The Habs were back in action hoping to provide a bit more entertainment after they appeared quite slow in last night’s contest. They hosted the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night as coach Dominique Ducharme opted to keep the same lineup. I must admit that it’s a strategy that Ducharme seems to like and that I don’t. If the Habs are going to brag about their depth and ability to replace players, it stands to reason that the capable fresh legs sitting in the stands should be used in a back-to-back. This choice also included playing Jake Allen which was a bit more understandable as he faced Connor Hellebuyck. However, it was the latter that stole the show as the Jets stole two points from the Habs with a 4-2 win.
The game started much like Wednesday as the Jets scored on their first shot and first shift. A Jonathan Drouin turnover left both Eric Staal and Tyler Toffoli behind their checks. This allowed Mathieu Perreault to find a streaking Josh Morrissey who wired a top corner shot to beat Allen early.
1:22 later, a brilliant pass from Jesperi Kotkaniemi to Tomas Tatar in the high slot created a one-timer that was Hellebuyck’s first excellent save on the night. However, the rebound went right to Phillip Danault who buried his chance and immediately tied the game.
About seven minutes later, Victor Mete lost a physical battle in front of the net which turned an inoffensive play into a goal for the Jets. It allowed Trevor Lewis to skate and deflect a soft attempt at the net and make it 2-1.
The Habs mostly controlled the flow of the action for a few minutes though they appeared far too content to play on the perimeter to be really threatening Hellebuyck’s net.
With seven minutes to play in the period, Paul Byron stopped skating toward a loose puck which freed up Nikolaj Ehlers who absolutely blew by a flat-footed Jeff Petry, skated in and wired one on Allen for a 3-1 lead. Two of the three goals were not fantastic by Allen who allowed three goals on the first seven shots he faced.
The Habs continued to fight though and mostly outplayed the Jets for the remainder of the period although they were not attacking the middle.
The second period was a different contest as a barrage of penalties really changed the flow of the game. The first of these was on Adam Lowry for delaying the game, though Montreal didn’t look too dangerous on their power play chance other than one chance where Tyler Toffoli hit the post. Another penalty to the Jets was negated only 49 seconds later by Josh Anderson taking a penalty as he showed signs of frustration.
Artturi Lehkonen was then gifted a slot chance after Danault’s hard work only to ring one off the crossbar. Then Corey Perry got into it with Logan Stanley after a borderline hit. Both teams wanted the power play out of the altercation as Perry’s hit could have been penalized, but Stanley was the only one to drop the gloves so that could have been called too. Neither of the two 4-on-4 occasions were noteworthy here. With 4:46 to play, a Petry dump-in took a funny bounce to the slot and with Hellebuyck out of the net to play it, Byron was gifted with a goal to make it a one-goal game. The momentum carried for the rest of the period despite a late penalty on Nick Suzuki.
The Habs had to finish killing Suzuki’s penalty for 25 seconds to start the third which they did and then they attacked as Perry and Toffoli worked down low for the period’s first good scoring chance. The Habs buzzed a little more until Shea Weber and Joel Edmundson got caught flat-footed which allowed an Andrew Copp breakaway that Allen made an excellent save on and that Edmundson played quite well to force the shot without taking a penalty.
Ducharme started shuffling the lines to find a spark but the early result was some confusion that forced Allen to make two more solid stops on the Jets. Some clever play by Drouin then led to some scoring chances as he completed a toe-drag, missed the net, grabbed his own rebound and found Anderson in the slot who missed the net with Hellebuyck at his mercy.
As the final ten minutes got underway, Montreal continued to be the better team. Hellebuyck made some impressive stops on Suzuki and others. With five minutes to play, Winnipeg got some extended pressure in the Habs zone after a soft dump was not handled by Allen which sent the Habs running around. Though the Jets didn’t score on the play, they ended up with a power play as a tired Suzuki got his stick up and hit Mason Appleton in the face.
The power play was threatening but Allen made consecutive good saves to keep the Habs in the game. The Habs got one final push in the final minutes with Allen on the bench, but Winnipeg finally got a zone exit, allowing Copp to bury the empty-netter, allowing them to leave the Bell Centre with two points despite Montreal likely being the better team on this night.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Kotkaniemi played so well that Ducharme shuffled him around back to the centre position to try to get the team moving. I’m not entirely sure what the move means going forward. I know what I’d do, but I’m not the coach. The approach in the third appeared to be an attempt at creating four balanced lines. I’m not sure that’s the best approach with Gallagher and Armia still out of the lineup. Regardless, Kotkaniemi had a strong game at both positions and his pass to Tatar on the first goal was fantastic!
Stats: 2 assists, +2, 4 shots, 4 hits, 14:56 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Phillip Danault
Danault had an excellent start to the game but it’s clear that he’s a player who plays better when the lines aren’t consistently being shuffled around. He mostly disappeared once Ducharme started shuffling the lines. However, he was Montreal’s best attacker in the first period.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 1 shot, 15:46 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Corey Perry
This was the second straight game that Perry was one of the better (if not the best) Habs attacker. I knew he was an older and slower player that played with the same style as Gallagher before the season started, but he appears to have found the fountain of youth playing for his childhood favourite team. Not sure anyone can really complain about the bargain bin in this instance, even more so as his style has quickly become a need on the team with Gallagher injured.
Stats: -1, 2 shots, 20:09 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Coaching Staff
Not sure it’s an honourable mention as much as a discussion point as this promises to be a mixed bag. Positively, the coach is not playing favourites as players performing are getting ice time even if that means a veteran like Perry getting a bump or Drouin riding pine. Not everyone will agree every game, but to me, at least it’s not automatically the same guys all the time regardless of performance. Negatively, I have to say that I wanted to see a coach who wasn’t afraid to shuffle lines, but that Ducharme may be doing it too much? I also dislike that they aren’t trying different things on defence because those pairings don’t seem to be working very well.