The Habs entered Saturday’s battle of the bottom-feeders with a 2-6 record for the season, only marginally better than the LA Kings’ 1-5-1 mark. But one key difference is that the Kings had only twice been held to less than two goals, whereas the Habs had only twice scored that many.
And that indeed proved to be the difference, as Los Angeles hit the Habs where it hurts, scoring on three of five power play opportunities to take a 5-2 victory and drop Montreal to 30th in the overall league standings, ahead of only the sad-sack Chicago and Arizona franchises.
A Good Start Comes First
The start of the game was actually not auspicious as the Kings were immediately on the attack, and the Habs were unable to get out of their own zone within the first shift. Still, that was only one shift, and as Nick Suzuki gave Phillip Danault a friendly bodycheck, the action also visited the Kings’ zone.
Alex Iafallo looked to have a break on Jake Allen at the five-minute mark, but a trailing Alexander Romanov was able to get his stick on Iafallo’s and prevent the LA forward from getting a shot away. Little else had been accomplished by either team by the six-minute mark, with the shot total standing at just three.
Soon after Iafallo’s break, the Habs were able to get some offence going, and Romanov recorded a shot on LA goalie, Calvin Petersen. Sami Niku then looked dangerous in the offensive zone as he was able to get away from the Kings’ coverage, but the black-shirted defencemen stripped the puck away from him. The Kings then set up for pressure in the Habs’ zone, but Niku blocked a Trevor Moore shot by going down on one knee and regained control of the puck for the Habs.
A few minutes later the Kings had another dangerous opportunity with Blake Lizotte in front of the net and Brendan Lemieux trying to get to the rebound, but David Savard and Mathieu Perreault were able to work together to preclude that.
Just past the midway mark of the period, Niku got loose in the offensive zone again, and this time he drew a penalty as Adrian Kempe put his stick on Niku’s skates in trying to stop him. However, that power play is not ranked near the bottom of the league without reason, and even though the Habs were able to control the play in the Kings’ zone, they were not able to record a single shot on goal. And, at the end of the power play, Danault and Moore broke away from the Habs’ power play on a two-on-one short-handed rush. Brendan Gallagher was able to catch up to the play and neutralize his former linemate, while Jeff Petry made sure that Moore could not get too close to Allen.
It was nearly the end of the period before the Habs could apply some sustained pressure and it was the fourth line stepping up to lead by example at first. Joel Armia buzzed around the boards in the offensive zone, repeatedly winning board battles, and Petry managed to record a shot from this stretch of pressure.
But it was the next shift that mattered, as the first line built on their energy. Christian Dvorak took the puck off Danault on a faceoff in the defensive zone, and as the Canadiens broke out, Dvorak fed the puck from the left side to a streaking Josh Anderson in the middle, and Anderson made no mistake in beating Petersen on the blocker side to put the Habs in the lead.
A Second Goal Would Be Nice
There was some early action in the Kings’ end of the ice as Anderson stole the puck at the Kings’ blue line, but this time Petersen was ready and snatched Anderson’s snapshot relatively easily.
About a minute later, Cole Caufield got his first real chance of the game as he got a tidy pass from Perreault and tried to slip the puck past Petersen from a close distance. Petersen made the initial save, though, and also blocked Caufield’s second attempt on the rebound.
It was pretty much downhill from there, though. With less than five minutes gone in the period, Olli Maatta made a seeing-eye pass behind him to Anze Kopitar, while being forechecked in his own zone. Kopitar fed the puck past Ben Chiarot to Viktor Arvidsson on the other side, and Arvidsson’s shot found the net, bouncing off Allen’s sweater and then from the inside the post into the back of the net, to tie the game at one.
Anderson got called for Montreal’s first penalty of the game at 11:32 of the second, for slashing Kopitar. The Kings did not look like the terrible power play team that their stats say they are, as they set up and controlled the play in the Habs’s zone. And 49 seconds into the penalty, Kale Clague got the puck to Arthur Kaliyev on the left side and Kaliyev one-timed it into the top corner of the Habs’ net, Allen powerless to respond to the quick shot from the opposite side.
One might have hoped for some fightback after that goal, but the Habs did not have that kind of fight in them on this day, and they went to the dressing room down 2-1, having been outshot 15-10 in the middle frame of the game.
Bad Things Come in Threes
It took only 23 seconds for the Habs’ penalty trouble to start, as Dvorak was called for tripping Danault. Once the Kings gained the Habs’ zone, they were once again able to control the pinball flippers and move the puck seemingly at will there. It took only about 30 seconds for them to find their Finnish rookie, Rasmus Kupari, open near the blueline. Kupari had lots of space, quickly skated to the hash marks, and made no mistake in flinging the puck in just below the crossbar.
With the Habs’ scoring struggles, 3-1 was getting to the insurmountable territory, but the Kings still had much more energy remaining than the Habs, and the play remained largely in front of Allen.
Less than four minutes after the Kupari goal, Los Angeles was on a quick counterattack. Petry was able to strip the puck off Kempe, but Matt Roy picked up and got it on net, forcing Allen to make a save. However, Iafallo trailed him, unspotted by Chiarot or Petry, and he picked up the loose rebound and tucked it behind Allen and just inside the post for a three-goal lead.
It could have certainly been worse: with eight minutes remaining, Arvidsson and Dustin Brown had a two-on-one break with only Romanov back, and both got opportunities to try to whack the puck into the net, but Allen was able to cover the puck and keep the Kings at four.
Less than a minute later, though, Kopitar drew another penalty, as Perreault was called for hooking. Danault — on a power play! — won the faceoff and Brown made a backhand shot from that, saved by Allen, and then the same for Kupari’s attempt at a second power play goal. But, as the penalty kill was nearing its end, Montreal’s defensive line broke down at the blueline, allowing Iafallo to waltz in unharassed and lift the puck into the top corner over a sprawling Allen.
Moore nearly scored a shorthanded goal on the Habs’s sole power play in the third, but Allen stood tall on that one.
There was a consolation goal near the end, as Anderson passed the puck to Chiarot, who beat Petersen for the second Canadiens goal, and made the final score 5-2. At that point, no one was in much of a mood to celebrate the goal, though.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Josh Anderson (1g, 1a, 6 shots, 2 PIM, 16:13 TOI) scored a goal and an assist for the second consecutive game. The Habs desperately need him to be productive, and one hopes that these last two games signpost a reversion to his powerful game last season.
Second Star: Cole Caufield (0g, 0a, 4 shots, 3 HDCF, 15:14 TOI) was once again kept off the scoresheet, but he was the only Habs skater to record more than two high-danger scoring chances. He is surely putting a lot of pressure on himself, and the scoring should come more easily once he can break his slump.
Third Star: Sami Niku (0g, 0a, 1 shot, 14:58 TOI) is quickly adapting to playing for the Canadiens. he and Brett Kulak gave up only one high-danger scoring chance while they were on the ice 5-on-5 and had four on the Los Angeles net. Did good work in drawing a penalty and in blocking a shot in the defensive zone.
Honourable Mention: Jake Allen (38 shots, 33 saves, .868) made numerous saves to keep the score under control until the Habs fell into the morass of penalties in the third period. 11 saves on 13 high-danger opportunities is no mean feat, but Allen needs scoring support to win games.