The Habs traveled to San Jose on Thursday having been blown out by the Seattle Kraken and with the pressure piling on. The team was 1-6 on the season and had not won in San Jose in this millennium.
As it happened, Jake Allen took the lead in turning things around and kept the Canadiens’ net clean as they outscored the Sharks 4-0 in what was overall a fairly evenly played game.
First, Close the Floodgates
The start of the game was promising, with Mike Hoffman and Nick Suzuki generating some early looks in on the Sharks’ goal, but it didn’t last long, as the Sharks hemmed the Habs in their own zone, with Jonah Gadjovich eventually drawing a holding penalty against Joel Armia before six minutes were on the clock.
As the San Jose power play got underway, Erik Karlsson fired a slapshot from a set play, but Allen was prepared and snatched the puck safely. The Sharks managed three more shots on the man advantage but Allen turned all those aside. The Habs also had their own opportunities as both Tyler Toffoli and Artturi Lehkonen had shorthanded chances, with Lehkonen recording a shot while Toffoli’s was blocked by Brent Burns.
The fourth line, with Armia, Lehkonen, and Cedric Paquette, continued to pressure the home team after Armia’s return, but with no results.
It was not much later, though, that Nick Suzuki skated through the Sharks’ zone, dropping a pass back to Brett Kulak at the point. Adin Hill, the Sharks’ goaltender, blocked Kulak’s slap shot but it resulted in a big rebound, and Mike Hoffman was there when it came out. He took control of the loose puck and quickly slipped it past Hill to open the scoring at 12:09. Kulak picked up an assist, his third in only six games this season.
Armia was called for another penalty late in the period, this time for hooking Radim Simek with just under three minutes remaining. This time, Allen had to make just one save, again on a set play after a San Jose faceoff win, as the penalty killers got their job done.
The Sharks came out flying for the second period, determined to even up the game, and Allen was quickly called on to make saves on Tomas Hertl and Jacob Middleton. The pressure resulted in a third straight Canadiens penalty, with the penalty box door opening for Suzuki this time, charged with hooking Karlsson.
Logan Couture snatched the puck from the initial faceoff for another set play, and was able to attempt a tip-in on Allen, but the Habs’ goalie was having none of that. Christian Dvorak was able to win the ensuing faceoff, and Armia had another short-handed opportunity for the Habs, only to be foiled by Hill. Timo Meier was able to get two more chances on Allen during the power play, but it was all for naught.
The Habs finally got on the power play six minutes into the period, after Middleton tripped Gallagher, but they could not record a single shot. The pressure was better just after the power play, though, as the Canadiens kept the puck in the Sharks’ zone.
This paid off as Jonathan Drouin spotted Brent Burns about to make a pass and intercepted it before the Sharks could break out. He made a quick pass back to the left point, where Alexander Romanov was ready and took a one-timer slapshot which beat Hill for a 2-0 Habs lead.
The momentum had clearly shifted at this point, the the ice in front of Hill was full of Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge as Hill had to make repeated saves. And, as is often the case, the pressure resulted in a power play, as Gadjovich drew a kneeing penalty on David Savard.
The power play started off on the right note, with Suzuki taking the first faceoff win from Couture to maintain possession, and Josh Anderson doing the same on the second faceoff after Suzuki got ejected.
34 seconds into the penalty, they finally got results as Anderson’s shot from the side of the goal bounced onto Gallagher’s stick in front of the goal, and the gritty veteran tapped it in for a 3-0 lead, and only the third Montreal power play goal in 25 attempts.
Savard was called for tripping just over two minutes later, and the Sharks threw everything but the kitchen sink at Allen, with the Habs’ goalie recording five saves within two minutes to maintain the three-goal lead.
Ahead by Three with the Third Left
The Habs looked like they were ready to play in the third period, as they recorded five shots in the first three minutes of the final frame. However, they seemed to run out of steam quickly, and it was back to Allen to bar the gates once again. And that he did, stopping anything and everything once again.
San Jose pulled the goaltender early to try to narrow the gap but it did not pay off for them. Savard stripped the puck off Burns as the Sharks entered the Habs’ zone, and Anderson took a well-aimed shot from deep in the zone to score a 200-foot empty-netter to seal the game at 4-0.
That wasn’t quite all there was, as Romanov took out Lane Pederson with a hard but clean hit with just 13 seconds left. Gadjovich took exception to that and dropped the gloves on Romanov a few seconds later. Romanov, certainly not a fighter, held his own and, more importantly, avoided any injury in the fight. Gadjovich drew the instigator penalty for the fight as well as a game misconduct.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Jake Allen (45 shots, 45 saves, 1.000) was unquestionably the class of the night. Not only the 45 saves, but particularly the 13 stops he made on the Sharks’ power plays. Allen has a losing record on the year, but this was only the second time this season that the Habs have scored more than two goals in his support.
Second Star: Alexander Romanov (1g, 0a, 2 shots, 20:33 TOI) played likely his best game of the season. He may have had luck on his side in the goal but these are the types of shots that are expected of him. One hopes that this will be a confidence boost for him as he works to regain the form he showed last season.
Third Star: Nick Suzuki (0g, 2a, 3 shots, 20:21 TOI) doubled his season points total with some solid work in the offensive zone. His massive 20-minute ice time included both power play time and penalty kill as coach Dominque Ducharme leaned heavily on his top two centres, Suzuki and Dvorak.
Honourable Mention: Brett Kulak (0g, 1a, 1 shot, 13:11) was used more sparingly, along with Sami Niku, but the two helped the Habs generate five high-danger chances at even strength. Kulak also added another assist to his totals, as he builds the case for Ducharme to give him a regular place in the lineup.