As the Habs kicked off their first of many four-game weeks, the Edmonton Oilers were in town to kick it off. The game was also marked for the Habs debut of newly-acquired Eric Staal. This meant an overhaul of the forward lines while the blue line and Carey Price were at their regular spots.
Phillip Danault’s line remained together, but Staal centred a second line with Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Toffoli. The third line featured Nick Suzuki centering Corey Perry and Josh Anderson which left Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the fourth line with Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron. Jake Evans was sent back to the taxi squad to make room for Staal. Price faced Mike Smith, and one truly expected a better effort from the Oilers after last week’s 4-0 victory for the Habs. Edmonton did make it a battle as the Habs needed overtime and a big comeback effort to squeak out a 3-2 win but the Habs were the dominant team for most of the night.
The Habs completely controlled the opening period and still ended up behind where it mattered by the end of it.
Kotkaniemi and Lehkonen missed golden opportunities to do what they did a week ago by scoring on their first shift. Then Anderson used his speed to completely turn around Tyson Barrie. Smith was strong all period long. The Kotkaniemi line was all over the ice throughout the period but was unable to make it count.
By the second half of the period, frustration really started to show as the Oilers took some liberties on Montreal players but the officials were letting them play.
Then Brendan Gallagher got smoked in the hand with an Alexander Romanov point shot and retreated to the dressing room as this deja-vu scene ended his night while fans hold their collective breath waiting on the duration of his absence. He didn’t return and was diagnosed with a fractured thumb after the game.
Despite holding a 14-5 shot advantage, the period ended with Joel Edmundson getting outworked physically which allowed Jujhar Khaira to send a puck cross-ice and catch both Shea Weber and Drouin checking air for Devin Shore to one-time it home for a late 1-0 lead.
Anderson started the second period nicely as he played with Danault and Tatar and created some turnovers and scoring chances. The Oilers finally pushed back as Montreal gave them a 3-on-1 that Edmundson defended quite nicely.
Some erratic play by Brett Kulak then allowed Edmonton to continue to play in the Montreal zone which eventually saw Jesse Puljujarvi hit the post. The Habs would slowly return to controlling the action until Perry took a bad penalty for roughing Smith. Alex Chiasson was robbed by Price on the power play, but it appeared as though Price was suddenly moving around a little gingerly since a little before the Chiasson chance.
With 7:19 to play, it was Puljujarvi’s turn to take a bad offensive zone penalty, but the man advantage would be short-lived because Staal’s first contribution to the power play was to take a hooking penalty. The 4-on-4 as well as most of the play afterwards was controlled by the Oilers but it was mostly low-event hockey as it was a period that was about as exciting as a chess match.
With 2:07 to play, Edmundson was sent to the box for a light slash and this time, the Edmonton power play made them pay. Before the goal, Price was responsible for two huge saves, the second of which was a vintage two-pad stack! However, with only ten seconds to play in the period, and three to go on the penalty kill, the Oilers won a rare faceoff and this opened a lane for a Darnell Nurse blast that made it 2-0 heading to the third period.
The third period kicked off on the right foot as Perry was strong in puck pursuit and won two puck battles before Suzuki sent the puck back his way. Perry was then patient to open up the passing lane before he sent the puck to Anderson who tapped it home to make it 2-1 only 1:45 into the period.
This invigorated the Habs who returned to their play from the first period. Tatar evened up the contest with 14:37 to play as Nurse coughed it up to Byron who quickly found Tatar who rifled one home over Smith’s shoulder. Romanov was the next with a scoring chance, but this time Smith made the stop as Romanov opted to shoot on a 2-on-1.
The last ten minutes of regulation saw both teams with extended shifts pressuring the puck in the offensive zone as both defensive brigades struggled. Perry seemed to be particularly motivated during this period while Suzuki and Anderson followed suit. Anderson missed a great chance to take the lead, but on the same shift, Khaira took a run at Suzuki, and then cleared the puck out of bounds in the defensive zone when he saw Suzuki was coming to return the favour.
The Habs power play was short-lived on an absolutely garbage call on Toffoli after some weak puck play by Weber created a chance for the Oilers. In the final minute, Anderson and Perry were at it again as they required a strong save by Smith to send the game to overtime.
Petry, Danault, and Byron stopped Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid for the first time before Anderson and Drouin created some chances. McDavid then got open but Drouin made a strong defensive play to stop the chance. The next shift saw Victor Mete skate circles around the Oilers zone but he never really did much with the puck.
After another McDavid shift, the Oilers opted for a timeout to keep McDavid on the ice for the final minute and 45 seconds. Byron got a great scoring chance after a great defensive play which set up the next shift where Staal won his faceoff before finishing off his Habs debut with an overtime winner with a low blocker shot to beat Smith for the win.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Paul Byron
After being on the most dangerous line in the first period, Byron bounced around the lineup a bit after the Gallagher injury. The result was that he was rather invisible in the second but he kicked off the third by doing what he does best. He used his speed to win puck races, thus creating the opportunity that would become the Tatar equalizer. He then continued to zip around the ice creating turnovers. Finally, Byron was tasked with covering McDavid in overtime and I think Byron got better scoring chances than McDavid in overtime. Huge game for Byron and his timing for that effort is important too. He played a monster game with a potential opening on the wing arriving due to the seemingly bad injury to Gallagher.
Stats: 1 assists, +1, 2 shots, 3 hits, 16:29 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Corey Perry
If Perry was a bit less noticeable in the first two periods, he was the best player on either side in the third. It looked like his night was done after his first assist, but the visit to the dressing room was short and Perry was a puck hound upon his return as he seemed to create scoring chances for the Habs with every presence on the ice.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 2 hits, 14:01 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Eric Staal
The Habs added size, leadership, experience, and some much-needed face-off help with his acquisition. He came in, delivered a strong performance at the faceoff dot and then scored the most important goal of the game, the winner in overtime. As the theme of the season goes, the newest Bergevin addition passed its first test with flying colours. With a need on the wing now and an abundance of excellent pivots, it will be interesting to see how Coach Ducharme juggles his lines and handles Staal who was played as the second line centre on this night while Kotkaniemi absolutely cannot continue to be deployed as the fourth centre with 13 minutes of TOI/game. Should be interesting!
Stats: 1 goal, 2 shots, 16:56 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Josh Anderson
The second member of the newly formed bash brothers with Perry was Anderson who, for the first time in five or six games, looked once again like the Anderson that started the season. He was fast and involved while creating turnovers and scoring chances. We always want to see more of this guy around as it seemed to spark Suzuki too who delivered his best performance in a long time!
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 5 shots, 18:20 T.O.I.