Wednesday’s regular season finale against Edmonton had nothing at stake in terms of the standings and with several veterans resting, some youngsters had an opportunity to step up. In the end, it was the younger players that scored but it wasn’t quite enough as they fell 4-3 in overtime.
As a result of the game having no real value, Dominique Ducharme opted to rest several key veterans as Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson, Jeff Petry, Josh Anderson, Eric Staal, and Tyler Toffoli all got the game off. Officially, all were diagnosed with minor injuries to create emergency situations for recalls. Alex Belzile and Michael Frolik were brought up from the taxi squad while Xavier Ouellet and Jesse Ylonen came up from Laval. The heavily jumbled lines were as follows:
Armia – Suzuki – Caufield
Lehkonen – Evans – Byron
Tatar – Kotkaniemi – Perry
Belzile – Frolik – Ylonen
Kulak – Chiarot
Romanov – Ouellet
Merrill – Gustafsson
Montreal got off to a nice start as less than two minutes in, Cole Caufield intercepted a poor clearing attempt from Tyson Barrie in the slot. He didn’t get off a great shot but it was enough to beat Mike Smith to open up the scoring. It was the only shot in the first five minutes of the game.
Near the 6:30 mark, Jesperi Kotkaniemi had the puck on a two-on-one. However, he deferred to his linemate as he looked to send it to the trailing Corey Perry but missed. Earlier in the period, Kotkaniemi had the puck in a shooting lane and once again passed off to Perry, taking the puck out of the danger area in the process.
Cayden Primeau got the nod with the goal of finishing his year up on a high note but he had some tough luck as Alex Chiasson took a pass from James Neal, skated across the ice, and threw one at the net. The shot hit Jake Evans, changing direction in front of the net. The puck caught most of Primeau’s blocker but it still managed to trickle in.
Near the midway point of the period, Primeau made a nice sprawling stop on Jesse Puljujarvi on a delayed penalty for Ben Chiarot. Both teams managed to score in that situation. First, Suzuki created a turnover in the defensive zone, skated up the right wing, and wristed one that Smith somehow couldn’t corral to give Montreal the lead back. It didn’t last, however, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ point shot through a small screen beat Primeau on the short side to tie it up.
If you’re reading this thinking there were a lot of good opportunities in the opening period, there weren’t. There were bad goals and bad luck on goals. The best opportunity actually came with seven and a half minutes left as Dominik Kahun picked up the puck behind the net and tried to stuff it home with Primeau covering the opposite side, leaving a yawning cage. However, Alex Belzile was able to get back and break it up.
The final few minutes featured nothing much of anything – a handful of shots, a couple of hits that stood out in a period where neither team understandably wanted to throw one, and that’s about it as the two sides went to the room tied. Shots on goal were 9-9.
Suzuki’s second period got off to a tough start as he was called for a cross-check on Puljujarvi although the Habs had the best chance on the penalty kill as Paul Byron had a good shot off the rush but Michael Frolik couldn’t get the rebound to go. Suzuki had a good chance just after the penalty ended as he went on a rush with Artturi Lehkonen and sent the pass across. Lehkonen was stopped and Jake Evans couldn’t bury the rebound.
Three minutes later, it was a scary moment for Edmonton. After Jesse Ylonen – who had a solid NHL debut – was stopped on the backhand, Alex Belzile caught Smith in the head as he drove the net for the rebound. The veteran netminder needed a couple of minutes but fortunately was able to stay in the game.
Suzuki’s eventful game continued as he was sent off for a rather small hook on Leon Draisaitl, sending the Oilers to another power play. A nice play from Connor McDavid from behind the net got the puck in front, creating a scrum. Primeau didn’t track it well at all and as the puck trickled to Draisaitl, he had a largely open net to shoot on and made no mistake to restore Edmonton’s lead.
