After two very encouraging games, the Habs remained on the road but faced a formidable opponent in Tampa Bay Thursday night. To make things even more precarious, the injury bug was at it again as Tomas Tatar was not dressed due to the upper-body injury he suffered on Tuesday and Brendan Gallagher was sidelined with the flu. This mattered little though as the Habs kept up in terms of scoring chances, but they sorely lacked the talent to make the most of them. The Lightning capitalized on their scoring chances while the Habs missed theirs as they lost 4-0 in a game that was never really in doubt.
The injuries mentioned meant that Claude Julien had to shuffle the lines as Artturi Lehkonen joined Phillip Danault on the team’s top line that saw a rotation on the other wing. The second trio saw Joel Armia with Nick Suzuki and Charles Hudon. Max Domi played with Jordan Weal and Paul Byron as the team’s hottest line. The final line featured Jake Evans centring Dale Weise and recent recall Lukas Vejdemo. This meant that the team was carrying seven defenders as Karl Alzner, Xavier Ouellet, and Christian Folin all shared time on the team’s third pairing. As expected, Carey Price was back in net and faced Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The hope of seeing the Habs keep up with the Lightning was quickly dashed in this one as Victor Hedman was allowed to walk in and fire a shot from the slot that Price would probably like a second look at. Coverage confusion between Lehkonen and Danault led to the goal which came only 49 seconds into the game.
Five minutes into the period, Zach Bogosian took many liberties on Weal before he was finally called for interference. The occasion was completely squandered as Armia missed a breakaway before the second unit could not even get possession in the offensive zone.
With the penalty expired, the Lightning came in waves at the Habs until they finally extended their lead with 7:20 to play as Jeff Petry got caught on a terrible pinch which led to a 2-on-1 where Anthony Cirelli found Alex Killorn who beat Price high.
Armia was stoned twice by Vasilevskiy as the winger was counted on a bit more on this night but couldn’t finish on the scoring chances that were opened for him as the first period ended with what really looked like an insurmountable lead given the circumstance.
Frankly, I’m not sure the Habs even had an extended shift in the offensive zone in the first half of the second period. If the shots remained close, it’s because Tampa was waiting for good scoring chances to shoot whereas the Habs were shooting from just about anywhere once they got into the offensive zone.
The Habs appeared positively lost looking for a spark plug with their usual leader sidelined (Gallagher). When they did get a decent scoring chance, they appeared to lack the necessary confidence to put it on net with all the strength needed to score. It was a strange first half to the period that saw the Habs mostly defend their territory as the Lightning skated around the zone.
One of the things that was noticeable since the start of the game was that the Lightning game plan focused as Suzuki as the offensive threat for Montreal. They really tried to play the kid physically all night long and it opened up some space for Armia and Hudon.
The Habs got going for the last segment of the period and this started when Evans was sent in alone, but Kevin Shattenkirk took a penalty to negate the chance. The power play looked dangerous but the Habs were not able to get on the board.
In the final minute of the period, Kucherov beat Ben Chiarot to the front of the net to tip home a pass to make it 3-0 heading to the third. Fireworks ended the period as Chiarot tried to ignite the team as he took exception to Barclay Goodrow going after Armia as the siren sounded to end the frame. As this was being broken up, Mikhail Sergachev delivered a slash on Suzuki which set off Shea Weber as the two big defenders dropped the mitts.
The result of the melee to end the second was that the Lightning started the third on the man advantage with both Chiarot and Weber sitting in the penalty box. Surprisingly, the Habs handled the situation exceptionally well as the Lightning could barely get into the offensive zone. The Lightning did get going after the power play though as most of the opening five minutes were spent in the Habs defensive zone.
The Canadiens got into the offensive zone much more in the final ten minutes of the game, but both teams appeared to have accepted the fate of this contest as the Habs were nowhere near aggressive enough to get to the middle of the ice and the Lightning were passive in allowing Montreal to skate around the perimeter of their defensive zone. Really, both teams were content to go through the motions and let this game end.
With both teams so passive, Erik Cernak took a bone-headed penalty with a play that was called interference but could have been kneeing if it was a faster opponent than Dale Weise. The power play had the potential to make it interesting with a little over four minutes to play, but even though the Habs looked good on it, they never scored.
Chiarot’s fuse expired yet again with two minutes to play as he took a late hit by Blake Coleman and immediately dropped the gloves and went after Coleman. The resulting Tampa power play put the nail in the coffin as Hedman scored on a one-timer with 1:03 to play to end the scoring for the night.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Ben Chiarot
Too often overlooked, this lacklustre performance from the team gives me the chance to highlight one of the very few bright spots for the Habs this season. The addition of Chiarot is a significant one as it means that the team can be very patient with young Alexander Romanov if they could somehow replace Brett Kulak with a legitimate LHD option for the top-4 over the summer. Without Chiarot, the Habs are looking for two which seems unlikely and puts much pressure on what should be a season with tamed expectations for young Romanov. Once again tonight, Chiarot was an absolute workhorse that also played tough enough to keep the Lightning honest around Price’s net.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 1 shot, 4 hits, 19:22 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Joel Armia
The best of the forwards on this night, Armia was relied upon heavily on this night and was unable to score on many chances in the first. This is what Armia is all about. He’s a big physical player that protects the puck so well and is rarely out of position. He still manages to leave most fans wanting more because he misses so many scoring chances. So is the life of a middle-six forward who holds the potential for more in today’s NHL.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 18:45 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jeff Petry
With Petry, what you see is what you get. He holds the ability to break out of the zone in a hurry with his skating or his passing, he’s dangerous when he joins the rush, but he’s also guilty of many giveaways and lapses in defensive zone coverages. Watching him through the years, it’s clear that his ratio of good plays to bad plays has improved tremendously. He was pretty on point on this night
Stats: 0 points, -2, 3 shots, 23:30 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Charles Hudon
In the first real occasion for Hudon being in a scoring position for the big club, he was guilty of looking for the pass a little too much for my taste. That being said, as teams focus on Gallagher and Domi more than Suzuki, the young pivot might be able to handle the puck more and that’s what we need to see, Hudon in the role of being the shooter. I don’t think he’s a permanent fixture on the NHL club, but maybe he can be serviceable to end the season and earn a chance elsewhere next year.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 1 hit, 17:14 T.O.I.