Finally, for the first time in 140 days, there was a Montreal Canadiens game to watch. After the lengthy shutdown due to the global pandemic, the Habs found themselves playing in an exhibition match with the Toronto Maple Leafs. There were many storylines to watch out for heading into the night, such as defence pairings and forward lines. But the biggest storyline to watch out for was how the pace of the game would look after nearly five months of no hockey.
The Habs played well at five on five, but special teams held them back in this one. With the power play going 0/6 and allowing two shorthanded goals, the Canadiens dropped their tune-up game by a score of 4-2.
For their exhibition game, the Habs lined up in the following way. The top line of Tatar-Danault-Gallagher stayed locked in. Behind them were Drouin-Suzuki-Armia, Byron-Kotkaniemi-Lehkonen and Weise-Domi-Weal. Chiarot and Weber occupied the top pairing, followed by Kulak-Petry and Ouellet-Mete. Because the exhibition rules allowed it, the Habs also had Alex Belzile as the extra forward and Cale Fleury as the extra defenceman. The two goalies were Carey Price and Charlie Lindgren.
The game didn’t get off to an ideal start. Thirty-three seconds into the opening frame, after a bounce out of the offensive zone the Leafs had a two-on-one break and Ilya Mikheyev tapped in a cross-ice pass from John Tavares to open the scoring.
After an exchange of scoring chances, Toronto started putting a bit more pressure on, and eventually, Jordan Weal took a slashing penalty. The power play looked a little bit disorganized for Toronto, and the best chance came from Joel Armia, who came in on a breakaway but had his stick checked at the last second.
Later, Nick Robertson took a holding penalty, and it was the Habs’ turn to have a disorganized and disorderly man advantage. Less than stellar power plays should be expected after such a long layoff, so neither team seemed to be too concerned about it.
The pace started to pick up as both teams started to get their legs under them. Montreal started to level out the play with some especially strong shifts from the top line. Late in the period, Jeff Petry took a hooking penalty, giving Toronto a second chance to start the middle frame.
The Habs were very aggressive on the penalty kill in the second period with the forwards being very aggressive and applying pressure up high. After the penalty expired, Belzile and Jordan Weal set up a give and go play and Belzile had a backhand chance in front that was stopped. Jake Muzzin came in afterwards with an emphatic hit that left Belzile shaken up and ended his night early.
Shortly after that, Brendan Gallagher took a high-sticking penalty to put Toronto right back on the power play. Tavares had a wide-open net early on but Price sprawled out to just get a piece and keep the puck out. The power play went the same way as the other ones for the Leafs, and just a couple minutes later the Habs got another chance when Paul Byron was hooked on his way to the net by Cody Ceci.
The second Habs power play turned out to be very counterproductive. After a turnover at the blue line Price made a nice first save on Kasperi Kapanen, but the rebound kicked right back into the slot and Alex Kerfoot put it in to extend the lead.
Late in the second period, Nick Suzuki made a strong rush towards the net and drew a hooking penalty. While a man up, Suzuki made a great pass across the ice to Max Domi, but it hopped up and hit him in the midsection. Just after the power play expired, Suzuki made another incredible pass through a maze of sticks and skates and it landed right on the stick of Tomas Tatar for the first Canadiens goal. And finally, we got to hear the familiar sound of Montreal’s goal horn and song.
The goal gave the Habs more life and they started to put the pressure on. However, with under a minute left, Kerfoot tipped in a point shot for his second of the night to restore a two-goal lead for his team.
The Canadiens responded again in the first half of the final frame. After a long shift in the Toronto zone, Byron kicked a rebound over to his stick and batted it in to bring the Habs back within one. The fourth line kept the pressure up with another strong shift and ended up drawing a penalty on Justin Holl.
For whatever reason Montreal’s power play just wasn’t in sync at all and a defensive turnover led to another shorthanded goal against, this time by Morgan Rielly. Once again, the Habs were down by two.
With six minutes left, an interference call gave the Habs another power play. This man advantage went much better with some good scoring chances but they couldn’t find the response that they needed. Less than a minute later, Weal was hooked and the Habs got their sixth power play of the night. It was another dud for the Habs, and the game ended with a 4-2 Toronto victory.
All in all, it wasn’t a terrible game for the Habs. At five on five the game was very even. The pace was pretty good, and Price played well in net. The only issue is the special teams, especially the power play (obviously). Claude Julien and the coaching staff will have a few days to look things over and make the necessary adjustments, and hopefully, the Canadiens will be ready to go for the play-in opener on Saturday.
HabsWorld’s Habs Three Stars
First Star- Nick Suzuki
Suzuki looked very strong in this game. He was by far the best playmaker on the ice and he held his own defensively. He will face the toughest test of his young career this weekend as he plays second line centre in a playoff series.
Stats: 1 assist, -1 rating, 3 shots, 7/15 faceoffs, 19:53 TOI
Second Star – Carey Price
Despite the defence being disorganized, Price played well. He was cool and calm in the net and didn’t appear to be rusty. The Canadiens will need Price to be in fine form going into the series against Pittsburgh.
Stats: 4 goals allowed on 23 shots, 4.05 GAA, .826 SVT
Third Star – Max Domi
The fourth line was arguably the best for Montreal. They were forechecking hard and creating problems for the Toronto defence. With Domi playing on the fourth line, he could take advantage of some lighter matchups moving forward.
Stats: 0 points, 0 shots, 2/7 faceoffs, 18:29 TOI
Honourable Mention – Jordan Weal
Weal played well on the fourth line with Domi and Weise, and he was around the net a lot throughout the game. Playing with a centreman like Domi, Weal could have the chance to show a little bit more offensive upside moving forward.
Stats: 0 points, 2 PIMS, 4/6 faceoffs, 16:38 TOI