The Habs and Canucks were back at it on Tuesday night in their fifth contest against one another already this season. After Monday’s dominance, Vancouver was expected to present a stiffer test on this night and they most certainly did. The only change to the Montreal’s skaters was that Alexander Romanov was asked to watch this one from the press box as Victor Mete remained in the lineup, this time next to Brett Kulak. Between the pipes, it was a swap for both teams as Thatcher Demko faced Jake Allen.
However, neither the goaltending nor the third defensive pair was the pregame focus on this night as Shea Weber crossed the important milestone of his 1,000th game in the NHL. The Habs skated away with a 5-3 victory on the night. The Canucks put up a better effort, but Montreal’s combination of size, speed, and depth was just too much on this night.
The start of the game was uncharacteristically quiet for these two teams as no goals were scored in the opening ten minutes. The Canadiens remained more dangerous in the segment and they were winning races to loose pucks for the most parts. Having said that, it was clear that the message in Vancouver’s locker room was to tighten up defensively and they did just that.
Another strong shift on the puck by Corey Perry drew a penalty at the nine-minute mark sending the Habs to the game’s first power play. With 48 seconds left, the Canucks were caught with an obvious too many men on the ice call for a 5-on-3. The Habs squandered the occasion but on the shift that followed the man advantage, the fourth line made sure that the team gave up no momentum.
On the next shift, Jonathan Drouin made a play that showed his confidence in his linemates. Instead of being fancy and trying to do it all himself, he made the safe play that found Nick Suzuki after some excellent board play by Josh Anderson. Suzuki found Ben Chiarot who put it on net and Anderson simply out powered the Vancouver defender to put it home.
Three minutes later, it was Suzuki again. This time the magician was the author of a Lehkonen-esque takeaway at the offensive blue line, came in the zone but had his shot blocked. Kulak put it on net and Anderson tipped it home for his second of the period. Allen bobbled a rebound in the final minute and Vancouver hit the post, but the score remained 2-0 with ten shots apiece.
The second period was once again dominated by the officials making calls against both teams. This started against Vancouver’s Antoine Roussel. Montreal’s was excellent, but Demko was equal to the task as he particularly robbed Perry in tight. Roussel wanted to make up for the penalty once he exited the box. He won a race to the puck and drove the net once the puck goes to the point. Allen made the save on the point shot and on the rebound, but he had trouble with rebound control all night and Roussel was there to make it 2-1 on the second rebound.
The goal gave the Canucks a boat load of momentum as the Habs had the opposition skating circles in their zone. Luckily for the Habs, back-to-back questionable calls against Drouin and Tanner Pearson stopped that momentum.
The cheap penalties appeared to affect the focus of the young Canucks and the game sat at a standstill for a couple minutes. A rather innocent-looking play changed that at the 12:30 mark. With the Habs cycling in the offensive zone, the puck went to Joel Edmundson at the point. Edmundson put the puck toward the net and Tyler Toffoli redirected the puck to fool the red-hot Demko and extend the lead to 3-1.
Three minutes later, Toffoli doubled up on his scoring and his continued Canucks killings. He picked up the puck in the neutral zone, came in on Jordie Benn, and completed two or three dekes before riffling a backhand to the far-side top corner. It was an absolute beauty that will be on highlight reels in the weeks to come to make the score 4-1 after two periods. In the last minute of the period, Kulak was called for slashing to even the ghost calls in the period at two apiece.
The Canucks started the third with a minute left on their man advantage and they made it count. Elias Pettersson, who had been a little too quiet in these five games, got the puck, froze Chiarot and then used him as a screen as he buried an absolute rocket over Allen’s shoulder to make the 4-2.
Three minutes later, Anderson used his speed again to create some glorious chances for his line. Unfortunately for him, he was also called for holding so it was another Vancouver power play. Pettersson would get another scoring chance, but this time Allen was up to the task. Pettersson was also matched by Toffoli who came really close to notching his hat trick on the sequence.
The second half of the period was mostly Vancouver attacking and the Habs defending, but Montreal would have the occasional shift where they’d look dangerous and Vancouver could not compete. I think it’s what’s made Montreal’s start so impressive. When they turn it on, other teams are really having a hard time keeping up. Chiarot made a great play where he looked like Petry skating around the offensive zone and he found Danault who really got robbed by Demko on the play.
Demko started looking at the bench with 3:45 to play, but the Habs pressure kept him in his crease for an additional 45 seconds. Allen was forced to make some sprawling stops with two minutes to play before Pearson jammed home a goal that the Habs coaching staff really didn’t like as they felt Allen had the puck. They opted not to challenge and I think that was the wise choice.
In the dying moments, Toffoli won another puck battle but chose not to aim at the empty net and made the safe play to Petry who came in and buried the final tally.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Josh Anderson
Anderson was really all over the ice on this night. He came back and made good defensive plays, won board battles, and used his speed to consistently have Vancouver’s defenders on their heels as he attacked. He was rewarded with two goals in the first period but he could have easily scored four or five on this night if not for some nice stops by Demko.
Stats: 2 goals, +1, 4 shots, 3 hits, 15:20 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Tyler Toffoli
Toffoli appears to always be in the right spot to make nice defensive plays. In addition, he thinks offensively and reads extremely well when he teammates are winning puck battles to cheat a little and get into advantageous offensive positions before the opposition defenders reads that he’s doing it. I’m guessing that with time, other teams will read this and adapt, but it’s hard for the opposition to do that considering Toffoli is playing on the team’s “third line” and so if they want to start covering Toffoli, it’ll mean leaving either Anderson or Tatar up against their third pairing. For now, Toffoli has been deadly, so it might start to happen soon.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +2, 5 shots, 17:24 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Nick Suzuki
How is this kid only in his first full season playing as a pivot in the NHL?! He is so incredibly intelligent in all zones. The most telling detail to this night was when the analyst described Suzuki’s frustration with himself over losing a defensive zone faceoff in a 4-2 game with less than two minutes remaining. If that’s not the definition of a kid who wants to be “the man” in all situations for his team, then I don’t know what else to say. He’s not too shabby with the puck on his stick either.
Stats: 2 assists, +3, 1 hit, 20:03 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jonathan Drouin
It’s absolutely ridiculous that Drouin is not in the three stars, but so goes the season so far. I could probably have said the same about Gallagher and Lehkonen, too. Drouin was in high gear on this night. Great plays with the puck, great plays away from the puck, and on multiple occasions he stepped up as the back-pressure when Suzuki was deep in the zone. Anyone else think Drouin is absolutely elated to be playing on this line and is 100% bought in to this team being a contender? Sure looks like it so far this season.
Stats: +2, 3 shots, 14:58 T.O.I.