Monday night was the second game of the qualifying series against the Penguins. I had a gut feeling that the Pens were going to be coming with a vengeance and look to end this game early but the Habs held strong and this was quite an entertaining game despite the final score being a 3-1 loss.
As expected, no lineup changes occurred for either team, although some may have argued in favour of seeing Tristan Jarry in net for the Penguins. In the end, not showing signs of panic was likely a good move by the coaching staff. Overall, the Carey Price show continued in this second game. The blue line wasn’t quite as strong as they were in the first game with the exception of Xavier Ouellet who played slightly better. Up front, the Habs continue to be led by the two kids as Nick Suzuki (who was not as good) and Jesperi Kotkaniemi (who was even better) were the standouts for the Habs.
The opening two minutes saw the Habs control the pace and the puck. As Suzuki’s line faced Sidney Crosby’s for a second shift, Shea Weber got caught which allowed Jason Zucker a partial break that Price was solid in turning away. This led to Joel Armia and Suzuki fanning on some chances in the offensive slot only to see the puck head the other way. In transition, a terrible read by Jeff Petry saw him cover the first man who was already covered by Suzuki which left Crosby alone. Crosby got the pass and scored five-hole on Price.
The goal sent the Habs reeling as the Pens took over the period from that point on. To make things worse, Suzuki and Kotkaniemi got mixed up leading to a too many men penalty. Pittsburgh got some great looks by Malkin and Guentzel on the man advantage while Price was being absolutely mauled by Patric Hornqvist, but Price stood tall to kill the penalty.
The Habs got their own power play to start the second half of the period as Jonathan Drouin drew the hooking minor. The power play looked atrocious until Armia was called for holding halfway through it. Brett Kulak, who had a rough start, made a great move at 4-on-4 which saw him score on his own rebound. Unfortunately, McCann’s stick dislodged the net clearly before the goal. The result was no-goal, but the officials did call Brian Dumoulin for holding which meant a 15-second 4-on-3 that the Habs did not capitalize on. The parade to the box continued as the Habs were called a second time for too many men at the very end of the last penalty. The Habs killed another penalty and ended the period with a one-goal deficit as they continued to hang around despite 14-7 a shot disadvantage.
The second period started with the Pens playing with their line changes to evade Julien’s matchups, something that wasn’t seen yet in this series. The second shift saw Jonathan Drouin make a great pass in the offensive zone but Murray made an awesome save on Armia. This got the Habs going as Artturi Lehkonen got a good scoring chance on the next shift.
The Habs continued to be the better of the two teams in the first half of the period. Kotkaniemi was likely Montreal’s best as he ran a pick play that started a long segment in the offensive zone. The Penguins were so frustrated that Bryan Rust ended up taking a needless penalty for some rough stuff after a whistle. It mattered little as the power play was atrocious as they never even got settled in the offensive zone.
The second half of the game started when Armia took an offensive zone hooking penalty after some hard work from Drouin and Ben Chiarot got the Habs some offensive zone time. Pittsburgh got some massive pressure on the Habs but Price was in fine form as he made three spectacular stops on the sequence to keep the score close.
Four minutes later, Armia inadvertently ran a pick-play on Justin Schultz that was called. The play produced some rough stuff after the whistle which also sent off Weber and Evgeni Malkin. How Zucker got away without evening the calls was a bit odd. With 30 seconds left in the penalty, Byron slashed Rust sending the Pens to a 5-on-3. The Habs killed all the penalties and escaped a completely defensive half period as the shots were 28-12 but the score remained 1-0.
A great jump in from Kulak on the first shift of the third created a 2-on-1 as he passed it across to Tatar that was stoned by Murray. Domi then had a good shift as the Habs started to get going offensively. Most of the first half of the period saw Montreal attack and Pittsburgh defend. The Habs couldn’t score but unlike in the regular season, I thought they did a fairly decent job attacking the centre of the ice and making their efforts look dangerous as Murray had to be sharp.
A bad read by Victor Mete gave the Pens a 2-on-1 to start the final ten minutes but Price remained equal to the task. With 5:19 to play, Kulak and Domi got caught deep which created another 2-on-1. Petry played the sequence indecisively and it left Price in no-man’s land. The result was Zucker putting home the pass into the empty net.
With a little over two minutes to play, Petry made-up for the earlier one as he kept the puck alive in the offensive zone. Artturi Lehkonen then attacked and found Kotkaniemi who was attacking the centre of the ice. Kotkaniemi was stopped but picked up his own rebound to get the score back to within one. However, that’s as close as they would get as Jake Guentzel scored an empty-netter with 10 seconds to go to finish the game.
I’m going to go ahead and end the night with a questioning of the coaching staff. With the Habs attacking with under a minute to play and six attackers, the coaching staff opted to play both Domi and Drouin. The best attacker on the night was Jesperi Kotkaniemi. In the regular season, using this moment to try to get a veteran going is understandable (even if I personally dislike the tactic), but how is Kotkaniemi not the player crashing the net in that moment? In what world do either of Drouin or Domi sniff the ice? Veteran preferences can’t be applied to playoff hockey… it just can’t happen.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
Price once again kept the Habs in the game in the first period. This time, the Habs got going in the second before they got in brutal penalty trouble in that saw Price repeat his heroics as he made several key stops for the Habs to hang around longer than they deserved on this night.
Stats: 35 saves, 37 shots, 2.06 G.A.A., .946 SV%, 58:10 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
In a game that had little worth celebrating, I thought Kotkaniemi’s aggressive play created some of the better scoring chances for the Canadiens. He also made smart decisions to keep himself out of trouble too. He was rewarded for his excellent play as he scored the lone goal with a few moments left in the game. What a huge boost having an improved Kotkaniemi as the third line centre pushing down Domi to the fourth.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 3 hits, 10:21 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Brett Kulak
Kulak wasn’t quite as solid tonight as he was in Game 1. He had a few lapses but he was still very solid and looked more like the Kulak of the 18-19 season. So far, he’s solidified the top-4 and allowed Victor Mete to get some quality time against competition he can handle. He may be in the process of pushing Mete out of Montreal with the impending arrival of Alexander Romanov.
Stats: 0 points, -2, 2 shots, 2 hits, 17:39 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jonathan Drouin
In a perfect world, no way Drouin goes two games without a point and still get an honourable mention. Still, for a player who will likely get lit up in Montreal due to lack of productivity, I thought his compete level was better on this night and I wouldn’t be one to get all over him just yet. That being said, I’m still upset at seeing him on the ice in the final minute. Simply unacceptable from the coaching staff in a playoff game.
Stats: 0 points, -2, 0 shots, 0 hits, 16:00 T.O.I.