The Habs tried the keep their thin playoff hopes alive as they welcomed the Arizona Coyotes to the Bell Centre. With games against Dallas and road games against Pittsburgh and Boston this week, this was a game the Habs simply could not allow themselves to lose. Unsurprisingly, Claude Julien opted to ice the same roster as Saturday night’s contest against the Maple Leafs. This included Carey Price getting the start in net as he faced Antti Raanta. The Habs started strong and then coasted to the third period where they ultimately lost the game in the final minute, a game they really didn’t deserve to win.
The Habs came out firing on all cylinders as they scored two goals before the second minute of play had expired. The first goal scored at 52 seconds was especially sweet since it was Jake Evans’ first career NHL tally. After a few quick whistles, Nate Thompson, Marco Scandella and Evans worked the boards until Thompson fired the puck on the net. Cousins got to the rebound and Raanta saved that but left another rebound as Evans won his net front battle for an early lead.
Brendan Gallagher extended the lead exactly one minute later. Some quick neutral zone transition by Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault allowed Gallagher to skate in 1-on-1 against Niklas Hjalmarsson. Gallagher shot on the defender’s hand before picking up the loose puck behind the defender and firing a quick shot that beat Raanta.
At the five-minute mark, both Jeff Petry and Brett Kulak were guilty of some giveaways in the neutral zone. The result was a weak Derek Stepan shot that eluded Price and gave the Coyotes life. The goal was made worse by a Ben Chiarot penalty on the next shift. Though the Habs were able to kill the man advantage, the Coyotes had clearly gained momentum and were now in the game.
Price settled in nicely and made some important stops to preserve the lead in the second half of the period. Montreal then had to kill another penalty as Nick Cousins took a cross-checking penalty. That penalty kill was cut short by a Christian Dvorak holding. Both teams failed on their short power play chances. Before the end of the period, the Coyotes took consecutive penalties, but the Habs failed to capitalize on the 5-on-3 that lasted over 90 seconds as they skated away with a disappointing 2-1 lead all things considered.
The second period started with the Habs squandering what was left of the lengthy man advantage but the game was stopped for some time as Danault was struck in the face after a Tatar shot hit a skate and flew up to surprise him. Danault did not return and it was said after the game that he would require significant oral work. Clearly, some concussion worry has to also be present with the team’s top pivot.
Despite the Coyotes taking control of the action, an errant clearing gave the Habs yet another power play chance for the Habs. Montreal once again failed to even create momentum with the extra man and to make matters worse, Jonathan Drouin was called for interference in the offensive zone in the final moments of the advantage.
The Coyotes were dangerous on their man advantage as Price was forced to make at least five excellent stops. As the Drouin penalty expired, Chiarot was sent to the sin bin for the second time of the night, this one a roughing penalty in front of Price. This penalty kill was short-lived as Carl Soderberg was called for a high stick.
With the teams returned to even strength, Evans beat Raanta once again, but this time saw his shot ring off the post. With three minutes left in the period, Petry once again failed to clear his zone. This left Marco Scandella quite vulnerable in his backcheck. The result was a one-timed shot from Taylor Hall in the slot to tie the game heading into the third period after a second period that saw the Habs outshot 17-3.
Raanta came up huge in the opening minutes of the third period as some strong forechecking by Thompson opened an entire offensive zone shift from himself, Drouin and Artturi Lehkonen. Drouin got the best chance of the sequence, but Raanta was there to keep the game even.
The Habs played a respectable first half to the period despite the line juggling due to the Danault injury. Near the midway point of the period, Kulak broke up a pass to the front of the net and was given one of the most confusing penalties of the season so far (and isn’t that saying so much?). The Habs managed to kill this penalty and continued to work.
Gallagher hit the post only to see the puck come back under Raanta. One more penalty was called with a little more than two minutes to play to Armia for hooking. The fans at the Bell Centre were upset because earlier in the same shift, the officials chose to close their eyes on a blatant too many men that would have been against the Coyotes.
With exactly one minute to play, Jakub Chychrun delivered a laser from the point that went top corner to finally see a power play goal. This one was for the wrong team and at the wrong time of the game. The Coyotes escaped the Bell Centre with two points that the Habs desperately needed.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
The Coyotes first goal was an ugly one for Price but the team also left him high and dry for the entire second period. Things didn’t get much better in the third. Who else can reasonably get the best player than the goaltender when the team is outplayed for 55 minutes of the game?
Stats: 31 saves, 34 shots, .912 save %, 3.04 G.A.A., 59:16 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jake Evans
Evans scored the first goal of the game, hit a post in the second period, and provided the screen for Petry to also hit the post in the second period. All this with some very limited ice time considering the ridiculous amount of penalties called throughout this contest. For a kid making his first steps in the league, Evans has been the best call-up of the season so far.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 1 shot, 1 hit, 7:52 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher played the majority of this game without his centre and still managed to not get in trouble and to score a goal. The heart and soul of the offence was at it again tonight.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 16:59 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Ilya Kovalchuk
Responsible for many scoring chances, Kovalchuk did not produce on this night, but he and Suzuki were dangerous for many shifts throughout this contest.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 4 shots, 2 hits, 21:36 T.O.I.