After a lengthy road trip to the season, the Habs kicked off the home portion of their 2020-21 season on Thursday night against Calgary. Special teams proved to be key for Montreal as three of their four goals weren’t scored at five-on-five and that was the difference in a 4-2 win.
While Joel Armia has been skating lightly since suffering his concussion, he wasn’t available to play in this one so as a result, Corey Perry was once again recalled from the taxi squad and played on the third line again with Tyler Toffoli and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. There were no lineup changes from their victory on Saturday night.
Calgary got the first good chance of the game when Alexander Romanov wasn’t able to get a stick in front of the puck as Andrew Mangiapane got a dangerous shot off that Carey Price got a piece of. Going the other way, Joel Edmundson rang one off the post. On his next shift, Edmundson hit the net with a strong one-timer but David Rittich made the stop.
Not long after, Nick Suzuki had a two-on-one developing but he wasn’t able to settle the puck down to make the proper pass across so the play didn’t materialize. Things settled down for a few minutes after that before Juuso Valimaki was sent off for hooking.
On the power play, the first unit did absolutely nothing, spending more time going back to get the puck than actually handling it in the offensive end. However, the second unit fared better. They were able to get established in Calgary’s end and Romanov fed a pass from the point to Perry at the side of the goal. Rather than trying a stuff play, Perry quickly flipped a pass to the top of the crease where a charging Brendan Gallagher out-raced Mark Giordano to tap it into the net to open up the scoring.
Roughly four minutes later, Elias Lindholm had an eventful shift. He first made a nice defensive play to break up a Montreal zone entry before missing the net on a dangerous one-timer off a feed from Josh Leivo. Lindholm then capped it off with a hooking penalty, sending the Habs back to the man advantage.
This time, the second unit got the first opportunity and, like the first unit did in the early stage of the first power play, they did nothing with it. However, once the top group got on, they got set up in the Calgary end. Jeff Petry and Shea Weber passed it around at the point before Weber got a pass he could one-time. His shot was going wide but it hit Valimaki’s stick along the ice and redirected it past Rittich to double Montreal’s lead.
Not long after, Calgary had another good chance when Johnny Gaudreau rang one off the crossbar off the rush. The Flames had some pressure in Montreal’s end towards the end of the period but weren’t able to get on the board. While it was a fairly evenly-played period, the Canadiens went to the room with a 2-0 lead with the visitors holding a one-shot advantage at 9-8.
Josh Anderson had the first good chance of the second period. After feeding Jonathan Drouin on the wing, he hustled down the middle and got some separation as he drove the net. Drouin fed the puck through but Giordano got a stick on it to break up the play. That was a sign of things to come for the next several minutes as both the Flames and Canadiens had some developing chances that looked dangerous but really amounted to very little as many of the shot opportunities didn’t get through if they were able to get one off at all.
A little past the eight-minute mark, Jesperi Kotkaniemi broke in with Anderson on a two-on-one. He opted to keep the puck and take the shot, a decision that proved to be the right one. While his initial opportunity was stopped, the rebound went to Anderson who batted the puck into the net on a play that was reminiscent of his last goal against Vancouver. That seemed to buoy Montreal as they had several strong shifts after the goal.
Just before the 13-minute mark, Shea Weber took a puck off the helmet. On the next shift, Gaudreau had another dangerous shot off the rush. It was a slapshot this time, one that was stopped by Price. Four minutes later, Drouin was high-sticked but no call was made. It didn’t deter him though as he hustled by Calgary’s defencemen to set up Romanov for a golden opportunity; he got the puck at the point and had plenty of room to skate in and get the shot off but it hit Rittich’s mask.
Calgary’s power play got an opportunity late in the frame when Paul Byron was called for interference but Montreal’s penalty kill unit struck again. After Tyler Toffoli had a steal, he left it for Suzuki who alley-ooped it for Toffoli who tried to chase the puck down. He didn’t exactly corral it in the most efficient fashion but it worked as he was able to stuff it five-hole on Rittich to make it 4-0 and give Montreal their fifth shorthanded goal in seven games. That tied them for the league record for the fewest number of games needed to reach five shorthanded markers.
Milan Lucic then took an iffy roughing penalty to negate the rest of their man advantage. The shots on goal after 40 minutes were 11-7 for the Habs. The first period had just 10 faceoffs but this one was a lot slower with a total of 25 draws.
Montreal’s power play on the back end of the four-on-four was relatively quiet to start the third. Calgary got a man advantage soon after when Romanov was called for playing without a helmet and their power play was even quieter.
Both teams were content to play things out for a while but a Ben Chiarot high stick (and subsequent shots) on Matthew Tkachuk led to a quick fight which ratcheted up the physicality down the stretch. The Flames had the man advantage off of the high stick and it was a good one in terms of possession and shot attempts but Price shut the door.
He made a couple of nice shots off Joakim Nordstrom and Lindholm with about five minutes left, then got some luck two minutes later when former Hab Nikita Nesterov hit the post twice in as many seconds. It looked like he was going to get the shutout until Milan Lucic redirected Sam Bennett’s point shot past Price with 1:18 left. Claude Julien challenged for offside – it was quite close – but the call stood as Derek Ryan dragged his foot just enough.
That gave the Flames another man advantage. Tkachuk took a run at Evans at centre ice but the centre was able to dodge the hit. Shortly after that, Rasmus Andersson squeaked one past Price to make it 4-2 but that’s as close as they got.
Price made 23 saves for the win while Rittich turned aside just 17 of 21 shots (the Habs had all of two in the third period) in the loss. Both teams had some success with the power play with Montreal going 2/3 and Calgary 1/4.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Jonathan Drouin – He didn’t exactly have a shooters mentality in this one (he didn’t attempt a single shot) but he made several strong passes to set up either scoring chances or goals. Drouin also had some pep in his step and made some hustle plays, things that we don’t always see from him. It wasn’t a flashy game from him but he was quite effective.
Stats: 2 assists, +1 rating, 14:32 TOI
2nd Star: Jesperi Kotkaniemi – His line continued to do well although oddly enough, one of his points came on a shift where he was flanked by Suzuki’s wingers. He made the right read to shoot and Anderson took it from there. Kotkaniemi was also strong at the faceoff dot which is something he has shown some improvement on in the early going this season.
Stats: 2 assists, +1 rating, 1 shot, 8/11 faceoffs, 13:07 TOI
3rd Star: Tyler Toffoli – He wasn’t as noticeable as he was against Vancouver although to be fair, that’s a high bar to clear. He was still quite effective and his shorthanded goal largely took the wind out of Calgary’s sails. Considering how the last two minutes went, it also wound up being a little more important than originally thought.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 3 shots, 14:05 TOI
Honourable Mention: Nick Suzuki – Who made the perfect pass to set up Toffoli’s goal? Suzuki, who extended his season-long point streak along the way. We’ve seen more dangerous games from him but his line did well. Unlike Kotkaniemi though, he struggled considerably at the dot.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 1 shot, 1 block, 3/14 faceoffs, 17:54 TOI