This Monday contest saw the Habs face a hot Maple Leafs team at the Bell Centre. With the trade deadline behind both teams, the Leafs came out rather flat after watching their team add several pieces while the Habs were energetic after their GM added some depth defence only.
On the ice, the teams shared periods of dominance. Jake Allen got his fourth straight start for the Habs as he faced Jack Campbell. The Habs did some small tinkering up front but committed to important changes on the back end as Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson were finally reunited which meant that the second pairing was Brett Kulak with Shea Weber. The surprise move was on the third pair where Xavier Ouellet replaced Otto Leskinen next to Alexander Romanov. All this translated into a much better effort from the Habs as they skated to a 4-2 victory against the top team in the division.
The first period was all Montreal but it could have been very different. On the game’s first play, Weber committed yet another error but Jesperi Kotkaniemi had other plans for the evening as he made a strong defensive play. The Habs quickly turned around the situation as Tomas Tatar opened the scoring only 1:17 into the game after an inoffensive shot went off Alex Galchenyuk to Tatar who wasted little time beating Campbell.
With the Habs continuing to create chances, Zach Bogosian was then sent to the box after feeding Josh Anderson some stick. Luckily for the Leafs, it was only two minutes, but the Habs made him pay for it as Nick Suzuki grabbed the puck from his favourite power play spot in the faceoff circle and wired home the Habs second goal of the period.
The second half of the period started with a too many men penalty against Toronto but this time the Habs were not as dangerous with the man advantage. Following the power play, the game became a neutral zone one where both teams were cautious as both teams dumped and changed for a seven-minute segment without a whistle. The Canadiens did get a few more chances to end the period but were unable to extend the lead while the 12-3 shot differential was indicative of the pace of play in the period.
The second period started off considerably slower as both teams appeared to be hesitant. Toronto then took over and dominated. Right before the ten-minute mark, some questionable defensive zone plays by Kulak and Weber allowed the Leafs to keep the Habs in their zone and a magical pass by Mitch Marner to Auston Matthews beat Allen and made the score 2-1.
The second half of the game kicked off with the Habs holding off the Leafs who were clearly feeling the momentum after the goal. It appeared that the Canadiens were breaking through when Phillip Danault sent Paul Byron on a breakaway with a great pass. However, Danault followed this with a boneheaded penalty in the offensive zone to prevent a breakout with all his teammates in position. Luckily for Danault, some big shifts by Byron, Tyler Toffoli, and Weber allowed the Habs to kill the penalty.
The final five minutes of play saw a small flurry of goal. Right after the penalty, the Leafs created a scrum in front of Allen and with the Habs trying to block shots instead of covering players, John Tavares was able to grab a rebound and roof a backhander to tie the score.
Kulak then made sure to make up for the few rough shifts. He started by blocking a shot, and then followed the puck to join an Anderson rush creating a two-on-one. Anderson caught Campbell cheating toward Kulak as he roofed a great shot to restore Montreal’s lead.
Allen then had to make a few strong stops on Matthews to preserve the lead, but the Habs were able to escape the period with a lead despite seeing their shot advantage vanish as the period ended with a 12-7 Toronto shot advantage (19-15 totals still for Montreal).
The Habs did a great job to start the third at pushing the pace and making Toronto uncomfortable in their attempt to tie the contest. They spent a fair amount of time in the Leafs zone and looked in complete control of the outcome of the game.
Then, with seven minutes expired, Jonathan Drouin took a penalty for tripping in the neutral zone. The Toronto power play really didn’t get much going and Toffoli followed the penalty kill with a strong play to create a scoring chance that likely deserved a call against Marner.
This sparked the Habs as a brilliant pass by Kotkaniemi gave Anderson an open net, but he hit the post before Campbell made a great save on Drouin. A few moments later, it was a great shift by Tatar down low that create a scoring chance for Suzuki, but Campbell stood tall again.
With just over two minutes left and the Leafs attacking, Campbell picked the wrong moment to evacuate his crease and as he did so, Byron won his puck battle and found Tatar who skated in and scored his second to end the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Paul Byron
Byron looked like his old self on this night as a perceived promotion to the Danault line likely had him excited to prove he belongs in a higher echelon of the pecking order. He used his speed to cause Leaf defenders to fumble throughout the first period, caused some havoc on the penalty kill, and even came close to scoring as Danault found him for a breakaway. He might not be a long-term answer on the top-nine, but he’s a luxury to be able to plug there upon injury. Good game from him.
Stats: 2 assists, +2, 2 shots, 3 hits, 13:31 TOI
2nd Star – Tomas Tatar
With Tatar now officially destined for free agency, he and his favourite linemate got the potential tail end of their stay in Montreal off on the right foot. They did an excellent job against Marner and Matthews all night long and Tatar was the author of goals in the opening and closing minutes of play to frame the contest. Well played, and here’s hoping that they are playing to stay in Montreal. Regardless, here’s hoping they provide excellent performances like this to ensure their next contracts.
Stats: 2 goals, +2, 2 shots, 1 hit, 17:01 TOI
3rd Star – Josh Anderson
It seems as though Anderson really enjoys playing against the Leafs as he always has big games. He was once again very active and causing headaches for Toronto’s defenders all night long. He got the game-winner but he and Kotkaniemi appeared to have instant chemistry and Anderson got a few more excellent chances in the third.
Stats: 1 goal, 4 shots, 2 hits, 18:02 TOI
Honourable Mention – Jake Allen
Allen finally got some goal support and he needed it. He made important stops in key moments such as throughout the second period to keep the Habs tied and to keep the 3-2 lead together. He also made key stops on the third period power play for the Leafs, and of course in the final moments before Tatar was able to finish the game with the empty-net goal.
Stats: 23 saves, 25 shots, .920 save %, 2.00 GAA, 60:00 TOI