After a pair of tough outings, the Habs were looking to rebound on Saturday as they finished up the road portion of their schedule in Toronto. They got off to a good start and had a two-goal lead but couldn’t hold it, falling 3-2.
Dominique Ducharme opted to make a pair of lineup changes for this one, though one of them was forced as Phillip Danault’s concussion meant that someone had to come up from the taxi squad. However, that player wasn’t Michael Frolik as Alex Belzile instead got the call to make his regular season debut. Jake Allen got the nod between the pipes in place of Cayden Primeau. Ducharme once again jumbled the lines up which were as follows:
Tatar – Kotkaniemi – Anderson
Toffoli – Suzuki – Armia
Perry – Staal – Caufield
Lehkonen – Evans – Belzile
After coughing up a goal on the first shift last game, Montreal’s top two lines did well to keep the puck in Toronto’s end and survive the first few minutes.
They were able to accomplish more than that, however, as three and a half minutes in, Brett Kulak skated with the puck to the point but didn’t like his shooting lane. As a result, he headed for the middle of the ice and tried to sneak a shot through a screen. It didn’t get through but it did catch a piece of Jake Muzzin and deflected past Jack Campbell to open up the scoring. Belzile picked up his first career regular season assist (he had one in the bubble) on his first shift of the game.
Missed two-on-ones were next on the docket. 7:10 in, John Tavares fanned on a pass attempt on the two-on-one and two and a half minutes later, it was Montreal’s opportunity to miss as Tyler Toffoli’s pass to Nick Suzuki went wide. Jeff Petry looked to catch the post a couple of minutes after that.
The missed opportunities continued as the Habs did nothing with their first power play of the game when Justin Holl was called for tripping Joel Armia. Holl wound up with the best chance coming out of the box as he was on a two-on-one where he too couldn’t get a pass off but this time, it was Cole Caufield coming back to break up the play.
The final five minutes of the period featured a grand total of zero shots on goal which suited the Canadiens just fine. Toronto had another two-on-one in the dying seconds of the frame but Ben Chiarot broke it up. The shots on goal in a relatively uneventful opening period were 7-3 for Montreal.
The Habs got off to a nice start to the second period as Suzuki skated in on a rush with Armia, kept it, and squeaked it past Campbell to double the lead.
Adam Brooks had a good chance just past the two-minute mark but Allen slid across to make the stop. 15 seconds later, Caufield was sprung on a break as he got past Holl but Muzzin was able to get back to break up the play.
Unfortunately, things started to go downhill after that. Just past the five-minute mark, Pierre Engvall collected the puck behind the Montreal net, skated to the slot untouched, and sent a slow shot across the ice that somehow eluded Allen on a shot that absolutely had to be stopped.
The Canadiens got another opportunity on the power play when Mitch Marner was called for tripping Caufield. Once again, the first unit – consisting of five right-hand shots – got absolutely nothing going. The second unit was just as bad until the final few seconds when Caufield set up Josh Anderson for a good chance in the slot that was stopped by Campbell.
Just past the midway point of the period, Suzuki rushed past a couple of Toronto defenders and got a shot off that Campbell stopped. 30 seconds later, he was sent in all alone but was on a bad angle and he opted to try to bank one off Campbell’s pad behind the net but was unsuccessful. Petry rang another shot off the post seconds later.
Those missed opportunities came back to hurt the Habs. Three minutes after Petry’s shot, Muzzin’s pass from the point was redirected by John Tavares over to William Nylander who had time and space to beat Allen who didn’t have much of a chance on that one.
Faceoffs were an issue for the Canadiens in this one and that came back to bite them as well. Three minutes after the Nylander goal, Suzuki lost a draw cleanly to Auston Matthews and Marner skated in and managed to beat Allen who didn’t move much on the play. Unfortunately, neither did the forwards which didn’t help.
Late in the period, Allen failed to corral and cover a rebound which allowed the play to continue. The ensuing result was a Petry cross-check, sending Toronto to a late advantage. They didn’t score in the early seconds but headed to the room with a one-goal lead and a power play to prepare for. Shots in the middle stanza were 11-10 for the Maple Leafs.
Montreal did a good job killing the penalty and actually got a good opportunity soon after as Anderson set up Jesperi Kotkaniemi but Campbell made the glove stop. Unfortunately for the Habs, that was basically their only good look of the period.
The Canadiens got another chance with the power play and the results were again patently embarrassing from both units who could barely get into the zone let alone attempt to generate a shot. Muzzin had a strong chance off the rush just after but his shot went high and wide.
Allen made possibly his best stop of the night just before the eight-minute mark as he stopped Matthews on a point-blank shot. It shouldn’t have come to that but Petry had a head-scratching pass attempt instead of clearing the zone which put them on their heels for about 25 seconds as a result.
The majority of the second half of the period was uneventful with few whistles. That suited Toronto just fine as they were holding the Habs to next to nothing in terms of offensive opportunities. Ducharme pulled Allen with 2:17 to go but Montreal could only muster a fluttering puck on goal before Petry was called for tripping Ilya Mikheyev. Oddly enough, they got a good look shorthanded with Suzuki getting a reasonable opportunity with less than ten seconds left but Campbell made the stop.
Allen made 23 saves in the losing effort while Campbell turned aside 21 of 23. Neither team did much with the power play as the Habs were 0/3 and Toronto was 0/2.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Nick Suzuki – Consistency was an issue for him in the first three quarters of the year but that has changed lately as he has been one of Montreal’s top forwards night in and night out over the past month or so. Yes, he was beaten cleanly on Marner’s winner but he managed to score one of Montreal’s two goals and generated some other decent chances as well.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 4 shots, 12/24 faceoffs, 18:58 TOI
2nd Star: Brett Kulak – This was a performance that should help his cause for staying in the lineup if Shea Weber is able to return in what are quickly shaping up as important games against Edmonton next week. The goal was nice but what a bit more impressive was his decision making in terms of when and when not to jump in the rush. He has been a bit too aggressive at times lately to his detriment but that wasn’t the case in this one.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 2 shots, 2 hits, 16:59 TOI
3rd Star: Josh Anderson – The old adage is that if you make the right plays and hustle, things will eventually go your way. Anderson’s due for something to go his way. He was involved and engaged physically as usual but his offensive slump continues. But I can’t really criticize his performance as he had a solid game.
Stats: 0 points, 1 shot, 4 hits, 1 takeaway, 18:41 TOI
Honourable Mention: Alex Belzile – For his regular season debut, he fit in pretty well alongside Jake Evans who he spent time with in Laval. In fact, that fourth line as a whole played a good game. Belzile did well enough to earn another look against Edmonton and it’s hard to ask for much more from someone in a situation like he is.
Stats: 1 assist, -1 rating, 1 shot, 1 hit, 1 takeaway, 8:29 TOI