The Vegas Golden Knights came to Montreal for a rematch of last season’s semifinal series, albeit with both teams having fallen on hard times, with the Knights at 5-5 and the Habs at 3-9.
Nick Suzuki and Brendan Gallagher were declared as ready to play, but Jonathan Drouin was to sit out another game in spite of taking in the morning practice.
The Habs came out of the gate with surprising energy and Mike Hoffman had an early opportunity but was stopped by Robin Lehner. Just a minute later, the Knights’ defence fumbled the puck, and Cedric Paquette broke in on the left side for another chance at Robin Lehner. And then Nicolas Roy gave the puck to Joel Armia, who had an opportunity as well but shot the puck high.
All of this in the first three minutes of the game. As we approached the midway point of the game, the shots were a startling 9-0 in the Habs’ favour. And the Habs were still relentless.
Armia was battling Roy on the boards in the Vegas zone, and got outmuscled by Roy, but did not give up, stealing the puck back in the neutral zone. He passed the puck to Artturi Lehkonen, who then found Christian Dvorak in a tic-tac-toe play. Unfortunately, Dvorak was unable to find the net on his shot.
Roy was called for holding Gallagher at 15:33, giving Montreal the first power play of the game. The power play setup was working much better than earlier this season, but the shooters were still having difficulty in finding a gap between Lehner, one of the biggest goalies in the league, and the side of the net. However, with the penalty running down, Lehner gave up a rebound on Hoffman’s shot from between the circles, and Nick Suzuki was ready at the side of the net, tapping it in for a 1-0 lead.
Only about a minute later, Suzuki was at it again, picking up the puck in the Habs’ zone and feeding a clearing pass to Gallagher, who spotted Tyler Toffoli flying through the neutral zone. Toffoli handled the pass cleanly, crossed the blue line onside and all alone, and then outwaited Lehner with a backhand tap to put the puck in the net once the Vegas goaltender had committed.
A 2-0 lead after first, outshooting the opposition 20-1, and scoring chances at 16-1 — what could possibly go wrong?
The second frame seemed to start well enough, with another Roy penalty allowing the Habs to apply some additional pressure but once that expired, the urgency no longer seemed to be there, at least not at the same level as in the first period.
And then things did start to go wrong. Ben Chiarot, clearing the puck from the defensive zone after some sustained Vegas pressure, lifted it a touch too high and over the glass, attracting a delay-of-game penalty.
The Vegas power play looked far better than its 0-for-19 record coming into this game and it took only 11 seconds for them to score their first power play goal of the season. With Roy obstructing Allen’s view, Shea Theodore got the puck to Alex Pietrangelo, whose one-timer found the net while Allen was helplessly looking for the puck. That narrowed Montreal’s lead to 2-1, and very much shifted the momentum.
Hoffman and Jake Evans still broke in on a two-on-one break, and Hoffman shot at Lehner’s pads to elicit a rebound. Lehner did kick out a rebound but Evans couldn’t quite handle it.
Only a minute later, the Golden Knights were back in the Habs’ zone, applying pressure. David Savard fell down on the end boards, missing an opportunity to take possession. The Knights capitalized on the pressure this time, as Roy took a shot and Jonathan Marchessault found the loose puck at the side of the goal crease, making no mistake in tying up the game at two goals apiece.
And that was not all: Paquette took an offensive-zone zone cross-checking penalty, never one of a coach’s favourites.
The Knights’ power play unit had clearly gained confidence and was now playing like a league-leading power play should. It took over a minute this time, but once again they got the play right: Keegan Kolesar was parked in front of Allen, and this time Dylan Coghlan’s shot found the back of the net to put the Knights ahead by 3-2.
There was almost one more, with Kolesar parked in front of the net once again, about to deflect a shot to hopefully beat Allen, but Chris Wideman was there to defend and lifted the Vegas forward’s stick before any damage could be done.
So, what could go wrong, then? Two unavoidable penalties, traffic in front of Allen that was not cleared, defensive mishaps once again, and the Habs gave up three goals in the period in spite of the shots being only 10-9 in the Knights’ favour.
Three Strikes and You Are Out
There would be one more chance for the Habs to redeem themselves and they did come out to play. Alas, so did Vegas, so there was to be no rerun of the first period.
Midway through the period, the Canadiens had the Knights hemmed into their own zone, and Hoffman took a hard wrist shot from the right circle, aiming to allow Suzuki to tip it into the net, left of Lehner. However, Suzuki did not manage to get to the left side of the net quite quickly enough, so he was able to tip it only into the side of the net.
Dvorak had one more breakaway chance with some 10 minutes left but Lehner came out of the net and stacked his pads, taking away the shot and sending Dvorak flying towards the boards.
Jake Leschyshyn head locked Lehkonen with 3:36 remaining, and both players ended up getting sent off. That opened the door for coach Dominique Ducharme to pull Allen and get a 5-on-4 man advantage with some three minutes remaining.
Alas, the results were exactly what one might expect after that second period, as both Chandler Stephenson and Brayden McNabb scored empty-net goals to seal the win for Vegas, and give the Habs another loss with five-plus goals allowed.
It had all looked too good to be true, and that’s how it turned out, as the Habs fell to a 3-10 record for the season.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Nick Suzuki (1g, 1a, 3 shots, -1, 23:19 TOI) has his groove back, with 12 points in 13 games. He still needs to work on his faceoffs (40% for this game) but why pick nits when we actually have something positive to talk about?
Second Star: Tyler Toffoli (1g, 0a, 4 shots, -1, 17:47 TOI) played his breakaway beautifully to score his third goal of the year, and is getting closer to a 20-goal pace for the year.
Third Star: Jeff Petry (0g, 0a, 2 shots, +0, 23:01 TOI) had likely his best game of the year so far, with a monster 23 minutes of ice time, and a solid 11-3 edge in shots while on the ice.
Honourable Mention: Joel Armia (0g, 0a, 3 shots, +0, 15:14 TOI) didn’t score but was a force to be reckoned with in puck battles, and recorded a team-high 5-on-5 four scoring chances, the same as Toffoli.