Once again, the Habs had a good chance just after the penalty ended as this time, it was Tomas Tatar who had a good look off the rush. Montreal didn’t do much after that and while Edmonton had a couple of looks, nothing qualified as dangerous though they had the one-goal lead after 40 minutes. Shots were a little lower this time with the Habs holding the 8-7 advantage.
Suzuki was noticeable on his first shift in the third period as his line generated some good pressure although they couldn’t beat Smith. Lehkonen then had a nice look before the five-minute mark, getting the puck near the point and having some time and space to work with. He used it but fired high and wide.
The trend of goals with mistakes attached to them continued as Caleb Jones had a brutal giveaway in his own end just past the eight-minute mark. That allowed Caufield to skate over and collect the puck; he sent a well-timed pass to Suzuki who was able to redirect it past Smith to tie the game. Three minutes later, Caufield made a nice individual move from the left side to give himself some room to shoot although he just missed.
The Habs had their first (and as it turned out, only) power play of the game with just under four minutes to go when Frolik drew a hooking penalty on Josh Archibald. The first unit did nothing while the second unit, featuring three players who have spent time on Laval’s power play as of late, had a bit more zone time but couldn’t do much with it either.
Edmonton’s best chance (pretty much their only chance) of the period came with just 20 seconds left when Darnell Nurse rang one off the post. Both sides played out the final seconds and secured the meaningless single point in the standings. Montreal had the 11-5 shot advantage in the frame.
Caufield was on the ice to start overtime and clearly hasn’t learned that the strategy when Montreal gets the puck is to skate around for a while and kill the clock. No, he had the crazy idea to try to score a goal. His shot was stopped and Edmonton came back the other way. Draisaitl was able to find Kahun who beat Primeau to end it just 27 seconds into the extra session.
Smith made 26 saves for the victory while Primeau turned aside 18 of 22 in the loss. He was better than he was against Toronto but not by much. With Laval having three games left, here’s hoping he gets one of them to see if that gets him going. Special teams played a big role with two of Edmonton’s goals coming on the power play (although Suzuki offset one of those with a shorthanded tally) while Montreal’s power play successfully managed to not get scored on. (I’m trying to find a positive here when it comes to their man advantage, I really am…)
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Nick Suzuki – The penalty trouble in the second period aside, he ended his season in fine form. His first goal should have been stopped but the effort to generate the turnover was certainly a good play and in the second half of the game, he was quite assertive, being rewarded for his efforts with the tying goal. They need strong centre play in the playoffs and he looks like he’s going to be able to provide it.
Stats: 2 goals, +2 rating, 4 PIMS, 4 shots, 2 hits, 6/8 faceoffs, 17:28 TOI
2nd Star: Cole Caufield – Of the fringe guys on the roster, he had the most at stake in this game. A poor showing would easily push him to the press box next week with a much healthier roster while a strong effort could keep him in the mix. He provided the latter with his best NHL performance thus far. One thing I noticed is that he wasn’t bobbling the puck which is something that was happening plenty of times in earlier games. If that’s a sign that he’s getting more comfortable, he could force Ducharme’s hand.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1 rating, 5 shots, 16:25 TOI
3rd Star: Tomas Tatar – With Kotkaniemi not looking confident at all and Corey Perry being more than a month between goals, Tatar was in tough to make something happen. He didn’t score but after a few quiet games upon returning, he was more noticeable in a good way which hopefully is a sign of some of the rust wearing off. His playoff reputation is well-known and with his contract up at the end of the season, there’s a lot at stake for him over the next few weeks.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 2 shots, 2 hits, 15:18 TOI
Honourable Mention: Jon Merrill – I hardly noticed him at all out there and that’s not a bad thing after some of the mistakes he has made recently. They need him to provide 15 or so minutes of relatively mistake-free hockey and they’ll be happy. He did exactly that in this one while posting a CF% of 89.47 which is absurdly high for a stay-at-home defenceman. When he was on the ice, Edmonton wasn’t doing anything offensively. I’ll take that and be happy with the result.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 1 shot, 1 block, 17:53 TOI