The Habs kicked off their annual Western Canadian road trip on Tuesday evening with a clash against Vancouver. Despite a good first period, the Habs found themselves down by a goal. After tying it in the second, they appeared to take the lead. However, the goal was taken back on what can at best be considered a questionable decision. Montreal then came out scorching in the third and scored two early power play goals. That was all they needed as they coasted to a 3-1 victory to open up their potentially season-defining road trip.
Nick Suzuki had the Habs’ first great chance early in the opening frame. He danced around the defender, but the puck just slid away from him before he could go in alone on Jacob Markstrom.
The Canadiens faced their first bit of adversity just under nine minutes into the game when Nate Thompson was sent off for interference. Montreal did a great job to neutralize the potent Canucks’ power play. All four killers had their sticks in the lanes and were moving enough to not let Vancouver set any plays up.
For a majority of the first period, the trio of Cousins-Suzuki-Weal were by far the Habs’ best forwards. Every shift they were getting pucks deep into the zone, and with a strong forecheck they were generating tons of chances off of the cycle.
With 2:30 left in the first period, Tomas Tatar was called for a questionable tripping penalty. Artturi Lehkonen got a breakaway chance early in the penalty kill and tried to go short side but was stopped by Markstrom. The Habs couldn’t hold their power play off the score sheet again as Adam Gaudette fired a wrist shot over the shoulder of Price for the opening goal.
At the end of a rather low event opening period, the Canucks found themselves ahead by one on the strength of two power play opportunities.
Vancouver forward J.T. Miller had two golden opportunities to extend the Canucks’ lead early in the second. On two separate occasions, he was alone against Price, but he was stopped both times.
The Canadiens got back into the game eight minutes into the second period. Joel Armia stole the puck in the Montreal zone and started out with a pass to Domi. Max then brought it in over the line, and Cousins snuck in behind the defenders. Domi found him with a perfect pass, and Cousins went off the post and in to tie it up.
Shortly after the goal, the Canucks clawed back in front. Price stopped the initial shot off the stick of Josh Leivo, but nobody in a white sweater could find the rebound and Gaudette put it in for his second of the night. Claude Julien challenged for offside, and in one of the quickest reviews I have ever seen, the call was overturned.
However, the Habs still had a delayed penalty, and Cousins was called for slashing. Montreal did a great job on the penalty kill and actually out-chanced the Canucks for the two minutes.
Later on, in the period the Habs appeared to take the lead. Lehkonen, Phillip Danault, and Armia had Vancouver hemmed in their zone for a solid minute. Lehkonen caused a disturbance in front, and Armia banged in the rebound. Vancouver surprisingly challenged for goaltender interference, and there was a lengthy review. Despite being pushed by the Canucks’ defenceman, it was ruled that Lehkonen interfered with Markstrom and the goal was taken off the board.
A frustrated Habs team pushed hard for the rest of the period to get their goal back, but they could not find a way to get the puck across the line, and they went to the dressing room tied at 1.
Vancouver was finally called for their first minor penalty of the game just twenty seconds into the final frame. Jake Virtanen was sent off for slashing, giving the Habs their first chance with the man advantage. Danault made a terrific play late in the power play. He was tripped coming into the zone, and while sliding on his side he still had the awareness to send a pass out front. Tatar corralled the pass and made a fantastic move, going backhand back to forehand, and roofed it over Markstrom to give the Habs a lead.
Because Montreal was already on the power play, Tanner Pearson was sent to the box for the trip on Danault. On the Canadiens’ second chance, they really pushed hard to set up Weber’s shot. He fired at least three one-timers just wide of the goal. Late in the power play, Armia gathered a rebound and slid it over to the left of the goal. Weber was in a perfect spot, and the fourth time was a charm, as he put it in to double the lead.
Brendan Gallagher came very close to extending it when he outhustled a Canucks’ defender at centre. He stole the puck and came in with Tatar to his wing. He kept it and fired but Markstrom was able to keep it from crossing the goal line.
Tatar got his stick caught in the skates of Elias Pettersson with six minutes left in the game. The Habs did a good job of killing the first minute. There was a scare in the middle of the power play, when a Pettersson shot went off a stick in front, fluttered up high, off the crossbar, and sat in the crease. Price stayed calm, and didn’t slide back, while Chiarot swept the puck under his pad for a whistle. Montreal got the penalty killed smoothly from there.
Vancouver pulled their goalie with three minutes left to play and had a lot of zone time. However, the Habs kept them to the perimeter, and Vancouver barely even got a shot on net. The Canadiens went through the final minutes unscathed.
A neat and tidy 3-1 win was just what the doctor ordered for the Habs, as they started a potentially season-defining road trip with a victory. Montreal will head over to Calgary to continue the road trip on Thursday night.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Max Domi
Domi is mired in a lengthy, and rather frustrating slump right now. However, he played very well. Hopefully, coming away with two points, including a very nice primary assist, will help to get Domi back to his scoring ways. An offensively dangerous Domi could be a gamechanger for the Habs down the stretch.
Stats: 2A, +1, 2 SOG, 15:50 TOI
Second Star – Joel Armia
Armia continues to dominate games while he is on the ice like no other Habs forward can. When he is handling the puck, it looks like he has it on a string, and nobody can possibly take it off him. He made great plays on two of the three Habs’ goals. Armia is quickly becoming one of the most important players on this team.
Stats: 2A, +1, 2 hits, 17:18 TOI
Third Star – Carey Price
Price was not under siege in this game by any means, but he was still a key to this victory. Price made all the key saves that he was called upon to make down the stretch. He was also very effective handling the puck behind the net. This shut down many Canucks zone entries and sent them back to their own zone.
Stats: Win, 1 goal against, 38 saves, .974 save percentage
Honourable Mention – Shea Weber
If it wasn’t for the insanity that is John Carlson’s season so far, Weber would definitely be in the conversation for the Norris Trophy. He led the Habs in ice time and came up just short of playing half a game. He chipped in on offence and helped the penalty kill to keep the Canucks off the board on all but one of their chances.
Stats: 1G, 2 SOG, 1 hit, 29:26 TOI