The Habs were back in action on Wednesday as they tried to get revenge for Monday night’s come from behind victory by the Oilers. As expected, Jake Allen got the start for the Habs after Carey Price’s injury and he faced Mike Smith.
For the Habs, a swap between Jonathan Drouin and Artturi Lehkonen was the only change up front. This meant that the wait for Cole Caufield continued, and in fact seemed farther away with the need to recall Cayden Primeau due to the Price injury. On the blue line, Brett Kulak was scratched in favour of Jon Merrill who was making his Habs debut. As intrigued as I was by Merrill, I must admit that I certainly did not believe that Kulak being scratched was warranted. However, the “top” pairing finally lived up to its billing on this night, playing an extremely physical contest to help the Habs skate away with a 4-3 victory.
The first period was completely dominated by the Habs as the game kicked off with much of the same physicality as the game two days ago. Early in the period, the warm up discussions with Alex Chiasson (responsible for the Price injury) and many Habs’ players came to fists as Corey Perry got the honours of taking on the Oilers depth player in a fight. A little later, a collision between Shea Weber and Zack Kassian sent the Oilers’ forward to the infirmary and he did not return.
Phillip Danault was once again instrumental in keeping Connor McDavid off the board all period long. One of the things the Habs did for the first time in a long time in this period was attack the centre of the ice. With seconds to play in the period, they finally got rewarded for it as Jesperi Kotkaniemi attacked the zone with speed which opened up Artturi Lehkonen. Lehkonen then caught Smith cheating toward the cross-ice pass to Paul Byron to sneak a backhand over his shoulder and open the scoring with only 28 seconds left in the period.
The second period started with more of the same as the Habs attacked the Edmonton zone. After a few more scoring chances, Weber and Chiarot got their signals crossed. Chiarot committed to a bad pinch while Weber was completing a change. The result was a long pass to McDavid who came in on a breakaway and beat Allen to tie the game.
Montreal’s response was fast and decisive as Josh Anderson buried his shoulder and attacked the centre of the Edmonton zone to bury a quick shot over Smith and regain the lead only 11 seconds after the McDavid goal.
The Habs continued to control the pace of the game though the Oilers were a little bit more prepared for the pace of the Canadiens in this period. With 11:37 to play in the period, Joel Armia took the first penalty of the game as he was called for tripping. Edmonton got three great chances early, but then the Habs attacked. Tyler Toffoli came close to a short-handed goal before Jeff Petry was stopped. On the Petry shot, Smith tripped Toffoli and was called for it.
The second half of the game started with 4-on-4 action where the Habs came close as Tomas Tatar whiffed on a cross-ice pass early on. Montreal then squandered a short power play chance.
The Oilers then started attempting the long pass with regularity after it worked once on Monday and once already in this game. It worked once again to create a Josh Archibald shot that Allen had to be sharp on. The Habs generally had to step back to prevent the pass so the Oilers got their first segment of more offensive play in the game.
With three minutes to play, the Nick Suzuki line had a great offensive shift that once again wrestled the momentum away from the Oilers. The period ended with another one-goal lead for the Habs, but on this night the dirty shots behind the play still had not simmered from the start of the game.
The Oilers came out hungry in the third period and attacked Montreal’s zone. The Habs continued their strong defensive positioning and two minutes in, Suzuki picked off a terrible pass by an Oilers defender only to see his shot get stopped by Smith. On the next shift, McDavid was called for a high stick on Perry sending the Habs to the man advantage. The Habs were able to get some zone time, but they never really threatened Smith with a scoring chance.
McDavid then grabbed the puck and attacked the net on his next shift. The play resulted in an Allen tripping penalty which was absolute garbage. Much like Montreal’s power play, the Oilers got zone time but never threatened Allen other than one charge at the net by Leon Draisaitl that went off the crossbar. As the penalty expired, Draisaitl took a selfish penalty as he charged Joel Edmundson in the corner.
This man advantage didn’t appear much more threatening until Tatar and Suzuki pressured the defencemen who fired the puck from the corner to the front of his own net. The unsuspecting Nurse didn’t react as the puck hit Smith and landed right on Toffoli’s stick who asked no better of a chance to bury a power play marker and extend the lead to 3-1.
The final ten minutes of the game started with another shift by Danault’s line that completely dominated and created two good scoring chances. The Oilers continued to try the long pass to turn the momentum but the Habs knew it was coming and had none of it.
With 4:57 to play, another strong shift completely hemmed in the Oilers until Anderson picked up an Alexander Romanov rebound before beating Smith. Tippett challenged the goal claiming goaltender interference against Anderson prior to getting the rebound. The goal was allowed which meant a Montreal power play. This goal turned out to be very important as Jonathan Drouin was called for a high-sticking double-minor on the next shift. Another 4-on-4 sequence saw its best chance come from the stick of Toffoli.
With 2:12 to play and a 6-on-4 advantage, the Oilers took advantage of over-coverage by Lehkonen to beat Allen as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made it 4-2. With 1:11 left, Chiasson tipped home a point shot and made it a game as the score became 4-3. The Habs survived the final minute but needed a few saves from defenders in front of Allen to secure the win.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Josh Anderson
Power Horse was a factor before the game even started. He got up in Chiasson’s face during the pregame warmup and then followed it with a physical game that led the way for the Habs. That he was the one to also thwart the one Edmonton offensive push with a great offensive solo effort only solidified his presence as the team’s top player in this one.
Stats: 2 goals, +2, 5 shots, 3 hits, 14:52 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Kotkaniemi was always in the right spot in this game. He was physical against both McDavid and Draisaitl all night long and was the player to create the occasion for the game’s first goal. It’s important to find a second centre to play this way when facing offensive stars like McDavid and Draisaitl and Kotkaniemi’s ability to also be physical makes him the perfect complement to Danault’s more cerebral defending.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 5 hits, 13:35 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Artturi Lehkonen
Lehkonen rarely gets named in this section, but he also rarely gets singled out as a bad player in a game too. On this night, it was a standout performance by the depth player. He scored the game’s first goal which means he hit the net! He then did what he does best. He was a puck hound, a physical player, he blocked shots, and was elite on a penalty kill that needed his services on this night. An important effort by a depth player is always critical for playoff success, so it’s a great sign to see.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 shots, 3 hits, 15:49 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Shea Weber
For all the drama around the media answers given by the captain, Weber showed up and delivered what can easily be described as his best effort of the season. The same could be said of Ben Chiarot, but Chiarot did it a bit more quietly as his role allows him to do. Weber’s line change was partly responsible for the only goal against, but during a second period offensive outburst, the change made sense. He was a physical beast as he finally appeared to be angry enough to easily handle forecheckers both in front of the net and in the corners. Something we hadn’t seen from Weber since Auston Matthews whined to the league after the first game of the season about being Weber-manhandled.
Stats: -1, 1 shot, 4 hits, 23:03 T.O.I.