The Habs returned to action on Thursday after breaking the losing streak. They did so at the Bell Centre with the Winnipeg Jets visiting. For the occasion, the Habs wore the sharp-looking reverse-retro jersey, a jersey they had yet to win in this season.
The contest saw Connor Hellebuyck facing Jake Allen between the pipes. Josh Anderson took part in the morning skate with his teammates but was ultimately unable to return to action so the lineup remained the same from Tuesday’s win in Ottawa. This game was a very entertaining affair as both teams were fast, physical, and very intense in a game that saw the Jets prolong the curse of the blue for the Habs as they won 4-3 in overtime.
The start of the game belonged to the Jets as they came out flying and forced Allen to make some spectacular saves in the opening minute. The Habs did push back on the second shift as the Nick Suzuki line had a good shift combined with a big Joel Edmundson hit.
The push back meant a fast-paced opening period as both teams were really moving. Credit where it’s due, I don’t think the Canadiens were playing poorly, but Winnipeg really had another gear in this first period. Tyler Toffoli had a great chance just before the midway point in the period which forced Hellebuyck to show his stuff but it also whipped the Jets back into action.
As the second half of the period got going, the Jets opened the scoring. A poor puck decision by Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the neutral zone led to a long shift and a panic move by Brett Kulak as he iced the puck. On the ensuing draw that was lost by Kotkaniemi, Wheeler cycled the puck and then fired it on net from a bad angle, hitting Paul Stastny’s skate to beat Allen.
The Phillip Danault line pushed back with intensity on the next shift but Hellebuyck made three big stops on Tatar first and then Weber twice. With 4:35 to play in the period, an atrocious and uncharacteristic giveaway by Tyler Toffoli in the defensive zone sent Perreault in alone. Perreault showed patience when Allen didn’t and as a result, it was 2-0 Winnipeg after the first.
The Jets come out flying again in the second period, but this time the Habs hung on and the Jets took their foot off the pedal. Corey Perry attempted a wrap-around and when it failed, the sneaky winger pulled a punch to Hellebuyck head that the replay showed was clearly on purpose. Winnipeg complained but the tactic worked as it appeared to take them off their game.
The next shift saw Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia really take over and hem the Jets in their zone. A few moments later, Copp was called for tripping as he slew footed Danault. The first power play unit looked dangerous but it was once again the second unit that capitalized. Perry was once again the player who drove to the net; this resulted in a scramble that saw Tomas Tatar whiff in front of the net, but as usual Brendan Gallagher was all over the rebound as the important goal brought the Habs back into the game.
The goal was important since momentum swung in Montreal’s favour as they were suddenly all over the Jets. However, Jonathan Drouin was called for a hook on the forecheck that opened the door for Winnipeg. It was an excellent penalty kill by the Habs that added to the momentum and then Drouin came out of the box on a mission. He and Nick Suzuki both cut off Winnipeg passes in the offensive zone which led to a point shot from Drouin that Suzuki tipped onto Toffoli’s skate and into the net to tie the game with 3:07 to play in the second period.
As the third got underway, the Habs carried the momentum over from the second as they were winning races and battles though not much was given on either side in terms of scoring chances.
3:39 into the period, Allen played the puck behind his net. The easy play was a pass to Chiarot, but Allen went to Weber instead. Weber was surprised by the pass and missed it. The result was a pass from Mark Schiefele to Stastny who skated in and caught Allen cheating off his post as the Jets regained the lead. It was a bad pass by Allen, but as one of two options for your goaltender, how can Weber be surprised by that pass?
Weber, for what it’s worth, was absolutely the worst player on the ice on both teams in this one. He looks like he’s a step behind on most nights this season and looked two steps behind tonight. To pile on to the poor captain, his erroneous night was not done. Three minutes after the goal, he took a stupid penalty for punching Stastny in the face in front of Allen.
