The Habs were back in action in a game where the odds were stacked against them from the get-go. They were facing the division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night on the back-end of a back-to-back while the Leafs were rested, their last game coming on Monday night when they lost in overtime to the Habs. The Habs played Cayden Primeau against Jack Campbell and one of the better offences in the league, but they did see Tomas Tatar make his return to the formation which meant a return to the taxi squad for Michael Frolik. This created some line juggling for coach Ducharme as Tatar lined up alongside Phillip Danault and Cole Caufield. These changes meant little as the Habs dropped a second game in a little over 24 hours, this time with a bit more blame to be placed on the continuous strange decisions made by the rookie head coach leading to a disappointing 5–2 final score.
16 seconds into the contest, the Leafs opened the score as Alex Galchenyuk jumped on some soft clearing attempts by Danault to release a quick shot and beat Primeau on the game’s first shot.
A minute later, Josh Anderson picked off a terrible Justin Holl pass to come in alone on Campbell who stopped his shot. On the next shift, the fourth line of Corey Perry, Eric Staal, and Jake Evans created three excellent scoring chances but Campbell stood tall.
Play returned to the Habs zone after both Brett Kulak and Danault were guilty of terrible giveaways. Jake Muzzin shot and Primeau made the initial save but gave up a juicy rebound for John Tavares to make it 2-0 only four minutes in.
Things only got worse as Evans was then called on an incredibly soft tripping penalty. The penalty kill started off with an Alex Kerfoot post as Primeau continued to be completely rattled by the opening goal but they managed to kill it off.
At the midway point of the period, Pierre Engvall was contained to the outside, took a shot from a bad angle, and saw the rebound come back to him when he beat Primeau from a terrible angle to make it 3-0.
Toronto continued to be the only team controlling the puck as Evans was suddenly centring the top line with Danault retreated to the dressing room. The Leafs controlled the rest of the period but appeared to already be taking their foot off the gas as the Habs were simply no match. With only two minutes to play, Mitch Marner deked Primeau out of his jock and scored a fourth Toronto goal. With 12 seconds to play, Engvall made a really bad decision, interfering with Anderson for no reason, giving the Canadiens the man advantage.
The Habs started the second period on that power play with Danault not returning for the night and Jake Allen starting the period between the pipes. As a perfect symbol of the night, the Habs beat Campbell on a power play point shot but Holl, much like Ben Chiarot on Toronto’s last goal, pulled it out, but he did it in time, so it stayed 4-0.
With 12:30 to play, Artturi Lehkonen found Joem Armia on a 2-on-1 but Armia tipped the puck and it went flying well over the net. The Leafs beat Allen at the midway point of the period, but the goal was waved off because Stefan Noesen was in the crease although he never touched Allen; the ruling was because his presence didn’t allow Allen to get out to challenge the shot. Joel Edmundson was called for cross-checking on the play so the Leafs didn’t complain much. Toronto’s power play continued to struggle as they didn’t threaten Allen much on the occasion.
The second half of the game kicked off in Montreal’s favour as Corey Perry found a streaking Caufield who scored his first regulation goal to make it 4-1. Nick Suzuki was on the doorstep on the next shift but this time Campbell came up with the save. With five minutes to play, T.J. Brodie was called for tripping and it was the Habs back on the man advantage. The Habs did nothing with the chance and the score remained 4-1 after two periods.
Kotkaniemi got the third period’s first scoring chance as he hammered a shot off Campbell’s mask two minutes into the period. A minute later, a Tyler Toffoli shot was stopped but it gave a rebound to Lehkonen who slapped home a backhand to make it 4-2 with 17 minutes to play.
This goal sparked the Leafs who wanted nothing to do with a potential Montreal comeback and attacked the Canadiens’ zone without being able to solve Allen. Galchenyuk was then called for a high stick. The Habs had some zone time on the power play controlled by Tatar, Caufield, and Romanov, but they were ultimately unsuccessful in making this a game.
The Leafs were completely stifling the Habs offence as the final ten minutes got underway. The best sequence was when Marner got a breakaway after a dumb Staal pass in the offensive zone. Caufield responded immediately only to see his backhand get stopped by Campbell.
With five minutes to play, Caufield had a magical shift and he ended up hitting the post with a shot. As was the case all night, Matthews then came down and beat Allen with a short-side shot that was simply awesome to put the final nail in the coffin.
Perry took a penalty with three minutes to play for roughing and Caufield was called on the same play for tripping so the Leafs did get their usual 5-on-3 that they get every single game against the Habs. Despite having a full two minutes with their top forwards on the ice, they weren’t able to score although they still skated away with the victory.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Cole Caufield
On a night where things just weren’t going for the Habs, let’s take the opportunity to highlight Caufield scoring his third in five games since being inserted into the lineup. He hasn’t been that noticeable in regulation time, but he’s clearly a player who won’t miss a ton of chances. When he gets them, they’ll go in and that’s a quality lacking on this team.
Stats: 1 goal, -2, 5 shots, 15:26 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nick Suzuki
Once again, Suzuki was just about the only player capable of creating anything worthwhile offensively. Watching him set up Anderson two or three times only to see the latter miss the net continuously was frustrating on this night.
Stats: 1 shot, 3 hits, 19:18 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Josh Anderson
Anderson isn’t scoring but he’s always pushing the pace with his speed and using his body to create scoring chances. It will be interesting to see if he can get rolling a bit in the final few games to see if this can carry over to the playoffs because it’s a playing style that should reward him come playoff time. Even more so if the Habs can find a line that can keep up with him to make it count when he does miss the goal.
Stats: 3 shots, 4 hits, 17:09 T.O.I.