After a terrible first half of the week, the Habs were looking get back on the right track against the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena on Friday night. After an even first period, the Penguins took over the game in the second. The Habs didn’t find a way to put a comeback together in the third and lost their third straight.
After missing the morning skate, Nate Thompson was good to go for game time, and he played on a line with Artturi Lehkonen and Jake Evans. This pushed Nick Cousins up a line to play with Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin. Carey Price got the start for the first half of a back-to-back situation.
It was a rather uneventful first period for the most part, with scoring chances few and far between. The Canadiens got the game’s first power play chance when Marcus Pettersson hooked Phillip Danault going to the net. After giving up an early breakaway to Brandon Tanev, the Montreal power play put together some decent pressure but could not finish off the chance.
Shortly after the power play, Nick Suzuki had Montreal’s best chance of the period. He accepted a great pass and had the full open net to shoot at, but a Pens defender hooked his stick and did not allow him to release the puck.
Late in the period, Lehkonen got behind the Penguins’ defenders, but his skate bumped into a Pittsburgh player, and he fell to the ice. From one knee he sent a hard shot toward the net, but Tristan Jarry got the blocker out to stop it. The two sides went to the room still tied at zeros.
Early in the second period, Jared McCann had a breakaway but Price made a big stop to keep the game scoreless. Six minutes in, an Ilya Kovalchuk slash gave Pittsburgh their first powerplay chance. Late in the penalty Montreal found themselves with all four players on one side of the ice, leaving Kris Letang wide open to fire the first goal over Price not long after he rang one off the post.
With four minutes left in the period, the Canadiens got their second power play chance when Zach Aston-Reese was called for tripping. The Habs couldn’t control the puck at all with a man up and didn’t register a shot. To make matters worse, just after it expired, Jason Zucker converted on a two-on-one with Sidney Crosby to double the deficit. It was Zucker’s first goal with his new team after being acquired from Minnesota.
With under two minutes to go, Patric Hornqvist slashed Lehkonen’s stick and the Habs got another chance. This time, Tomas Tatar took a pass from Victor Mete and fired it through the legs of Jarry to trim the deficit in half.
The excitement was short-lived for the Habs, as with 17 seconds left, Zucker potted his second of the period, leaving the Habs once again down by two heading into the third.
Just as the third period started, the Habs goal was changed. Gallagher was given credit for the tip-in, with assists going to Tatar and Mete. However, after the game, the goal was changed back to Tatar with Mete and Suzuki getting credit for the helpers.
Needing two goals, the Habs started putting pressure on in the Penguins’ zone. Drouin, Cousins, and Domi had a good shift early in the third but couldn’t find the net. After looking for the ‘perfect play’ too much in the last few games, Montreal started to direct pucks towards the net more often.
With seven minutes to go, after a Crosby crosscheck on Tatar in front of the net went unnoticed, Tatar was called for tripping in the offensive zone. The Habs killed the penalty off, but they found themselves with little time left to find two goals.
With four minutes left a great passing play from Cousins and Domi left Kovalchuk with an open net but he rang it off the post. That was as close as Montreal got to making it close. The Habs pulled Price with 2:40 to go, but they couldn’t get any puck luck and Aston-Reese iced it with an empty-netter.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Victor Mete
Mete was the most active out of all Habs defencemen tonight. He joined the rush whenever he could and tried to make some plays. This was also his first game as a quarterback on the power play, and he set up the goal. Mete has the speed and vision to possibly succeed in this position more in the future.
Stats: 1A, -2, 1 hit, 19:15 TOI
Second Star – Joel Armia
Armia was the Habs’ strongest forward in this one. He was strong on the puck and made it very hard to steal it from him. He almost scored a shorthanded goal in the second period which could have changed the game.
Stats: -1, 2 SOG, 6 hits, 16:24 TOI
Third Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher was one of the few Habs to generate a few scoring chances on the night. Even on the nights that are miserable for his team, Gallagher still puts one hundred percent effort into every shift and battles all night long.
Stats: -1, 6 SOG, 17:10 TOI
Honourable Mention – Tomas Tatar
Along with Gallagher, Tatar had some chances to get Montreal back into the game in the third period. Had he not been cross-checked in front of the net with seven minutes left, he could have scored to bring the Habs back to life.
Stats: 1G, -1, 2 SOG, 2 hits, 16:29 TOI