The night started with a ceremony to honour the recently deceased Henri Richard. The Pocket Rocket’s ceremony was well done as the Habs spotlighted the 11 championship banners he helped procure along with his jersey in the rafters. The video was of the usual quality that only the Canadiens produce in all of sport. Despite this homage, the Habs were no match for the visiting Nashville Predators on Tuesday night as the playoff implications for the visitors trumped the emotional lift for the home squad. The Predators were never really challenged by the Habs as they skated to a relatively easy 4-2 victory even though Montreal made it interesting in the third period.
Coming off generating little in their Florida swing, coach Claude Julien tried some new combinations to get the team going. Paul Byron joined Phillip Danault and Joel Armia on the top line as Charles Hudon got a good look next to Max Domi and Brendan Gallagher on the second. Artturi Lehkonen, Nick Suzuki, and Jordan Weal composed the third unit and the fourth stayed unchanged along with the defensive pairings. In the creases, Carey Price was dueling Juuse Saros.
The opening minute was a sign of things to come for the Canadiens as Brett Kulak was picked off in his own zone before the Preds found a gaping seam up the middle between Kulak and partner Jeff Petry only to be bailed out by Price. Before the opening minute was expired, Ben Chiarot was sent to the box for holding. The Habs were able to kill the penalty, though mostly thanks to the brilliance of Price. The Preds continued to dominate play until Xavier Ouellet was called for hooking which had steam coming out of Julien’s ears.
The Habs were able to kill a second power play as Byron’s intense forecheck created the sequence’s best scoring chance for Armia. The second half of the period saw Hudon deke Mattias Ekholm for the Habs best scoring chance of the period before the rest of the period went by with little to no event to report. The teams did exchange scoring chances but both Price and Saros were up to the task leaving the teams scoreless though the shot clock read 13-7 in favour of the Preds.
The start of the second period was a disaster. The Predators opened the scoring in the first minute. After Price pushed back two scoring chances, a pass to the slot gave Ryan Johansen a ton of time to pick his corner to score.
Only two minutes later, a defensive zone faceoff assignment was completely missed by a handful of Laval Rocket regulars. Jake Evans lost the draw cleanly and that mistake was compounded when Ouellet, Lukas Vejdemo, and Dale Weise were all standing still. The result was a quick unchallenged wrist shot by Calle Jarnkrok which surprised Price to extend the lead.
Five minutes into the period, Filip Forsberg sent the Habs on their first power play of the night. The Habs did not score though they got some good looks, especially the second unit as Chiarot and Hudon completed good work to open some shooting lanes.
The scoring onslaught continued just before the midway point of the period. Armia took a tripping penalty with 12 minutes to play. The Predators scored on their third advantage as Lehkonen and Evans gave Forsberg way too much space as he too picked his corner on Price.
After Lehkonen and Vejdemo missed on some scoring chances, a point shot from Ryan Ellis was blocked but bounced right to Forsberg who quickly put it home for his second of the night with four minutes to play in the second. The last four minutes saw Gallagher get stopped by Saros on a one-timer before Armia took a penalty that was matched by Ellis’ penalty before the end of the period.
The Habs started the third with a little more than a minute on the power play. While they didn’t score, it set the tone for the third period. Three minutes into the period, some offensively creative plays by Suzuki and Weal eventually led to a Ouellet point shot that missed the net. The rebound found Lehkonen at the goalmouth who tucked it home to break Saros’ shutout. The goal gave the Habs some legs as they attacked. Nashville was content to defend their lead and keep the Habs to the perimeter.
Just before the midway point of the period, Evans completed some excellent board play in the offensive zone. He won his battle and passed it to Weise who made a savvy pass to the low slot where Vejdemo quickly beat Saros for his first NHL goal.
The goal was enough for Preds coach Hynes to call a timeout to wake up his stunned team. The Predators continued to play nervously and the Habs attacked. However, the Preds shut down the middle of the ice and the Canadiens simply were not fighting hard enough to gain that space on the ice. The Habs pulled Price for the last two minutes without success as they lost yet another game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
Price let in four goals which makes his presence here a little strange. Frankly, Price was solid in the first otherwise it would have been 8-0 after two periods. The Habs were simply no match for the Predators but Price kept his team in the game longer than they deserved to be.
Stats: 32 saves, 36 shots, 4.14 G.A.A., .886 save %, 58:02 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Lukas Vejdemo
In a lost season that has seen very little to celebrate, let’s elevate the first NHL goal to the second star on the night. Honestly, after the entire line was terrible on the second Predators goal, they were likely the most regular line to get offensive time as they worked their butts off to make up for the mistake. For young Vejdemo to be rewarded like that after the mistake and the effort to erase said mistake is a little positive karma.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 2 shots, 2 hits, 8:15 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Nick Suzuki
If Suzuki has “hit a wall”, perhaps playing him with offensive black holes Weal and Lehkonen is not the answer to help a young centre. The proof is on the man advantage where Suzuki continues to be offensively dangerous when surrounded by talented players. Perhaps a team that is struggling to score could use some offensive imagination to get a few guys going? Ironically enough, his assist on the night was scored on a Lehkonen goal, but the point is more that it was approximately the fourth or fifth chance created by Suzuki on the night before a linemate could finally put one on the board.
Stats: 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 2 hits, 16:26 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Xavier Ouellet
Allow me to preface this point by stating openly that I am not a fan of Victor Mete and that I don’t think Mete is an NHL level defender. Now, I’ve been more interested in Ouellet’s play in his short stint this season than Mete’s entire season. Sure, Mete can rush the puck, but Ouellet is capable of protecting the centre of the ice and he still makes a solid first pass. While one would hope that neither will be part of the starting six defender next season, Ouellet has shown enough in my eyes for Mete to become expendable this summer.
Stats: 1 assist, -1, 1 shot, 4 hits, 16:11 T.O.I.
Following the game, Vejdemo was sent down to Laval which suggests that Jonathan Drouin will be ready to return on Thursday night.