After Monday’s trade deadline, the remaining players took to the ice on Tuesday as they hosted the Vancouver Canucks, a team with actual postseason aspirations in 2020.
Carey Price started yet again, this time facing off with Thatcher Demko. The departure of veterans didn’t affect the blue line so the same defensive pairings as Saturday were once again deployed. Up front, Phillip Danault’s line remained the team’s top trio while Nick Suzuki’s line also remained together. Jordan Weal drew the third line assignment replacing Ilya Kovalchuk next to Max Domi and Paul Byron while the fourth line had a fresh look as Jake Evans pivoted Artturi Lehkonen and Dale Weise. These changes brought some early hope for the Habs, but the team still hasn’t figured out how to protect leads as they blew two more in a 4-3 overtime loss to Vancouver.
The opening eight minutes of the game belonged to the Habs which perhaps set off the hockey gods because the play that really started the dominance was a cross-check to Quinn Hughes by Max Domi that likely deserved two minutes in the box. Instead, the Habs got some early pressure and momentum to start the game.
Six minutes into the contest, a strong defensive zone play by Byron sent Domi to the races as he got by Hughes and threw a blind pass to the slot that found Byron who quickly tipped it home for a 1-0 lead.
Two minutes later, Both Tomas Tatar and Shea Weber were given way too much time to execute plays in the offensive zone. The result of this was Weber teeing up from the point after two pump fakes went unchallenged. He unloaded through a screen to extend the lead.
Vancouver coach Travis Green had seen enough. He called his timeout and ripped into his bench. The Habs got two more chances after the break, but then a brutal defensive zone turnover by Danault right at the ten-minute mark changed everything. Suddenly, Montreal was unable to get out of their zone or complete a pass.
With 4:09 to play, Weber was called for slashing and Vancouver’s excellent power play wasted little time. Horvat one-timed home a J.T. Miller pass only six seconds into the man advantage to cut the lead in half after one period of play.
Vancouver came out strong and completely dominated the opening five minutes of play in the second period. The Habs held on until the Danault line got the team going. After a strong shift reversed momentum, the next two shifts were also spent in the Vancouver zone which resulted in an Alex Edler holding penalty. The Habs power play was nowhere near as efficient as Vancouver’s; they squandered it and allowed the Canucks to hang around. The power play was so bad that both teams completely fell asleep and offered nothing of interest in the three minutes that followed it.
Well into the second half of a boring period, the Canucks tied the contest. With 4:24 to play, Christian Folin played a pass up in the defensive zone with nowhere near enough strength. The soft toss up the board was intercepted by Edler who looked up and saw four players in front of the net. He sent a wrist shot toward the net and Folin compounded his effort by screening Price at the last minute while checking no one as the puck floated by everyone to tie the score.
After spending the opening 40 seconds of the third period in the defensive zone, Domi and Weal made it to the offensive zone. Weal carried it in and pinballed a puck off a defender to Domi who returned the favour as the Canucks lamented their puck luck as Weal found himself in the slot alone to beat Demko and give the Habs a one-goal lead. Domi’s next shift saw him pair up with Petry to force Demko to make his best saves of the night.
With 15 minutes to play, Folin was guilty of a stupid hit that earned him two minutes for boarding. Once again, the lethal Vancouver power play made its presence felt. The Habs kept them off the board for 90 seconds until Jake Virtanen shot beat Price with a relatively weak shot over the shoulder to tie the game.
For two teams who are in the thick of playoff races, or at least the Habs are claiming to still believe in the fallacy, with the score tied against an out of conference opponent, the last ten minutes saw both goaltenders freeze every puck they could. The game’s tempo disappeared and both teams played cautious and tentative hockey that as boring as can be to watch. Jay Beagle had a great chance with five minutes left but missed an empty net and the game went to overtime.
The overtime was a disaster for Montreal. The period lasted 1:35 and Domi, Byron, and Petry never got off the ice. After a first Vancouver scoring chance, Domi saw a streaking Byron for a breakaway but his clearing attempt toward Byron was intercepted and forced Price to make a great save.
As they tried to break out again, Petry held on to the puck a bit too long and coughed it up which resulted in another Vancouver scoring chance. Finally, Domi ran into Petry preventing the clearing of the puck for a third time and this one was costly as Bo Horvat played a give-and-go with Tyler Toffoli with the latter finishing the passing play for the game-winner.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Max Domi
Domi has been reborn with the presence of Paul Byron on his wing. Even the presence of Weal on their line wouldn’t slow them down. Domi was fast and offensively dangerous all night while staying away from the chirping and other antics that take him off his game a little too often. He was also found in the physical areas on the ice all night long, not something he is willing to do every night, something he is willing to do every night he finds success.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 5 shots, 1 hit, 18:14 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Paul Byron
There is the Paul Byron the Canadiens were hoping to see to start the season. In what will ultimately amount to a season almost entirely lost to injury, Byron playing a strong last stretch will go a long way to settle down a fan base that hasn’t seen how effective this player can be when in the lineup. These last two games have been important with him finding some chemistry with Domi.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 2 hits, 16:20 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jake Evans
In his return to the NHL, Evans saw himself holding a far different role than he did in his first stint. He was often in the right place on the ice to create a few scoring chances or to stop a few odd-man rushes against. It wasn’t sexy, but not much was about this game, so Evans’ efficiency was noticeable in such a low-event hockey game.
Stats: 4 hits, 0 (+/-), 9:59 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Karl Alzner
For a player that was done and unable to play in the league anymore, he’s looked considerably better than Christian Folin thus far. Now, two games are a ridiculously small sample size but let’s give Alzner his props for being an incredible soldier for the Habs and Rocket over the last season and change. He’s earned this recall and he’s showing that he was ready for it in his first two games.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 1 shot, 15:21 T.O.I.