Winnipeg’s power play was quite dangerous as it attacked the zone and even hit the post but the Habs survived. Then both teams settled down and played 10 minutes of uninterrupted hockey, mostly neutral zone hockey as both teams were content to keep the puck on the boards and battle for possession. The end of that stretch saw a relatively rare shift for Alexander Romanov and Kulak saw bad coverage that was ultimately saved by Allen yet again.
With a little under two minutes to play, Allen headed to the bench and coach Ducharme opted to send Corey Perry as the extra attacker. Perry won a battle along the boards and then headed to his office where he delivered an absolute masterclass in screening a goaltender. While this was happening, Petry pulled a great move to shake off the defender and got the shot off from the point without having it blocked. The shot was tipped by Drouin and with Hellebuyck more concerned about Perry than the puck, the puck hit Perry and went in. Tie game with Perry never touching Hellebuyck. The Jets couldn’t even challenge it as it was so clean.
The final minute saw Danault slew foot Blake Wheeler and then Pierre-Luc Dubois body slam Suzuki. Both plays were far away from the puck so both teams got lucky not to get called. An excellent game was headed to overtime.
Coach Ducharme played a far more aggressive overtime and it almost paid off. Kotkaniemi and Paul Byron started, followed by Suzuki and Drouin having a rough shift that needed two huge saves by Allen. A minute later, it was Suzuki who pulled a nice move to get Byron a chance for Hellebuyck’s best save of overtime. Then the Habs went three forwards in overtime! I loved it! With 30 seconds to play, Armia ran into Petry in the defensive zone which opened up Dubois who finally beat Allen to end the game and the Habs chances at a first OT win and a first blue jersey win.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Corey Perry
When the Habs signed Perry at the end of the offseason, this is precisely what I had in mind. A guy who is in the twilight of his career but is so smart that he contributes and boy did he ever on this night. He started by trying to get under the skin of the Jets with the little attack on Hellebuyck. He’s been a calming influence on the power play and one that gives them a variety of plays, not just the annoying one-timer from the point which worked again in this one. And then the job he did in the final minute of regulation to tie the game was why he is clutch, why they want him for the playoffs, and why he’s such a beauty. Brendan Gallagher needs to learn to screen like this without having the goal called back. An awesome game within the limited role he can occupy on the team.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 2 SOG, 2 hits, 11:11 TOI
Second Star – Jonathan Drouin
Mikhail who? I know Sergachev would be a huge improvement on Chiarot, but watching the 2021 Jonathan Drouin sure eases the pain, doesn’t it? Like many others, it felt like Drouin was playing really well under Julien since the start of the season. Then Ducharme came in and he’s just found another gear. He is all over the ice, creating scoring chance after scoring chance. What’s perhaps the most impressive thing so far has been his ability to put it together like this consistently this season. It feels like we are discovering a star right in front of our eyes.
Stats: 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 2 shots, 4 hits, 17:45 TOI
Third Star – Joel Armia
Many would likely place Kotkaniemi here instead of Armia but I felt like Armia had a better game. Armia was one of the few forwards that was able to handle the physicality from the Jets right from the opening faceoff. Kotkaniemi looked terrible in the first period. Kotkaniemi rebounded and because he has more skill, he looked more dangerous later in the game but it was Armia’s physicality and calmness that often created these openings for his centreman. Is it crazy to think that much like Lehkonen, Armia may forever be a coach’s dream that just never finds the offensive consistency that these games suggest he should eventually find?
Stats: -2, 4 SOG, 5 hits, 16:16 TOI
Honourable Mention – Jake Allen
This was a strange game for Allen. He was masterful in the first as the Habs were dominated and likely lucky to get out of it only two goals down. He wasn’t tested much in the second and then was partially (I still personally blame Weber) on the Jets third goal. He gave some weird rebounds after that, but then settled and made huge stops down the stretch to keep the Habs in it. Then he was awesome in the OT. Uneven performance, but one that still allowed the Habs to skate away with a point against a very good team.
Stats: 23 saves on 27 shots, 3.75 GAA, .852 SV%