The Habs returned to action Friday night after the game was in doubt earlier in the day due to Flames winger Josh Leivo testing positive for COVID-19. This was the first in a three-game series between the two clubs who are currently battling for the final playoff spot in the division.
The Habs entered the contest riding a convincing performance on Wednesday, so they were hoping to keep that up against a Calgary team that had had their number so far this season. Given Wednesday’s performance, it wasn’t all that surprising that Dominique Ducharme opted to not change a thing which meant that the Primeau and Caufield watches continued. Or at least that was the plan, as minutes before the game, it was announced that Jonathan Drouin was unable to play due to a non-COVID illness and so the only remaining player to be inserted was Erik Gustafsson meaning the Habs were playing 7D and 11F. The Flames countered Jake Allen with Jacob Markstrom, as expected. Markstrom and the Flames did not play an excellent game, but the Habs were nowhere to be found as the Flames still won 4-2.
The first period saw Calgary come out hitting the Habs and the visiting team backing away from the physical play which was quite a contrast to the last two games against Edmonton. After being attacked for nearly five minutes, the Habs pushed back a bit before a Jon Merrill giveaway led to another Flames attack. On the next shift, every one of Ben Chiarot, Shea Weber, and Tyler Toffoli were a step behind their checks which resulted in a slot play that saw Dillon Dube beat Allen for a 1-0 lead.
The second half of the period saw Calgary continue with momentum as Allen had to make several key stops to keep his team in the game. It was Alexander Romanov who turned the momentum a bit when he absolutely rocked Milan Lucic. Moments later, Toffoli picked off a pass at centre ice, skated in and used the defender as a screen to beat Markstrom in what can be described as a weak goal.
The Habs suddenly had momentum and took the lead three minutes later. Phillip Danault won a faceoff and Joel Armia, both players having bad periods up to this point, immediately shot the puck which once again should have been stopped by Markstrom. The lead would be short-lived as the next shift saw Weber get beat with speed as the captain took a tripping penalty. The Flames wasted little time as Andrew Mangiapane completed a beautiful tip-in that beat Allen to tie the game just before the end of the period.
The second period started much like the first as the Flames came out and physically dominated until Artturi Lehkonen accepted a heavy hit to win a foot race deep in the Calgary zone. This allowed Jesperi Kotkaniemi to get the puck and create a point shot when Paul Byron took a cross-check in front of the net by Michael Stone that was enough to give Montreal their first man advantage of the night. It was a terrible power play that appeared to have jolted what little energy was in the building out of both teams.
The second half of the period was ridiculously sloppy as passed missed all over the ice creating neutral zone play that looked more like a game of Pong than a game of hockey. Considering the implications of the game for Calgary, it was strange to see them deliver such a low level of play, even if that low level was better than what the Habs were presenting.
Someone on the Calgary bench likely yelled something like my last sentence as they suddenly picked up the pace and took it to the Habs once again. A few good saves by Allen matched by a few Flames missing empty-net chances meant that the Habs remained in the game.
With 2:43 left in the period, Allen made a first save before Mikael Backlund crashed into him creating a rebound that he placed into the empty net. Montreal obviously challenged the play which seemed like an obvious case of goaltender interference. It was called as such and the game remained tied heading to the third period despite a decisive and deserved 21-12 shot advantage for Calgary.
Montreal came out a little stronger in the third period and managed to spend the opening three minutes in the Flames’ zone. Calgary then turned it on again and the Habs were completely hemmed in their zone.
Just before the six-minute mark, Josh Anderson lost his race to the puck, hit himself in the face with his stick, and while he was complaining about the non-call, Sean Monahan pushed off and was alone in front of the net due to Weber (who ended the game –3) once again being late in his coverage. Monahan accepted a pass from behind the net to immediately beat Allen to regain the lead. The Habs pushed back a bit as Corey Perry and Armia both barely missed beating Markstrom low to the blocker side.
The Habs continued to push as the game entered the final ten minutes as Nick Suzuki was absolutely better in the third than in the first two periods and he kicked the game’s final segment of play by hitting the post before Anderson did the same on the next shift. Ducharme opted to switch Lehkonen off the third line in favour of Perry as the Habs needed a goal.
After these small glimpses of optimism, the Flames returned to being in complete control defensively. With two minutes to play in the game, Allen retreated to his bench and the Habs got a few chances with not enough traffic in front of the net before Lindholm finally scored in the empty net in the final seconds of the game.
On the game’s final minutes, someone will have to explain to me in what world Eric Staal gets on the ice before Suzuki and Kotkaniemi. Suzuki was one of the better players in the third period, and though he was terrible in the dot, Danault was already on the ice for that purpose. Staal was a complete non-factor as he spent the entire night defending. I get Perry getting that spot, he didn’t have it to start the year and EARNED it through many a clutch play early on, but Staal? No way! Live and die with your core players. Ridiculous decision.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jake Allen
Left to his own devices for most of the first two periods, Allen made a long list of good saves before being helped by the Flames’ lack of execution later in the second period. The score likely should have been 8-2 Flames after two periods if not for Allen so there’s little doubt that he’s the Habs best player on the night.
Stats: 27 saves, 30 shots against, .900 save %, 58:18 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Tyler Toffoli
23 goals in 42 GP for Toffoli. That’s a 46-goal pace over an entire season and it’s just been that kind of year for the newest Hab. Whenever he gets a chance, it’s going into the net. It helps that he has a pretty great shot, but on nights like this, when he doesn’t seem as involved and present, he’s still managing to contribute and this is precisely why he was hired, to score some goals. Can’t fault a guy when he’s doing his fulfilling his primary mission.
Stats: 1 goals, -1, 5 shots, 20:18 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Artturi Lehkonen
Lehkonen did not hit the score sheet in this game so selecting a different player would have been easy. However, Lehkonen was one of the few Habs who appeared willing to take hits from the Calgary defencemen to win races and make plays. It led to Montreal’s power play in the second and he was at the origin of most of the Habs offensive zone time in the first two periods even if that wasn’t much.
Stats: 1 takeaway, 14:43 T.O.I.