Another day, another injury, another blown lead; it’s really not very creative of the Habs to set up their games in this way this season. They hosted the New York Rangers on Thursday night and it was Jonathan Drouin who was once again removed from the lineup with his nagging ankle injury. Emergency recall Charles Hudon was playing with usual Laval linemate Jake Evans on the fourth line. They were joined by Dale Weise which meant that Nick Suzuki lined up with Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia. The remaining lines, as well as the defence pairings, remained the same as earlier in the week.
Carey Price was back in his net for the eleventh consecutive start as he faced Alexandar Georgiev for the Rangers. With a roster that doesn’t change, how can one expect results to change? The Habs went up 2-0 only to completely squander it and lose the game 5-2 once again.
On the first shift of the game, Jeff Petry was sent to the box for delaying the game as he sent the puck over the glass in the defensive zone. The Habs kept the seventh-ranked power play off the board but it set them on their heels.
Luckily, it didn’t last long since the line of the hour got on the ice and reversed the trend. Max Domi was on the ice with Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher because of the expiring penalty. His second attempt at a cross-ice pass to Tatar bounced off Adam Fox and found the unguarded net to open the scoring only three minutes into the game. This got the Habs started as Domi found Paul Byron who forced Georgiev to make a superb glove save to keep the lead from extending.
Only five minutes in, Domi attacked again and this time it resulted in a Rangers penalty and the Habs first man advantage of the night. The Habs were not successful but they attacked well and looked dangerous on the sequence as Domi, Shea Weber, and Hudon seemed to find each other well.
Just before the midway point of the period, it was Suzuki’s turn to get in on the offence as he created some zone time which resulted in another Rangers penalty. The Habs once again failed to capitalize though the Suzuki unit looked dangerous on that occasion. Price wasn’t overly busy in the period, but he made a great stop right after the penalty to preserve the lead heading to the second.
Both teams were really fighting the puck to start the second period as execution was lacking on both sides. This resulted in many broken plays and whistles preventing any rhythm.
With half the game played and both teams still solidly asleep, Joel Armia decided he’d seen enough and he dominated a shift. This got the Habs going as Phillip Danault missed a glorious chance to extend the lead as Georgiev was almost caught out of his net by Gallagher. This sent the Rangers scrambling and soon after, they were caught with too many men on the ice and the Habs got a third power play with eight minutes to play in the period. The result was the same as the Habs did not come close to scoring on the advantage.
The last six minutes of the period were eventful and this started when Suzuki attacked the offensive zone and created some offence. Armia then followed suit and this eventually led to Tomas Tatar extending the Habs lead. With 2:59 to play, Gallagher lured both Rangers defenders to him before he sent Tatar off on a breakaway, Tatar opted fora triple-deke as he pump faked, hit the breaks and then completed his deke to beat Georgiev.
Unfortunately, the Habs opened the door of hope for the Rangers. Shortly after Weise was stopped in all alone, Fox attacked Christian Folin who couldn’t handle the speed coming at him. Fox blindly sent the puck to the front of the net while both Karl Alzner and Jordan Weal looked at Phillip Di Giuseppe in the slot who was allowed to shoot and beat Price making the score 2-1 headed to the third period.
The Habs came out strong and attacked the New York zone but Georgiev came up big early. Despite this strong early play, it was evident that they were fragile. As soon as the Rangers had the puck, the Habs backed off and wouldn’t forecheck. When the team is afraid to use one of their strengths to force hesitation within the minds of the opposition, there is only one possible outcome. The Rangers slowly took over the period as they went unchallenged and gained confidence. With 12:02 to play, Gallagher was sent off for tripping. The Habs killed the penalty, but they were now officially on their heels.
New York finally tied the game a minute later. The tying goal came from Mika Zibanejad who finally scored after being robbed by Price earlier in the period. He was allowed to get a shot on Price from the faceoff after Petry and Brett Kulak backed up all the way into Price, showing way too much respect to the Rangers shooters.
75 seconds later, the Rangers put up the game-winner in a goal that looked identical to Tuesday’s winner. Fox floated a shot from the blue line that found its way through a crowd and surprised Price. This all happened after the team’s fourth line was unable to clear the zone despite many attempts to do so. Veterans Lehkonen and Weise were specifically weak on the play.
Gallagher then took his second offensive zone penalty of the game and the Rangers put the game on ice as Strome tipped home a point shot during the power play. The Habs then pressed and got a few scoring chances before Strome finished the scoring in the empty net.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Tomas Tatar
Two more points for the Habs leading scorer. With 16 games to play, he’s already matched his career-best total and so he’ll get a personal best for the second season in a row. It’s strange to think that some don’t want to extend him.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 4 shots, 20:44 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Max Domi
Domi has really picked up the pace of late and he continued this trend on this night. His speed coupled with the speedy Byron crashing the net opens up space and allow Domi to back up the defender to operate with more space than he’s had for much of this season.
Stats: 1 goal, -2, 3 shots, 16:37 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Joel Armia
The big body presence of Armia is noticeable even on nights where he’s off. On this night, Armia didn’t create enough at even strength but he was a beast on the man advantage. If only they could have capitalized on one of those plays.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 16:45 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Nick Suzuki
Suzuki’s pace has slowed down considerably over the last week, but he continues to create scoring chances when it is smart to do so. The +/- is certainly not where one would like considering his lack of productivity, but a rookie centre will be prone to those nights. If the fan base claims to be ready to support a reset or even a rebuild, we have to assume that Suzuki will have these nights and we have to not jump all over him when he does. Will Julien have the necessary patience?
Stats: 0 points, -2, 4 shots, 1 hit, 15:21 T.O.I.