The Habs kicked off yet another busy week by facing the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night. While the fan base continued to wait for the highly anticipated debut of one Cole Caufield, they had to remain patient yet again as recall constraints continued to limit their ability to get a look at the young scorer. This meant that the only forward change in the lineup was a swap between Josh Anderson and Paul Byron as the former joined Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar while the latter played with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jonathan Drouin. The blue line also remained the same as the Habs continue to wait on their recent acquisitions to finish their quarantine. Between the pipes, Carey Price looked for a win after a disappointing Saturday afternoon as he faced Mike Smith in the Edmonton crease. Price was replaced after the first period and Jake Allen did his best but the Habs were completely dominated in the third leading to a 4-1 loss.
If the last few games have suffered considerably in the entertainment department, Monday night’s first period was quite the opposite. Both teams came out with playoff-like intensity and physicality. Both teams ended the period with seven shots on goal and no goals. Josh Anderson missed a good chance early before both teams got heated in a hurry. That physicality took a higher intensity when Alexander Romanov hit Jujhar Khaira hard. The hit was clean and appeared to be of little consequence until Khaira tried to skate to the bench in apparent distress. Romanov had KO’d the Oilers winger who left the game and did not return.
The second half of the period started off with a Connor McDavid goal that had Price immediately looking toward the officials. The replay clearly showed interference by Alex Chiasson. The Habs challenged the goal, and it was quickly reversed to keep the game scoreless. The Habs then got a power play with a little over five minutes to play. The new units created some chances, the best of which came with a down-low cross-ice pass by Corey Perry that left Kotkaniemi alone, but he shot it high. Danault was then called for interference and the Oilers ended the period on the man advantage where Price made his best save of the period, a shoulder shrug to deny a Leon Draisaitl one-timer.
There was a major change started the second period as Price did not return from the intermission as Allen came into the game as a result of sustaining an upper-body injury when Chiasson bumped into him on the disallowed goal.
The first thing Allen saw was Mike Smith deny Tomas Tatar in close with an important save. A few shifts later, a nice Nick Suzuki pass sent Artturi Lehkonen in alone but Smith was up to the task again. There was about a five-minute segment where the game became somewhat of a chess match as both teams settled into defensive postures with little in terms of scoring chances. This was broken when Perry slowed the play before delivering a cross-ice pass that hit Eric Staal’s skate to open the scoring. The Oilers took a long look at the play but ultimately decided not to challenge.
The second half of the game started with the Habs on the penalty kill after a Tatar slashing penalty. The second Oilers power play of the night was disorganized and did not get a good look on Allen. A few minutes later, Draisaitl was called for a high-stick on Anderson. The second Montreal advantage of the evening was not effective at all as they never even gained the zone, even giving up a 2-on-0 but were lucky to see McDavid fumble the puck in front of Allen. With the Habs in control, Byron ran into Caleb Jones and was called for interference. The call was a penalty, no doubt. But with the way the Oilers reacted, it really should have been a 4-on-4 as Draisaitl jumped on Byron. McDavid finally got going on the power play as he created two scoring chances only to see Allen shine to keep the Oilers off the board.
The third period started with a replay as it was revealed that Tyler Toffoli was called for a cross-check on an absolutely ridiculous call. The Habs played well and killed a fourth power play but they were really playing with fire. The Habs then played rather safe, though they moved the puck well enough that the Oilers weren’t getting a ton of zone time. Allen was there with some unorthodox stops when they did get through. With the power plays 4-2 in favour of the Oilers, I felt like they got away with quite a few borderline plays before the midway point of the period, must have been some game management going on.
The final ten minutes started with McDavid creating offensively and this created some chaos in the Habs’ zone. One of the things taught as early as Midget in hockey is that when your team starts to run around defensively, your job is to cover either your guy or your zone depending on the team’s defensive tactic. As the puck found McDavid again, Jonathan Drouin was off to the outside of his defensive assignment. McDavid took advantage of this to slide a pass to Ethan Bear who went unchecked by Drouin to finally put one in the back of the net and tie the game.
After a few more Oilers chances were stopped by Allen, it was Anderson who got the Habs first real chance in the period with five minutes to play that was turned aside by Smith. With 4:49 to play, McDavid finally got free and then split Petry and Joel Edmundson like they were traffic cones before roofing one over Allen to take the lead. The Habs were chasing the game for the first time, and they weren’t even able to get the puck. Finally, Jesse Puljujarvi was sent in on a breakaway and buried his chance for a 3-1 lead. A minute later, with Allen on the bench, Devin Shore scored to ice the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Corey Perry
Perry’s role is for spot duty at this point in his career, but there’s no denying that the man still has some impressive hands. On Montreal’s first power play, he found Kotkaniemi for what should have been a sure goal. Then he made the play that deflected off Staal for their only goal. The fact that I place Perry here tonight as the only real offensive catalyst is further proof that the Habs need to throw caution to the wind with their last recall and get Ducharme some weapons. Unless Gallagher is expected to make some miracle comeback soon… and even then, why not throw more offensive weapons at your opponent.
Stats: 1 assist, 1 hit, 12:31 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Alexander Romanov
Romanov had an excellent game as he made some excellent breakout passes, was noticeable physically even though one of those hits had a regrettable outcome for Khaira. Romanov has left behind many of his midseason inconsistencies of late and I’d like to see the team give him some added responsibilities as a result. Whether that means another crack at the top-four (unlikely given the deadline acquisitions are likely to get some looks soon) or some power play time, it needs to happen. And let’s be honest, it’s not like Romanov replacing Weber could make the power play much worse, so why not give it a shot?
Stats: +1, 1 shot, 2 hits (??), 14:14 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Phillip Danault
Not all games have to be pretty to be effective. Danault has been a gigantic thorn in the side of Edmonton’s two elite scorers all season long. Frankly, so much so that he was clearly in their heads before the game even started judging by their reactions of frustrations immediately in the first period. It was another huge game by Danault and his defensive posture to stop two of the game’s elite scorers, though he’ll need to do it for three periods next time.
Stats: -2, 19:24 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jake Allen
Allen came in and was as good as one can expect given the circumstance. He was totally left to himself in the third and the result was a lost game. Totally not on Allen who made some great saves to keep the team in the game likely longer than they deserved to.
Stats: 25 saves, 28 shots faced, .893 save %, 39:42 T.O.I.