwards cheating. He then showed great patience before shooting a laser to beat Price. The Habs had some injury to the insult as both Petry and Poehling left the game for a while, but both did return.
The Bruins controlled the second half of the period as the latest goal appeared to make the Habs nervous. The usual crisp transition was suddenly nervous, and the result was sloppy for the Habs which allowed the Bruins to attack. The Habs finally paid for this lack of focus when Anders Bjork scored with 1:47 to play as the puck found its way through Charlie Coyle and Chiarot and laid unattended next to Price.
The Habs once again reacted well as they regained the lead before the end of the period. With 1:05 left, Mete scored his second of the game from the blue line as Thompson was cross-checked into Rask by Zdeno Chara which allowed the goal to stand and the Bruins agreed as they did not challenge.
It was a strong start for Boston this time around to start the third period and the result was a Weber high-sticking penalty that should have been a roughing as he punched Marchand in the face. The Bruins hit the post during the power play, but a strong shift by Lehkonen allowed the Habs to escape this penalty unharmed. As the penalty expired, Sean Kuraly banked a puck in from behind the net. Mete was absolutely out of gas on the play and Price got caught looking the wrong way as the Bruins tied the game.
An ill-advised pinch by Fleury a few minutes later sent the Habs scrambling and the result was a Coyle go-ahead goal. Julien challenged for offside and was proven right, so the score remained tied. To be honest, it was a worthy gamble because even if not right, Julien had to break the Bruins’ momentum.
With eleven minutes to play and Byron in Gallagher’s spot due to a hand injury scare (he did return), Tatar found Byron who missed a wide-open net. The rebound came around to Weber who went cross-ice to Chiarot who sneaked a puck through Rask for the 5-4 lead.
The pace and intensity really picked up for the last half of the period, but now the play was shared at least. The Bruins pulled Rask with 58 seconds to play after an icing, but Nate Thompson came out with a goliath sized shift defensively to preserve the lead and the regulation time win against the divisional rival.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Victor Mete
With only one goal to his name prior to this game in over 100 games, Mete added a pair in this one. It appears the theory of the flood gates being open can be applied here as Mete was all over the offensive zone all night long. Frankly, he could have scored two more the way he played. If this is how Mete plays next to Petry, it might be worth keeping Weber with Chiarot.
Stats: 2 goals, +1, 5 shots, 20:53 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Tomas Tatar
Tatar was a puck magnet on this night. It seemed like he controlled the puck at least once every shift he was on the ice. While Gallagher often gets the offensive credit and Danault gets the defensive credit, one must not forget that Tatar is the playmaker on the unit and his ability to drive puck possession was a giant plus on a night that this line faced one of the league’s best lines and came out with solid numbers.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 1 hit, 15:53 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Paul Byron
Byron’s goal appeared to lift a huge weight off his shoulders. He was quick and in traffic all night long. He was buzzing around the net during Mete’s second goal and his active presence created a few chances for Lehkonen and Poehling too in the earlier portions of the game. If Byron can find this game regularly now that he’s scored, he’s definitely an added value to this team.
Stats: 1 goal, +3, 1 shots, 3 hits, 12:42 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Nate Thompson
Physical, defensively sharp, and creator of offensive chances could all be used to describe Thompson on this night. The presence of Suzuki on his wing seems to give Thompson a whole other dimension and really makes him effective in all three zones on both sides of the puck. Oh yeah, how about that defensive play in that last minute.
Stats: 0 points, +1, 2 shots, 2 hits, 17:16 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Ben Chiarot
This was mentioned last week, but Chiarot’s short stint on the third pair really got him going and he’s been a completely different defender since. He was playing with Weber tonight and it seemed to spark the big man as he was all over the ice playing physical and supporting the puck in the offensive zone. If he can play like this when the games matter most and in the playoffs, he will be worth every penny of that contract and then some.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 23:13 T.O.I.