After a couple of practice days to start the week, the Habs were back at it on Wednesday night as they hosted Toronto. While many were expecting a high-scoring affair, it was a tight-checking affair that the Maple Leafs took 4-2.
Claude Julien opted to make a pair of lineup changes for this one. The first was between the pipes as the goalie rotation continued which meant Carey Price got the nod after Jake Allen played on Saturday. The Habs also welcomed back Joel Armia from his concussion with him taking the place of Paul Byron and not Corey Perry. Armia went back to the third line with Tyler Toffoli and Jesperi Kotkaniemi while Artturi Lehkonen was on the left wing with Jake Evans and Perry.
Zach Hyman had the first good chance of the game in the opening minute but Price made the early stop. Just a minute later, Josh Anderson tried to get William Nylander with a big open-ice hit but Nylander was able to dodge it. Seconds later, Anderson bumped Jake Muzzin into the bench and was off to the races on a two-on-one. He kept it and went five-hole on Frederik Andersen to open up the scoring on Montreal’s first shot of the game.
Andersen nearly coughed up another one a minute later. After playing the puck behind the net, he stumbled on his way back with the Canadiens gaining control. However, while Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar were able to get shots off, neither went in. The chances were coming early and often as 45 seconds later, Ilya Mikheyev blew by Joel Edmundson and came in with speed but Jeff Petry got a stick on it and the shot went wide. Just three minutes later, Brendan Gallagher’s shot from the slot off a giveaway was deflected out of play.
Things started to settle down after that, however. Pierre Engvall was called for high-sticking Armia just past the midway point. While Armia lost a tooth, there was no visible blood so it was only a two-minute minor. Montreal proceeded to do absolutely nothing with the power play. That seemed to help Toronto find their skating legs as not long after the penalty, Auston Matthews had Toronto’s second shot of the game with 6:26 left in the period.
With five minutes to go, Mitch Marner and Matthews went in two-on-one. Marner’s pass across missed the mark but Shea Weber was called for hooking on the play, giving Toronto’s lethal power play their first opportunity. The first wave was dangerous with a couple of good attempts but after the Habs were able to clear, they did a good shot of stopping the Maple Leafs from getting set up the rest of the way.
A couple of shifts following Toronto’s man advantage, Travis Boyd missed a wide-open net off a Montreal turnover. The puck came to him in the slot but he fired it wide. However, Danault was called for hooking on the play. Marner had a dangerous shot that Price got a piece of but that was it although they had 38 seconds of carry-over time still to come. Shots on goal in the frame were 9-6 for Montreal.
Price had to be sharp on a John Tavares shot early before Toronto’s power play expired but he was up to the task. Alex Kerfoot had a good chance two minutes later, coming in with speed but Price made the stop. The Maple Leafs kept coming though. Marner got the puck behind Montreal’s net and fed Hyman with a back pass that had Price going in the wrong direction but the shot missed the net.
A few minutes later, Price had a bit of an adventure behind the net, turning the puck over. Tavares went for the puck and was already falling towards the ice before getting clipped with a Weber high sticking, drawing blood. However, there was no call and Tavares was pulled by the concussion spotter soon after.
At the nine-minute mark, a line other than Montreal’s fourth trio actually did something in the offensive zone. Armia’s wraparound attempt drew a hook from Zach Bogosian; the puck made its way to Toffoli but Andersen stretched out to make the spot. 40 seconds into the man advantage for the Canadiens, Marner and Matthews had a two-on-one but nothing came of it. Perry had a good chance in the slot the other way in transition but he missed the net.
The Maple Leafs continued to pressure after killing off the penalty. William Nylander missed the net on a one-timer after a pass across from Matthews, continuing their trend of missing the net on their best opportunities. Evans and Justin Holl were called for roughing two minutes later, sending play to four-on-four.
Toronto took over in this stretch, pinning the Canadiens deep in their own end and eventually were able to take advantage of it. Travis Dermott took a feed from Muzzin on the right side, skated to the left faceoff dot, and sniped one past Price blocker-side for his first of the season.
Armia had a good shift at the end of the four-on-four as Montreal tried to re-establish any sort of presence in the offensive end. On the following shift, Jonathan Drouin forced a turnover and got a good shot off that Andersen stopped. Edmundson was called for interference at the end of the period but Hyman negated it with an embellishment call. Shots on goal were 13-6 for the Canadiens in the frame although the Maple Leafs had the majority of the scoring chances.
The ensuring four-on-four was all Toronto again and again, they scored. Justin Holl was given plenty of room to shoot from the point and he decided to take the shot. While it was a decent one, there was no screen, but it beat Price glove-side on one that he needed to have. On the next shift, the Maple Leafs executed a down low tic-tac-toe, Hyman to Kerfoot to Mikheyev who tapped it home for his first of the year. At this point, the wind was out of Montreal’s sails although the lethargy they had for most of the second period signalled that they weren’t exactly playing with much energy beforehand.
To Price’s credit, he made a couple of big stops after that to keep it close, first stopping Kerfoot at the five-minute mark before stopping Hyman on a two-on-one with a stretched-out pad.
Midway through the period, Claude Julien flipped Toffoli and Tatar and the end result was a few decent Montreal shifts as they showed some signs of life. Not long after that, Mikheyev blew by Edmundson again with the defender blowing a tire although Toronto didn’t get a shot off.
The Habs made it interesting late. A Morgan Rielly giveaway allowed the Habs to retake possession in Toronto’s end. They cycled it around for a bit before it got to the point. Romanov fed Ben Chiarot whose shot went off T.J. Brodie’s stick towards the crease and Tatar knocked it home.
But that was as close as Montreal could get. Price made another big stop with two minutes to go, this time off Nylander as a Canadiens turnover led to a Toronto two-on-one. Julien pulled Price soon after before Montreal could even establish possession and it backfired as Toronto came back the other way and Hyman backhanded it into the empty net.
Price made 20 stops on the night but he’s going to want that Holl one back for sure. Meanwhile, Andersen was sharp at the other end, kicking aside 33 of 35 Montreal opportunities. Neither team scored on the power play, each going 0/2 but Toronto managed two goals on the two four-on-four chances.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Josh Anderson – In the first few minutes, he looked like he could single-handedly will the Habs to victory as he came out with plenty of energy and scored on his first shift. Then he was largely invisible the rest of the way but the goal is enough to earn him the top spot in this one.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 1 shot, 4 hits, 1 takeaway, 1 block,
2nd Star: Jake Evans – Julien showed little hesitation playing him against Toronto’s top competition even though he was burned in the season-opener. Evans was much better this time around while having a strong night at the faceoff dot. The fourth line was effective so it was surprising to see Evans’ ice time cut more than usual.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 2 PIMS, 1 block, 6/8 faceoffs, 9:42 TOI
3rd Star: Tomas Tatar – He was fairly quiet before the late line change although he had the most shots of anyone on the night. Shooters need to shoot their way out of slumps and perhaps he accomplished just that with the late goal to make it interesting at the end.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 6 shots, 1 hit, 14:07 TOI
Honourable Mention: Joel Armia – He wasn’t flashy but Armia rarely is. Instead, he was effective on the cycle game, giving the Habs a big-body presence that is also effective defensively, differentiating him from Corey Perry. An efficient, albeit quiet return.
Stats: 0 points, 0 shots, 1 takeaway, 15:25 TOI