With three straight losses to start the season, the Habs were desperate to take their first win of the season from the visiting Carolina Hurricanes, who had snatched the Habs’ first-round pick, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, from the team using an offer sheet this past summer.
But, while the effort was there, and so were the chances, the bounce of the puck was not in their favour on this night, either.
The First Chance
There was plenty of energy in the Bell Centre as they awaited their first chance to boo Kotkaniemi and they got their first opportunity within the first couple of minutes.
The fans came to life again a minute later when Josh Anderson had a breakaway from his own zone after knocking down a pass. However, Frederik Andersen made the stop but Tony DeAngelo was called for slashing on the play, sending Montreal to the man advantage.
That power play, however, lasted about as long as it took for you to read this sentence. Jonathan Drouin was called for hooking off the faceoff and that was that. Carolina had control during the four-on-four with Andrei Svechnikov getting off a wraparound shot. He poked at Jake Allen who had it covered, drawing the ire of Ben Chiarot. Svechnikov responded with a slash, getting two minutes for his trouble.
That put the Canadiens back on the power play with an opportunity to show what their four-on-three setup looks like. It turns out that it looks a lot like the other power plays as there were point shots and nothing more. However, with Drouin and DeAngelo both out of the box and Montreal on the more conventional man advantage, Chris Wideman’s point shot was redirected by Brendan Gallagher in front past Andersen for Montreal’s first power play goal of the year.
Or so we thought. Carolina challenged for goaltender interference and the goal was very quickly overturned. Gallagher’s foot was in the crease and his backside in the blue paint, preventing Andersen from pushing out to cut down the angle on the shot. The drought with the man advantage continued as a result.
Just before the midway point of the period, Anderson had another rush but this time, Brett Pesce was able to get back and break up the scoring chance. Derek Stepan was called for slashing soon after, putting the Canadiens back on the power play. Carolina’s pressure flustered the Habs greatly and they got nothing going with this opportunity. The Hurricanes did right after, however, as Stepan was sent in on a breakaway but Allen made the glove spot.
Carolina picked up their play in the second half of the period, hemming Montreal in more frequently. Tyler Toffoli turned it over in the defensive end with just over three minutes left with the puck going right to Kotkaniemi. He had it in his skates and by the time he got control, Allen had come across and was able to make the stop. On that line’s next shift, Teuvo Teravainen flubbed what would have been another strong scoring chance at the front of goal; seconds later, Martin Necas rang one off the post.
The Hurricanes then got their first chance with the man advantage when Christian Dvorak was sent off for a slash on Pesce. Montreal was able to kill off the first three quarters of it before the period ended, one that saw them start well but finish poorly as they were on their heels in the second half. Shots on goal were 10-5 for Carolina.
The Second Part Proves Costly
While the Habs were able to kill off most of the power play in the first, they couldn’t kill the second part to start the next period. Teravainen got the puck at the blue line and sent a perfect diagonal cross-ice feed to Aho who one-timed it home.
Two minutes later, they had a very similar play develop with Necas getting the puck a bit below the blueline before sending a diagonal cross-ice feed to Svechnikov. He wasn’t able to one-time it but still wristed it past Allen to make it 2-0. Montreal pondered a challenge but opted against it. Pesce rang one off the post before the four-minute mark as well.
Montreal got another chance with the power play when Vincent Trocheck was sent off for roughing as he put a glove to the face of Mathieu Perreault who was back in the lineup in place of Cedric Paquette. The best chance came off yet another rush from Anderson but the end result was the same: another two minutes without a goal.
Allen made his best stop of the period just past the midway mark as he made a sliding save off an Aho redirect in front of the net. Montreal then started to push back with Cole Caufield getting a two-on-one with Tyler Toffoli. The rookie kept it and his shot was stopped; the puck made its way to Toffoli seconds later and he, too, was stymied but it was some pressure from a pair of players who have been quiet so far this season. With a little over five minutes left, Dvorak was stopped off the rush with his rebound catching the post.
