The Habs and Canucks got together once again on Monday night, only this time at the Bell Centre. One could realistically expect some different games as the Canucks were rolling while the Habs just lost their first contest. The Habs returned to starter Carey Price in net as he faced Braden Holtby. For the first time all season, Claude Julien switched up the healthy scratch as Brett Kulak sat in favour of Victor Mete with many speculating that Mete was on a showcase after his trade request became public over the weekend. Mete was strong offensively, while his rust was a bit more apparent on the defensive side of the puck. Mete’s performance mattered little as the Habs continued their dominance over the Canucks with a 6-2 win on this night.
This one was all Montreal right from the start. A strong first shift by the Phillip Danault line was immediately followed with a strong two-man forecheck by Josh Anderson and Jonathan Drouin. The result was Vancouver swarming and Nick Suzuki being left all alone in front of the net. He received the pass and opened the scoring only a minute in.
Four minutes later, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was sent to the box for tripping but the league’s most offensively dangerous PK went to work. Artturi Lehkonen, playing in his 300th career NHL game, stripped Adam Gaudette and skated in on a breakaway where he beat Holtby to make it 2-0. In the final moments of the penalty, Elias Pettersson rang a shot off the post.
The second half of the first period started with a careless pass by Alexander Romanov in the neutral zone. It was picked off by Gaudette who skated around Mete and fired an off-speed shot that fooled Price to get the Canucks on the board.
Vancouver quickly returned momentum to the Habs when Tyler Motte took an offensive zone tripping penalty even if the Habs’ power play was not effective. After the penalty, Tyler Toffoli hit the cross-bar from a terrible angle moments before Jeff Petry took advantage of more excellent forechecking by Lehkonen and Paul Byron to make the score 3-1 after a period.
It was much of the same in the second as Tyler Myers took a penalty three minutes in that saw the Habs look good without scoring on the man advantage. With 12:45 to play in the period, Suzuki picked off Alex Edler to send in Brendan Gallagher on a breakaway (the first of many) and Gallagher made no mistake to extend the lead to 4-1.
This is when the wheels fell off for the Canucks. Toffoli got a breakaway but was stopped by Holtby. On the next shift, Corey Perry accepted a nice zone entry pass by Kotkaniemi and toe-dragged Quinn Hughes before feeding Petry for his second of the night. It was Perry’s 800th NHL point and it caused Vancouver to call a timeout to stop the bleeding.
Vancouver recovered a bit before Mete took a hooking penalty to kick off the second half of the game. Once again, the best chance of the segment went to Montreal’s penalty kill as Lehkonen was lethal all night long. The Habs let up for the second half of the game as play became low-event hockey with both teams lowering their intensity.
With four minutes left in the period, Gaudette went off for hooking. Toffoli was stoned by Holtby after a nice early pass by Suzuki, but the pivot got the puck back, found Petry in the middle who sent a rocket toward the net. The rebound of that shot went straight to Shea Weber who completed a nifty pass to the bumper position for Toffoli who finally got on the board and made the score 6-1.
With both teams going through the motions in the third knowing they are playing each other again tomorrow night, the Canucks got a bit of energy from a Jay Beagle goal as he beat Kotkaniemi to the front of the net and beat Price on a one-timer.
The Habs then had a strong penalty after a Tomas Tatar penalty really appeared to be the final nail in the Vancouver coffin. Mete and Romanov continued to struggle in the defensive zone, but that’s about the only negative on the night.
In the second half of the period, Montreal started looking for the breakaway pass and landed quite a few. Josh Anderson and Jake Evans both got stopped by Holtby on lone chances. Then Tatar found Mete with the back-door play, but it was a perfect third period for Holtby despite it being too little, too late.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Artturi Lehkonen
Lehkonen was an absolute puck-hound all night long on this night, his 300th NHL game. He was rewarded with some offensive numbers too. For a player that the coaching staff always relies on with low-reward missions, it’s nice to see him get rewarded for his consistent hard work on this milestone game for him.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 3 shots, 2 hits, 13:39 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jeff Petry
The offence has always been there for Petry, but Luke Richardson had made Petry a complete defender. Petry now knows how to play defence and, perhaps more importantly, when to go for the big hit. This has resulted in Petry gaining confidence and the team trusting him in more important situations. Petry has publicly credited Richardson for that change before, but as he makes his way to the top of the league’s D-point leaderboard, it’s amazing to see this player improve each year into his 30’s. It’s also interesting that he’s doing so while getting thicker as the years progress. I saw some replays recently of his first years in Montreal and boy did he look thin. Anyways, another excellent, excellent game from Jeff Petry.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +3, 4 shots, 3 hits, 20:25 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Nick Suzuki
After being off on Saturday, Suzuki was back to being his puck-magnet self on Monday. Sometimes he appears to be thinking about his defensive positioning when the puck somehow bounces off two players to land on his stick. He’s truly a treat to watch and tonight was no exception as he started the scoring a minute into the game and never really looked back.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 1 shot, 1 hit, 18:31 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Corey Perry
800 career points for Perry and boy was it a pretty one. Hughes is still looking for his jock in the bleachers. For a player that is supposed to be the team’s 13th forward, I honestly have no clue how it can be justified to remove him from the lineup right now. It’s a nice problem to have for Julien, maybe not so nice for Joel Armia and Paul Byron.
Stats: 1 assist, -1, 2 shots, 2 hits, 12:31 T.O.I.