The Habs welcomed a rare visit from the young Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night as they continued to ice a depleted lineup as a flu virus is ripping through the locker room. The Ducks were a wonderful opponent given the circumstance as they regularly ice a roster that is full of youth.
Star power was present in the crease as Carey Price faced John Gibson. With Shea Weber recently placed on IR, Brett Kulak was paired to Jeff Petry, Marco Scandella was paired with Christian Folin, and Ben Chiarot was paired with game-time decision Victor Mete which meant recent recall Xavier Ouellet watched from the press box. The second recall was Jake Evans and he got to play next to Max Domi and Ilya Kovalchuk since Ryan Poehling was unable to go. The rest of the lineup remained the same as it finished Tuesday’s contest and it was once again good enough to score a 3-2 overtime victory, the Habs eighth in their last eleven contests.
In the opening minute of the game, Price got caught out of his net. Mete accidentally on purpose dislodged the net and was awarded two minutes for his effort in a start to a rough night for young Mete. The league-worst power play hit the post early, but the Habs killed the rest with a few saves from Price that weren’t really too dangerous.
The shift that followed the advantage saw Domi send Evans in alone on a breakaway that Gibson was able to stop. A nice first impression by the kid nonetheless. Overall, the Ducks physical play was too much for the Habs early on as they dominated 9-3 on the shot clock after the first ten minutes of play.
The second half of the period started much better as Ilya Kovalchuk and Mete controlled the puck in the offensive zone. On the next shift, Ryan Getzlaf sent Jakob Silfverberg on a breakaway that was broken up by Chiarot. Really, Anaheim was lucky to get a power play out of the play as Chiarot played it perfectly. Also, the way the NHL is officiated this year, the Habs were lucky it wasn’t called a penalty shot. So, the Ducks ended up with a man advantage, but the best chance of the sequence was a 2-on-1 where Nate Thompson ignored Nick Cousins next to him, went in for the deke unchallenged by the defender blocking the pass, but just couldn’t put it home.
With four minutes left in the period, Nick Ritchie was sent off for interference. The Habs first power play unit didn’t do much, but the second saw Tomas Tatar and Petry play catch until they passed it to Nick Suzuki who used the Brendan Gallagher screen to sneak one through Gibson to open the scoring with a rare home-ice power play marker. The period ended with that same 1-0 score despite the 14-7 shot disadvantage.
The opening minute of the second period saw Suzuki catch Gibson cheating as he opted for the short side shot that hit the outside of the post. The second shift of the period was all Evans as he tipped a Price pass to send in Domi. Later in the same shift, he was in front of the net and almost got his stick on a rebound to extend the lead.
Getzlaf would get another penalty only this time the Habs man advantage was completely ineffective. At the midway point of the period, Mete’s rough night continued as he was guilty of two consecutive turnovers. As the Ducks attacked again, Chiarot was guilty of the third soft play. This one resulted in Rickard Rakell skating deep into the offensive zone, Mete covering air, and Rakell finding Silfverberg for a one-timer from the slot to tie the game.
Suzuki responded to the goal on the next shift by pulling off some monster dekes on a few Ducks defenders, though he still was unable to solve Gibson. Three minutes later, Kovalchuk skated down the offensive zone and hypnotized everyone with his stickhandling. This allowed Gallagher to skate into the slot and one-time home a perfect pass to regain the lead.
Anaheim pushed back as they completely dominated the next four minutes of play as the Habs were guilty of numerous soft plays in their defensive zone. They would get away from the situation unscathed and the tide would turn with a Sam Steel penalty with under four minutes to play. The Habs power play could not take advantage but they went back to the locker room up 2-1 despite the 25-17 shot discrepancy.
The play to start the third was tentative on both sides. Puck luck, as it has been all season, kicked the Habs in the face as a bouncing puck saw players from both teams skate by it. Scandella was perhaps a little soft on the play but really, the puck bounced everywhere, and Derek Grant jumped on it as he beat Folin to the loose puck to surprise Price and tie the game.
The tie score against an out of conference opponent meant that both teams became ultra conservative in the third. With twelve minutes to play, Ritchie was guilty of an offensive zone infraction that opened the door for the Habs. Tatar hit the post early on the man advantage before Armia was absolutely robbed by Gibson from the slot with a glove save.
With eight minutes to play, Josh Manson tripped Joel Armia to give the Habs yet another power play. The sequence saw much time spent with offensive zone puck possession for the Habs, but they were never able to translate that into dangerous scoring chances.
The next three minutes saw the Ducks attack the Montreal zone. However, with the game tied, neither team really took the risk to go for it as the extra point was interesting to both teams. With only 90 seconds to play, a Petry brain fart provided a chance for Silfverberg who was stopped by a Price pad-stack. This mentality on both sides brought the game to overtime. The overtime was short-lived since Petry ended the game only 25 seconds in. With Suzuki crashing the net, Petry skated the puck from the defensive end to the offensive zone where he cut in slightly before firing a shot into the far-side top corner to end the game. An important win considering losses by the Flyers and Panthers.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Nick Suzuki
What’s most impressive about the season Suzuki is putting together is not just that he is Montreal’s most offensively dangerous forward, it’s that he’s finding different ways of being that forward with such regularity. He’s scored roughly 1/3 of his points on the power play, an aspect of the offence that was a giant question mark coming into the season. He uses his brain, such as when he almost caught Gibson cheating to start the second period. And if all else fails he’ll simply use his hands and skill like when he sent Hampus Lindholm’s jock into the stands figuratively on the shift that followed the Ducks first goal. What is next for this young man, the sky appears to be the limit.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 1 hit, 16:00 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Speaking of players who are regular on every shift, every game, here is Gallagher. Mr. Consistent is there in all the dirty areas, taking hits, cross-checks, punches, and slashes to make the plays that earn the team some goals. He’s taken injuries for being there and yet there is never any questioning from a coach, opponent, or fan in regards to where it is one will find Gallagher on the ice. No difference in this one as he was a screen on the first goal and in the low slot for the second goal for the Habs.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 1 hit, 18:49 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jake Evans
What an interesting first game for the former seventh-round pick of the organization. He got a breakaway on his first shift, made some extremely intelligent plays all night long, and yet he did not manage to ink the scoresheet so one has to wonder what is in store for him. It was a solid effort, but many regulars are nearing a return. I, for one, would like to see him display this type of intelligence against the Leafs on Saturday. This is a telling feeling considering the number of debuts that have left me completely uninterested so far this season.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 2 shots, 2 hits, 11:19 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Ilya Kovalchuk
Another night, another point for the 36-year-old winger. His competitive spirit for loose puck continues to amaze, his ability to be at the right spot is important, and his ability to snipe when necessary is why many believe the answer is to keep this player next season. Watching Kovalchuk communicate with Evans all night is another major eye-opener and point for the fans who want to see him stick around. Recent rumours suggesting that the Habs wouldn’t get more than a fourth-round pick places this writer firmly in the “extend Kovalchuk” camp.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 1 hits, 17:53 T.O.I.