The Habs were back in action Thursday night as they tried to string together two wins for the first time all season. They faced the infinitely patient Islanders who took advantage of the lack of experience from the Habs and eventually blew the game wide open as they skated away with a rather easy 6-2 victory. What’s most frustrating is that the Habs were likely the better team for a large chunk of the portion of the game that mattered. This is a big part of the equation that leads to this writer’s belief that this team’s systems simply are not of NHL calibre. There simply isn’t a built-in backup plan, so when plan A fails, the team picks the puck out of their net far too often. This is why this game was once again over by the second period despite the Habs truly being the better team for a significant portion of the game before the score became out of hand and both teams started going through the motions.
The first period got underway and there was only one team on the ice. The Habs took it on the chin, escaping the opening ten minutes down 1-0, but it could have been much worse if not for the early play of Jake Allen. Allen did give way at the 4:14 mark after David Savard was unable to keep his cover on Brock Nelson who also used Brett Kulak as a pick on Savard to get free and alone to beat Allen. Play was so one-sided at the start that the shots were 10-4 as the second half of the period started.
The Habs finally helped Allen out as they started to play in the second half of the period. They were all over the Islanders who played a patient game and kept the Habs to the outside, so Montreal was able to close that shot discrepancy but they were mostly shots that were not too dangerous. The Islanders took the first penalty of the contest at 12:37 as Noah Dobson was penalized for slashing. The power play got control but the passes simply weren’t accurate enough to threaten the disciplined Islanders who skated back to the room with a 1-0 lead.
The second period started with the Habs all over New York. Once again, they simply were not able to capitalize on their chances and the Islanders eventually made them pay. At the 3:31 mark, Chris Wideman was rather soft when picking up a dump-in in his defensive zone. This was a play that wasn’t great, but that Wideman likely gets away with most of the time. This time, Casey Cizikas found Oliver Wahlstrom who fired a quickly released rocket right next to Allen’s ear to extend the lead to 2-0. The Habs, in all honesty, continued to be the better team in the second period, but it made no difference as their passes weren’t sharp, but Ilya Sorokin was whenever the Habs did get to him.
Just after the game’s midway point, Christian Dvorak was sent in on a breakaway, but Sorokin stood tall. That big save was followed by excellent shifts by the Dvorak line and then the AHL line of Adam Brooks, Alex Belzile, and Michael Pezzetta. Their reward for this excellent play was to watch Josh Anderson get called for holding on Nelson, but Nelson was a hungrier player, so he got back up before Anderson and jumped on a juicy Allen rebound to negate Anderson’s infraction and make it 3-0.
This was the end of the night for the Habs. Nelson capped off his hat-trick after a third pass by Anthony Beauvillier on a 2-on-1. With the Islanders all over the Habs, Jean-Gabriel Pageau made it 5-0 with a delayed penalty incoming to Savard.
Allen had quite an ordinary second period watching his young counter Sorokin keep the Habs from getting back into the game before seeing his rebound control crumble to end the second. It, therefore, came as no surprise when Samuel Montembeault started the third period instead of the reigning Molson Cup winner. Some old habits made life hard for Montembeault to start the third period. Wideman was called for interference two minutes into the period before Savard was sent off for hooking two minutes later. The Habs got out of both situations, as Nick Suzuki was able to find Tyler Toffoli who got a shot off on a play that should have given the Habs a shortened power play.
The Habs did show a bit of fight in the last ten minutes as they attempted to break Sorokin’s shutout bid. Brendan Gallagher really looked discouraged when Sorokin stopped his scoring chance. Belzile then took a dumb holding penalty. He was clearly interfered with, but he retaliated with an even more obvious hold and was penalized.
However, the shutout was broken with 4:40 left when Zdeno Chara shattered his stick and Savard sent Suzuki off to the races. He opted for a low wrist-shot and fooled Sorokin to make it 5-1.
On the next shift, Scott Mayfield took a penalty and then 30 seconds later, Cal Clutterbuck was sent off for a cross-check. The 5-on-3 was frustrating for the first minute as Wideman took two shots from the point. Suzuki had finally seen enough, controlled the puck and made a play down low. This allowed Dvorak to make a touch pass across the crease to a wide-open Toffoli who finally buried one. With 18 seconds to play, Nelson sent his fourth goal of the night into an empty net.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Nick Suzuki
He was invisible for much of the night even though he appeared to be making the right plays. He then scored a beauty of a goal even if it was completely inconsequential. But my most pressing reason for including Suzuki here was his ability to finally refuse to accept the stupid point shot on the team’s 5-on-3 which allowed the team to score on the power play, something they really needed moving forward.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, -1, 5 shots, 1 hit, 19:08 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Mike Hoffman
This team has been far from good, yet Hoffman continues to try things offensively while not really getting caught defensively. I say this knowing full well that he ended the night a –5, but I’d love to see the advanced metrics on him specifically, because he just didn’t seem that off when watching the game. He pulled a few moves that created chances and created murmurs in the crowd due to impressive maneuvers. He ends the night without much other than a tap on the back from me, and likely his coaching staff.
Stats: -5, 1 hit, 17:41 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Joel Armia
Hard to choose players on such a night. Armia won many puck battles and allowed his line to play in the offensive zone most of the night with his strong puck possession. Too bad it didn’t lead to any goals.
Stats: 1 shot, 1 hit, 16:55 T.O.I.