The Habs hoped for a better effort from many prospects as they got back to the ice for their latest preseason contest on Saturday after yet another stinker on Friday night in Ottawa. Some players were getting a second look in as many nights so a better effort was ultra-important if they wanted to avoid wearing the Laval Rocket jersey to start the season. This list included struggling Ryan Poehling and Chris Wideman who had a slightly better outing on Friday night. They got to continue their effort to make the team while Brendan Gallagher made his preseason debut. The lineup is listed below and it was aided by Cayden Primeau who got the whole game. The results were a much better effort from the Habs as they skated away with a 2-1 win on Saturday night, a score they could have improved upon with a bit more finish.
The game started with Scott Sabourin jumping Brandon Baddock and then bailing before the latter could recover. He ended up with the instigator penalty on the play, so the Montreal power play got an early chance that they squandered without a scoring chance despite the good zone time by both units that were deployed.
Those units got a second chance after five minutes of uneventful hockey. This time, they both squandered their chance, though Nick Suzuki wowed the crowd and almost gave Gallagher an empty-net chance. Baddock took a cross-checking penalty just before the midway point of the period that really swung the period’s momentum.
The Habs were able to kill the penalty and then controlled the pace of play again. But with 6:24 left in the period, some rather poor puck management by Jeff Petry allowed Ottawa to get their fifth shot on net from the point. That shot was deflected and then found its way through three bodies in front of Primeau to open the game’s scoring.
With 3:01 to go, Arber Xhekaj engaged after the whistle and ended up with the sole penalty with allowed a second Ottawa man advantage that once again wasn’t too threatening as the Habs excellent penalty killing from the playoffs carried over in this preseason contest to end the period.
The second period started with Suzuki attacking the Senators zone seconded with a Petry wrap-around that froze everyone as the Habs thought they had scored though they had not. Montreal continued to control even-strength play for the most part but they were facing a defensively disciplined team in the Senators on this night.
Petry took a penalty four minutes into the period that the Habs killed while creating the better scoring chances. Petry was then able to set up J-C Beaudin upon his exit from the box, but the Habs continued to be unable to finish.
The second half of the game started with the Habs really kicking it up a notch as Petry, Alexander Romanov, Suzuki, and Jesse Ylonen were noticeably better than the rest of the players on the ice creating chances that just weren’t being finished.
This led to a power play that saw the Habs get two or three excellent chances that they mostly missed the net on, most noticeably Ylonen missing a wide-open net after a savvy pass from the centre of the ice. Finally, Gallagher got the Habs and the power play on the board after some terrible luck for Josh Brown who had his stick shatter on a clearing attempt creating the wide-open chance for Gallagher. Xhekaj took a penalty with 3:45 left in the period, but the Habs stepped up for the youngster and killed it off again.
The Habs took their first lead of the game 24 seconds into the third period as Suzuki was rewarded for an excellent forecheck. His work allowed Romanov to step up on the blue line and keep the play alive which ended with Tyler Toffoli centring a pass that Gallagher missed while he attracted the attention of both defenders which opened the high slot for Suzuki who made no mistake. The goal really gave tilted the ice in favour of the Habs as they once again controlled play although the Suzuki missed quite a few occasions on subsequent shifts.
The Sens pushed back as the final ten minutes got underway but some smart plays by veterans trapped the young Senators into a penalty and the Habs were not able to extend their lead despite Toffoli offering Poehling a wide-open net that the roster hopeful fanned on. After the advantage, Ottawa attacked but the Habs were quite efficient at killing plays and hanging on for the 2-1 victory to even up their preseason record at 2-2.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Nick Suzuki
Game winner for the team’s top pivot while he was defensively solid and creating other good occasions for his line. That entire line appeared quite ready for the start of the regular season all night long.
Stats: 1 goal, 18:12 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jeff Petry
Alexander Romanov likely also deserves some praise on this night, but the team’s uncontested number one defender made some huge defensive plays, joined the rush when necessary, and he even got physical when it was necessary. Much like Suzuki above, seeing him ready to go is a key for this team, so it’s absolutely a huge detail to underline.
Stats: 1 assist, 2 shots, 2 hits, 21:04 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jesse Ylonen
Let’s be honest, Gallagher, Toffoli, and Romanov were all likely better than Ylonen overall. However, they are supposed to be, whereas seeing this type of game from Ylonen is a bigger deal and one that’s worth mentioning. Ylonen has to know he’s starting the season in Laval, but he’s playing for a call-up, and if this was his last game with the big club for now, his second period alone was enough for me to be fairly excited next time the team comes calling for his services, whenever that may be.
Stats: 3 shots, 14:51 T.O.I.
Honourable Mentions – Ryan Poehling and Arber Xhekaj
Poehling had a slow first period before having an excellent second where his hard work in the corners gave Ylonen the space required to have the period he had. Then, once the Habs got the lead, he played like a veteran 4C as he took no risks and completed a few excellent defensive plays. Many are looking for him to really shine in this camp, but if he did, would he really be playing his way into a potential 4C position? What he showed in this one is exactly what the Habs want, it’s just not quite 3C material, so Evans needs to take that step to be that guy if Poehling is filling in his role as the 4C.
Stats: 18:01 T.O.I.
Xhekaj took two penalties and wasn’t perfect by any stretch but no one even knew this name a few weeks ago. He played a strong physical game, was quite good at controlling his gaps in all three zones, and noticeably took ice time away from Gianni Fairbrother and Wideman as the game wore on.
Stats: 4 hits, 14:38 T.O.I.
Following the game, the Habs made seven more cuts. J-C Beaudin, Tobie Paquette-Bisson, and Corey Schueneman were all sent directly to Laval. Meanwhile, Brandon Baddock, Laurent Dauphin, Jean-Sebastien-Dea, and Michael McNiven were all also cut and will be placed on waivers on Sunday.