After a tough road trip out West, the Habs returned home and began a five-game homestand on Tuesday night against Detroit. They put forth arguably their most complete effort of the season as they picked up a 3-0 victory.
The blender was once again out for Dominique Ducharme, partly by choice and partly by necessity. Cole Caufield was replaced by Michael Pezzetta in Monday’s notable roster move and Pezzetta made his NHL debut with Jake Evans and Alex Belzile who was recalled to take Cedric Paquette’s spot after he was suspended for two games. Brendan Gallagher also returned, replacing Adam Brooks. Defensively, Sami Niku returned to the lineup and was paired up with Chris Wideman; Alexander Romanov was a healthy scratch.
Montreal came out like a team looking extra motivated following those Western struggles as they had some jump early on, getting a couple of good looks on the first shift stemming from Christian Dvorak tipping David Savard’s point shot which resulted in some extra zone time.
They didn’t score there but got on the board soon after. Jeff Petry kept in a clearing attempt and got the puck to Tyler Toffoli in the middle of the ice. He spotted Nick Suzuki on the right side and while Alex Nedeljkovic was able to stop the first attempt, Suzuki batted home the rebound to get the Canadiens on the board.
The Habs had seven shots just past the three-minute mark before Detroit woke up as the next several minutes were largely in Montreal’s end although Jake Allen was up to the task.
There was a scary moment just before the eight-minute mark when Brett Kulak’s point shot caught Jonathan Drouin in the helmet, sending the forward – who was at centre to start the game – to the room. He left the game, did not return, and was taken to hospital for evaluation but had returned to the arena by the time the game ended. Seconds later, Sami Niku found Evans open at the side of the net but his one-timer was stopped by a sprawling Nedeljkovic.
However, less than a minute after that, Suzuki found Anderson at the offensive blueline with a well-placed pass, sending the speedster in. He was able to wrist one far-side past Nedeljkovic to double Montreal’s advantage.
The Habs had several good opportunities to pad their lead after that but were unsuccessful. Evans had another chance with nine minutes left after getting the puck in the slot but his shot went high and wide. Gallagher was stopped on a one-timer in the final few minutes of the period and caught a small piece of the post. Despite those misses, they went to the room with a 2-0 lead on the scoreboard and a 16-12 advantage in shots.
It was a quieter start to the second period for both sides. Artturi Lehkonen had a hand in a couple of chances early on. He took an outside shot that in itself wasn’t dangerous but Nedeljkovic kicked out the rebound to Dvorak but the netminder was able to stretch out the pad to make the stop. On his next shift, Lehkonen was in two-on-one with Joel Armia but wasn’t quite able to get the pass across cleanly.
The game nearly made it halfway without a penalty before Gallagher was called for tripping Marc Staal who had a shot and then followed the puck down low. The Habs did a strong job of killing it off before making it harder on themselves when Savard was called for interference off a faceoff, giving Detroit a 26-second five-on-three advantage. Filip Zadina drew iron on a one-timer but that was their only good chance up two skaters and they did nothing the rest of the way with the power play.
After that stretch, the pace slowed a little but Montreal had another good opportunity with a little under five minutes to go. Off a broken play, Suzuki was able to get a weak shot off and the rebound went right to Gallagher whose backhand tap just missed a largely open net. To make matters worse, he left at the end of that shift as he clearly wasn’t 100% healthy. The score remained 2-0 for the Habs through 40 minutes while the home side had a 13-7 shot advantage in the frame.
Gallagher was able to return for the third, preventing Ducharme from basically having to roll three lines the rest of the way. The final period didn’t feature much in the way of chances although Allen had to make one of his best saves of the game early on a Sam Gagner one-timer off the rush.
Montreal had their one and only power play opportunity when Robby Fabbri was sent off for tripping Suzuki. Suzuki set up Dvorak for a back-door one-timer that was stopped but that was about all they were able to muster up. It wasn’t run exclusively through the point, however, which is a small step in the right direction. Not long after the man advantage ended, Ben Chiarot’s point shot was stopped and the rebound went to Evans but he couldn’t slide it through Nedeljkovic’s pad.
Jeff Blashill pulled Nedeljkovic with 3:50 to go but the Red Wings couldn’t muster up a whole lot. With just over two minutes left, Suzuki blocked a shot and the Habs were off to the races. He found Toffoli who slid it over to Gallagher and he sent a shot from just outside the blueline that caught the yawning cage. A fitting ending to a gutsy night for Gallagher.
Allen made 22 stops for his second shutout in his last three games while Nedeljkovic kicked aside 38 of 40 shots. Neither team scored with the man advantage; the Red Wings were 0/2 and the Habs 0/1.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Josh Anderson – There are games where he skates like the wind but doesn’t do much offensively. There are other times where he doesn’t have his skating legs. Then there are those when it all comes together and this game was one of those. Detroit had no answer for Anderson’s speed and the end result was his best game of the season.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 6 shots, 19:18 TOI
2nd Star: Nick Suzuki – After he called himself out following Sunday’s loss, Suzuki responded with arguably his best game of the year as well. He had the opening goal, had a hand in the other two, was good defensively, and had a surprisingly strong game at the faceoff dot as well.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +3 rating, 5 shots, 2 takeaways, 13/19 faceoffs, 18:28 TOI
3rd Star: Jake Allen – There really isn’t much to say here. He didn’t allow any goals and his rebound control was sharp. Detroit isn’t the strongest team and, to be fair, they were missing their three best forwards (Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin, and Jakub Vrana) but early on, it was easy to see that Allen was sharp and that was more than enough for the shutout.
Stats: 22 saves on 22 shots, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 SV%
Honourable Mention: David Savard – I could have gone a few ways here (for example, Gallagher for gutting it out or Evans for being the player who bounced around in a variety of roles all game) but the defence needs a mention here. Savard hasn’t had a great start to his season but this looked more like the Savard from a few years ago, the one GM Marc Bergevin hoped he was signing this past summer. He was largely solid defensively while creating a few chances defensively. Nothing flashy but he was effective. They’ll take more of that from him any day of the week.
Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 21:20 TOI