The Habs are now on the Eastern portion of their road trip and were in Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning on Saturday night. They got off to a flying start but weren’t able to hold the lead as they dropped this one 5-4.
There was only one lineup change from Monday’s victory over Winnipeg. Joel Armia is week-to-week with an upper-body injury and his spot was taken by Jesperi Kotkaniemi who was activated off IR. Nick Suzuki shifted back to the wing and took Armia’s spot on the Max Domi line.
Kotkaniemi wasted little time making an impact. On his first shift, he made a touch pass towards Jordan Weal at the offensive blueline. The pass didn’t connect but the puck made its way back to Kotkaniemi who wristed it past Andrei Vasilevskiy to open up the scoring.
Domi then looked to have a good chance on the rush but he was knocked down in the slot before he could get a shot off. On the ensuing shift, Kotkaniemi was stopped in tight as he was aggressive early on. Three minutes later, the fourth line had a prime scoring opportunity. Ryan Poehling and Nate Thompson had a two-on-one but Poehling was stopped.
Just before the midway point of the period, Domi rang one off the crossbar. Tampa then got control of the puck in the Montreal end and actually had some sustained pressure which, up to that point, was a rarity as the shots were a whopping 16-0 for the road team. However, in the middle of the play, the in-arena buzzer sounded. After a video review by the officials, Domi’s shot was ruled to have completely crossed the line, doubling the lead in the process.
At the 12:25 mark, Tyler Johnson (who was in his first game back from injury) got a weak shot in on Price for their first of the game. While it was seemingly inconsequential, it did seem to settle them as they started to control the play for the rest of the period. A few minutes later, Anthony Cirelli was in on a two-on-one after a neutral zone turnover but his shot missed the net.
Unfortunately for Montreal, their old nemesis struck again. I speak, of course, of their penchant for allowing last minute goals. Phillip Danault’s failed clearing attempt was knocked down by Steven Stamkos at the point. His shot attempt was going wide but was redirected by Ryan McDonagh to a wide-open Alex Killorn who had a yawning cage and he made no mistake. On the next shift, Victor Hedman nearly tied it following a bad turnover from Brett Kulak. Domi looked like he was going to have a breakaway at the end of the period but time expired as he hit the offensive blueline. All in all, it was a solid period from the Habs despite the late letdown and they doubled up Tampa Bay in shots 20-10.
Early in the second, Suzuki nearly had a break but the play was broken up. Coming the other way, Stamkos fired a shot that missed the net. However, Price froze and the rebound landed behind him and Stamkos tapped it into the open net to tie it up for his 800th career point.
Three minutes later, a weak shot from Mitchell Stephens seemed to somehow befuddle Price. He kicked out a juicy rebound and Stephens put it off Artturi Lehkonen and in for his first NHL goal.
A few shifts later, Montreal looked to have an opportunity with an odd-man rush but Danault’s feed to Riley Barber was broken up. Tampa Bay came back the other way and Stamkos was left all alone in front of Price (never a good idea) but Price executed a poke-check to break up that opportunity. Two minutes later, Weal rang one off the post.
Two minutes later, the Habs just missed on what would have been a two-on-one chance and the Lightning came back the other way. Killorn was initially covered but eventually worked himself free and squeaked one past Price on another shot that needed to be stopped. Sensing some panic, Claude Julien called timeout.
The move paid instant dividends. Off the ensuing faceoff, Brendan Gallagher attacked off the wing. He delayed shooting until there was a screen in front before taking a low shot. It bounced off Vasilevskiy’s pad right to Ben Chiarot who put in the rebound to get it back to a one-goal game. On the next shift, Stamkos was left alone yet again but his shot missed the net.
Nate Thompson was called for hooking with 5:26 to play but Johnson was heading for the box as well thinking he was getting the call. Montreal did a reasonable job stopping the number one power play unit in the league. Each side had a couple of chances in the dying minutes but they weren’t able to score, sending Tampa to the room with the lead. The shots on goal were ten apiece in the frame.
Montreal didn’t get off to a good start to the third. A brutal giveaway from Domi in the defensive end led to a pair of Tampa Bay chances and the second one proved costly. Hedman’s point shot bounced off Price and the rebound went right to Cirelli who put it in. A minute later, Yanni Gourde missed the open net on a two-on-one.
In the first half of the period, Montreal’s only decent chance was on a Domi rush but it was broken up. A couple of minutes after that, Suzuki made a nice defensive play covering the point to break up what would have been a two-on-one for the Lightning. On the next shift, Price made a good stop on Jan Rutta’s point shot.
Tampa Bay looked to make it a three-goal led when Johnson redirected Mikhail Sergachev’s point shot past Price but the goal was waved off due to a high stick and was quickly confirmed on review.
The Canadiens looked like they’d get a good opportunity when Mathieu Joseph was called for boarding Cale Fleury. However, their lone real chance was a Jeff Petry point shot that wasn’t much of a threat. Not long after that, Lehkonen was stopped in close and on the next shift, Gourde was stopped on a partial breakaway.
With three and a half minutes left, Petry made a nice play with the puck in the offensive zone. His shot ultimately went wide but it went to Nick Cousins who was high sticked by Patrick Maroon to send Montreal back to the man advantage. The power play had several opportunities and the pressure picked up more when Price was pulled for the extra attacker. Off a faceoff, the puck went to Tomas Tatar behind the net. He found Weal who banked it off Erik Cernak and in with just over a minute to play.
Montreal kept pressuring in the final minute. However, while they could pass the puck around the perimeter, they struggled to get a shot off and ultimately fell short of tying it up.
Vasilevskiy was tested early and often in this one and turned aside 39 of 43 shots for the win. Price had a game to forget, allowing five goals on 30 Tampa Bay shots. The Habs actually won the special teams battle as they scored once on their two power plays while the Lightning didn’t capitalize on their opportunity.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Brendan Gallagher – He was quiet early on which was a bit of a surprise considering how strong Montreal’s start was. However, as the rest of the team tapered off, he picked up his play. He made a good move that led to Chiarot’s goal and he was buzzing around the net in the third and helped set up Weal’s marker as well.
Stats: 2 assists, even rating, 5 shots, 21:58 TOI
2nd Star: Jesperi Kotkaniemi – Although he was relatively quiet after his first few shifts, his play in the early going earns him the nod here. He looked more aggressive with his shot than usual which was nice to see for someone that tends to look to pass too often. That was evident on the first power play for the Habs but otherwise, a solid first game back for him.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 3 shots, 2/8 faceoffs, 13:42 TOI
3rd Star: Max Domi – Offensively, Domi belongs in a higher slot. He was one of Montreal’s better threats in the offensive zone all game long and kept his goal streak alive. However, his poor play defensively also warrants a mention. There are nights where he can get away with some gaffes but Tampa made him pay in this one.
Stats: 1 goal, -3 rating, 2 shots, 3/4 faceoffs, 17:13 TOI
Honourable Mention: Jordan Weal – He has rightfully taken some criticism for his lack of production lately but this was a good bounce-back game for him in that regard. He scored a big goal and had a couple of other chances. He can be a useful secondary contributor when he’s on; hopefully, this is a step in the right direction for him.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 4 shots, 2 blocks, 13:59 TOI