The 2-0-1 Habs were in Vancouver to kick off a series of three games in four nights against the 1-3-0 Canucks that promised to expose both fan bases to all the pros and cons of this new scheduling format. For this first match, the Habs opted to return to Carey Price while keeping the rest of the lineup intact. Price found a familiar opponent in the newly acquired Braden Holtby for the Canucks. The game was rather sloppy from both teams as the puck bounced everywhere and the decisions away from the puck weren’t much better. In this offensive festival, the Habs finally gave up the second point, though they did it in the shootout, securing an important point in the 6-5 loss.
The first period started with a sign of things to come as Tomas Tatar took a rather dumb hooking penalty in trying to ease the team’s breakout. Luckily for him, the penalty kill continued its stellar play as the best chance of the sequence came from Joel Armia’s stick. With 17:15 to play, a Vancouver goal was called back as Brandon Sutter had tipped it home from over Jake Evans’ head. Play settled down until the midway point of the period when the Canucks really took over. After a minute of puck control in the offensive zone for the Canucks, Ben Chiarot took a holding penalty to end the sequence.
The second half of the period started with a 23-second power play for Vancouver as that’s how much time it took for J.T. Miller to find Bo Horvat to managed to squeeze one through Price for a rare Habs deficit in this early season.
Montreal’s reaction to being behind in a game was not good. A bad pinch by Chiarot gave up a 2-on-1 a minute later. A few moments later, it was Jeff Petry who fell asleep on coverage that allowed an Elias Pettersson breakaway. Petterson tried the between-the-legs move but Price had none of it. Then a bad Alexander Romanov pinch created a 3-on-1 that Brett Kulak played perfectly. Finally, Josh Anderson was called for roughing as he sent Hughes flying after the whistle, but Evans stepped up with some good minutes to ensure the kill to end the period.
The second period offered a barrage of scoring, but also some sloppy play with the puck and some absolutely terrible decisions made away from the puck. 1:35 into the period, Travis Hamonic left his position because Armia was being physical with Hughes. This allowed Jesperi Kotkaniemi to get out of the pile with the puck and he rifled a pass to Tyler Toffoli who skated in a powered a cannon shot by Holtby to tie the game.
Less than three minutes later, Petry found himself the fourth man on a rush. He received the puck and fired a mile wide which created a 2-on-1 the other way. Joel Edmundson played it well, but Tyler Motte fooled Price with a low shot to restore the lead.
Antoine Roussel was then given a cheap penalty. Nick Suzuki, Petry, and Shea Weber fumbled the puck through the first 30 seconds of the power play, but Suzuki got one good look and he feathered an awesome pass for a Toffoli tap-in.
The second half of the period started with another penalty. This time it was Kotkaniemi getting tripped twice on a shift without a call that resulted in him saying something to the official and earning himself a minor penalty. The Canucks made him pay as Brock Boeser put home a rebound with an off-speed shot that fooled Price.
The Canucks defence then went to sleep, which was strange considering the lead. Paul Byron hit the post after a nice Evans pass on a 2-on1. Habs got another odd-man rush, but Brendan Gallagher opted for the shot and he also hit iron. Then the officials’ rough night continued as Kulak was called on a ghost holding but the Habs killed this one. With 1:31 left in the period, a brilliant play by Danault in the neutral zone sent in Tomas Tatar streaking. He slipped a cross-ice pass to Gallagher who scored to tie the game.
Suzuki started the third period with a sick pass to Petry but the puck skipped over his stick at the last second. A few moments later, Anderson cleared the puck over the glass to send the Canucks back to the man advantage. The Canucks ran the same play as they did in the first period to Horvat and it worked again as the Canucks once again restored the lead.
It was strange to watch Petry and Danault allow a play to happen that had already cost them in this game. Kotkaniemi had a whale of a shift a few moments later as he rushed up the ice, attempted a centring pass to Toffoli that bounced right back to his stick where he used his heavy shot to beat Holtby and tie the game once again.
With a little over three minutes to play, Toffoli tipped home a Petry point shot for the first Habs lead of the night and the hat trick for the former Canuck. Unfortunately for the Habs, the lead was short-lived as 32 seconds later, Boeser was left alone in the slot by Suzuki and the former scored his second of the night which meant overtime.
The overtime was all over the ice as it truly felt like a fan could not breathe for five minutes. Ultimately, both teams missed their chances and a shootout was required. After Miller and Suzuki scored, the fourth round saw Horvat score and Toffoli fire one off the iron to end the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Tyler Toffoli
Toffoli was getting his chances and like many scorers in the league, when his first with his new team happened, the flood gates opened. Author of a hat trick, Toffoli kept the Habs alive all night long and he may not always put it in, but watching him score with a rocket shot, on the power play, and then on the tip-in shows that this player is not a one-trick pony so if he starts firing and this team has three dangerous lines, the rest of the division better be collectively “gulping” at what this team could mean come playoff time.
Stats: 3 goals, +2, 5 shots, 14:10 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Phillip Danault
Consistency, reliability, and some offensive play from time to time. Danault is off to a strong start after a suspect first game against the Leafs. This game was no different as he committed few errors in a game where both teams really fumbled the pucks all over the ice. The icing on the cake was the floating pass to Tatar to set up the third Montreal goal. Great game by him on this night.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 3 hits, 17:01 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Kotkaniemi had a great game where the puck seemed to follow him all over the ice. I gave the nudge to Danault over him because he seems to really cost the team the few times he does make boneheaded plays. An example of this was flagrant when he earned himself an unsportsmanlike penalty 200-feet from his net. He made up for it in a big way with his pass to Toffoli in the second and his rocket shot in the third. He was also quite dangerous on his OT shift, so good news to see the third line getting on the board and contributing offensively.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 2 shots, 2 hits, 13:20 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Nick Suzuki
Most of what I’m about to say about Suzuki also applied to Petry on this night. Suzuki, away from the puck in this one, was not very good. He made bad reads, turned away from the puck a few times, and got sucked into the puck a few times which made him lose coverage. He gets an honourable mention here because even on a night when his mind is maybe not as sharp as it usually is, he still managed to limit the opposition’s chances to score with him on the ice, and he was still able to be an absolute magician with the puck on his stick. How many sophomores would mentally crumble in that moment? Not Suzuki, he keet even-keeled and made gigantic plays in overtime and the shootout. He showed a maturity to his game that was light years ahead of his actual experience in the league on this night.
Stats: 1 assist, -1, 4 shots, 2 hits, 18:21 T.O.I.