The Canadiens then got another opportunity to snap the drought on the power play when Carolina was called for too many men. There was good pressure early off a shot from Mike Hoffman that led to a scramble in front. The Hurricanes then got a chance from Jordan Staal. It was stopped and the Habs came back the other way. Drouin found Nick Suzuki on a zone entry and he was able to feed Toffoli in front who tapped it past Andersen’s pad to get the Habs on the board. No challenge came this time as Montreal’s goalless streak was snapped at 108:33.
They still went to the room in worse shape than they were in the first but they at least had some positive momentum; shots were 12-10 for the Habs in the period.
The Third Seals the Deal
After the strong finish to the second period, including Toffoli’s late goal, the fans were primed to see more of the same in the third. The Habs were unable to sustain the same sort of pressure in the third frame as they had done in the second, and by the five-minute mark had only managed to record three long-distance shots on Andersen, all by the defence corps.
Svechnikov recorded his second minor — in addition to the bench minor he served in the second — for tripping Lehkonen at 4:59 into the period. We never did find out whether the power play formation would be effective again, as they could not get it set up. Dvorak lost the initial faceoff, allowing the Hurricanes to clear and then the Habs entered the Hurricanes’ zone five times, three with dump-ins and two with controlled carries, but in each case, the puck was back in the neutral zone or further within five or ten seconds. Not a single shot on Andersen was recorded during those two minutes.
Just less than a minute later, Anderson finally managed to break in on the left side of the Hurricanes’ blue line but Andersen took away the angle for the shot and was easily able to rebuff the shot.
And then it was all over. Chiarot stumbled and lost a puck battle on the left-side boards in the defensive zone, failing to clear the puck. Aho picked it up, carried it to behind the net and fed it to a waiting Brady Skjei on the blue line. Skjei wasted no time, taking a one-time slap shot on net — and Kotkaniemi, parked in front of the net, got his stick on the waist-high shot and deflected it down and past the helpless Allen.
It was clearly all over but the crying at this point, and it was clear that the goal had taken away any remaining whiff of wind from the Canadiens’ sails. It was not until they somehow discovered desperation in the last five minutes of the game, far too late given the Carolina defence and Andersen’s solid play.
The Habs finally mustered a concerted attack in front of Andersen with four minutes remaining, with Caufield first shooting a wrister on goal and Gallagher then taking two whacks at the rebound but unable to put it past Andersen.
With Allen out of the net, Gallagher, Toffoli, and Dvorak made another frenzied attack on the Carolina net with just over two and half minutes remaining, but could not find a way to get the puck past Andersen. Carolina iced the puck, breaking the play but bringing the faceoff back into the zone. Dvorak managed to get a shot on net before Carolina iced the puck again, but that was it. Gallagher smashed his stick behind the Habs’ bench, summing up the team’s frustrations.
The cherry on top was provided by Aho, who managed to pick up a pass from Teravainen, break out into centre ice and slide the puck into the empty Habs net.
4-1 it was, then: five games, four goals scored, 19 goals allowed. Oh yes, should I mention that Buffalo has won its first three games of the season, outscoring the opposition 12-4? There is no doubt that the picture is very grim, even if the pink slip pad isn’t yet being looked for.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Tyler Toffoli (1g, 0a, 4s, -3, 17:17 TOI) was not at his sharpest in defensive terms, but given how hard up the Habs are for goals at the moment — averaging 0.8 goals/game — just scoring one has to merit a star. Will this help break Toffoli out of his slump?
Second Star: Chris Wideman (0g, 0a, 0s, 17:30 TOI) has been much maligned by the Habs fans but played a solid game, with the Habs’ scoring chances outnumbering Carolina 10-5 while he was on the ice. Four giveaways is not a pretty number but Wideman appears to be readjusting to the NHL.
Third Star: Jake Allen (29 saves on 32 shots, .906, 27/29 on 5-on-5) kept the Habs in the game and had little chance on the goals that Carolina scored. Goaltending is not the Habs’ primary problem.
Honourable Mention: Brendan Gallagher (0g, 0a, 4s, -1) bleeds bleu, blanc, et rouge, and it showed again in the effort he put in to try to get his team back into the game. He had four high-danger chances, a high-water mark shared with Toffoli, but could not find a way past Andersen.