The Habs kicked off this three-game week with a visit from the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets who came in with a 3-5-2 record in their last ten games. To make matters worse, Nick Foligno was suspended and could not play, while Joonas Korpisalo was given the night off. This meant that the recently-recalled Elvis Merzlikins was in net to face Carey Price.
For the Habs, Shea Weber was a game-time decision but returned next to Victor Mete. This meant Ben Chiarot returned to partnering Jeff Petry while Brett Kulak remained in the line-up over Christian Folin and Mike Reilly. The lines up front remained as they were Saturday.
Overall, it was not a strong effort from the Canadiens, but Price stole one for the team who gave him just enough offence to make it count. The Habs won the game 3-2 after a shootout that saw Price stop all three opposing players for the crucially important two points. It’s worth noting that Ryan Poehling was returned to Laval after the game so it appears Jesperi Kotkaniemi will be ready to return for Friday night’s tilt with the Capitals.
The game had a tentative start as both teams were content to study the opposition until Weber was guilty of tripping Pierre-Luc Dubois only four minutes in. The Habs killed the penalty and gained momentum from it as they controlled the next four minutes. Weber then took his second penalty of the period as Bjorkstrand fell rather easily. This second power play was much better from the Blue Jackets but Price was in fine form and he kept the game scoreless.
The second half of the period resembled the first half in that Montreal controlled most of the play but were content with keeping the puck to the periphery while the Jackets got quality scoring chances with every single entry in the Montreal zone. Eric Robinson finally opened the scoring with his first NHL goal as Kulak was way late in covering him and Emil Bemstrom found him all alone in the slot with just a little more than three minutes to play in the period.
The Habs continued their lacklustre play in the second period as they were nowhere to be found in the opening four minutes. They relied on Price to keep them in the game (after Price made 14/15 saves in the first). They woke up thanks to a strong Max Domi rush that lured Zach Werenski to take a penalty for the Habs first PP. This mattered little as the power play was not a threat despite some significant zone time.
Domi started the second half of the period by missing a centring pass by Brendan Gallagher that would have left him alone in front of the Blue Jackets net. This opportunity gave the Habs some legs as they were suddenly attacking the middle of the ice and therefore the good scoring chances ensued. Fleury had a point-blank shot stopped as did Tomas Tatar. With 4:45 to play, Tatar got another good rush which resulted in a Columbus penalty. The man advantage had no shots on net so the period ended with the score still 1-0.
The game finally picked up in the third period as the Habs came out flying and Domi potentially briefly looked to the game only two minutes in. The goal was immediately waved off as it was clearly a high stick. Tatar then created a glorious chance that Artturi Lehkonen fired high.
A little past the three-minute mark, Gallagher then took an inoffensive shot from the top of the zone that fooled Merzlikins to tie the game. This completely stunned the Jackets since their goalkeeper should have made that save easily. The Habs piled on afterwards as Columbus was completely on their heels.
As the midway point of the period was crossed, Columbus was slowly finding their legs as Price was once again called upon to make some big stops, none better than a point-blank stop on Werenski. With a little over two minutes to play, Arturri “I score six goals per season” Lehkonen had the puck in the offensive zone. With two open passing lanes across the ice to Suzuki or Tatar, Lehkonen attempted an impossible shot short side that missed the net and immediately sent the Jackets on the offensive. On that same shift, Tatar did not pick up Werenski coming in off the point who fired home the go-ahead goal with only 1:52 to play.
With under a minute to play, Columbus players were out of gas and were called for icing. Claude Julien made the gutsy call to keep the players on the ice and not call a timeout to hurry-up the faceoff. The result was an absolutely amazing cross-ice pass from Suzuki to Tatar who wasted no time putting the puck on and in the net. Tie game with 40 seconds to play.
In the overtime, Domi, Petry, and Byron controlled the first shift, but Mete got caught down-low and showed some serious speed in catching up to the 2-on-0 break though he wound up taking a penalty as Price made a beautiful glove save. The Habs earned two solid scoring chances while on the penalty kill and Price made a few more solid saves as they killed off the penalty and headed to the shootout. Jonathan Drouin scored the only shootout goal while Price made all three stops for a surprising victory for the Habs.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
Stellar all night long, Price stole a game that the Habs really didn’t deserve to win. Yes, time of possession and shots were close to even, but the quality of the scoring chances could not have been even. Add to this the deficit in the final minute, the overtime penalty, and the necessity of Price making all three stops in the shootout to get there, and this is two points in the standings that are signed #31. As much as we don’t want to see this team rely on Price like this too often, it was nice to see the team’s franchise players take the team on his back and carry them to a win on this night.
Stats: 33 saves, 35 shots, .943 save %, 1.87 G.A.A., 63:57 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Tomas Tatar
Tatar created a number of chances in this game and it’s likely his numbers would be quite different if those chances found Suzuki instead of Lehkonen all night long. Tatar was still able to get on the ice to accept the Suzuki feed on the game-tying goal with seconds to play. An impressive one-timer and an important moment in the game to get on the board.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/), 3 shots, 1 hit, 14:19 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Nick Suzuki
The puck was following Suzuki all night as it appeared his name was called every single time he was on the ice. Much like Kotkaniemi last season, there will be some growing pains for Suzuki at centre. That being said, can anyone seriously claim it’s not worth it watching him thread that needle to Tatar for the equalizer. This was a good game for Suzuki and Kotkaniemi is seeing some ice time slip away with every game Suzuki performs this way.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 hit, 12:53 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Cale Fleury
Much like Suzuki, some nights will see the young defender going through growing pains. The first goal against might well be one of those as he inexplicably switches with an unsuspecting Kulak. Despite this, Fleury continues to hit hard, covers his man quite well, and we can see him gain confidence with the puck as he gets comfortable with the big club.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 4 shots, 2 hits, 12:16 T.O.I.