After picking up a win on Saturday, the Habs were back in action Wednesday to try to make it back-to-back victories for the first time this season. However, they forgot that consistent effort was required in order to make that happen as they struggled mightily for long stretches in a 6-3 loss.
Montreal made three lineup changes for this one compared to their game against Nashville. Jake Allen returned from concussion protocol to make the start in goal while Cedric Paquette returned, replacing Mattias Norlinder as the Habs went back to a usual 12/6 lineup. Meanwhile, with Brett Kulak out for the road trip, Sami Niku played for the first time in three weeks.
The Canadiens got an early opportunity with the man advantage when Dmitry Orlov was called for delay of game not even 90 seconds in. However, the Habs barely got the puck into the offensive zone. Just as the penalty was expiring, Ben Chiarot made a bad decision to pinch (showing why he shouldn’t be on the power play when Niku, an offensive-minded defender, is in the lineup), allowing Washington to counter-attack. While it became a two-on-two, Nic Dowd carried the puck right around Jeff Petry and tried to stuff it home. Allen made the stop but Dowd collected the rebound, did a wrap-around, and beat Allen to open the scoring. Alex Ovechkin was stopped on a two-on-one on the next shift.
Petry’s tough opening period continued when he tripped up Carl Hagelin behind the Montreal net just past the eight-minute mark. Unlike Montreal’s power play, Washington didn’t leave the zone. Evgeny Kuznetsov was left all alone at the faceoff dot. He opted for the pass instead of the shot and it was the right decision as he found John Carlson at the point and hit shot went off Paquette and in to double their lead.
Two minutes later, Kuznetsov got by Tyler Toffoli at his own blueline and despite being in a one-on-three, managed to get to the slot for a dangerous look that Allen stopped. Each of the Habs’ defenders on that play seemed to be content hoping one of the others was going to do something. That’s not a viable defensive strategy in any league.
Things then got a little weird. With five and a half minutes left, Paquette’s clearing attempt up the middle hit Michael Sgarbossa and bounced back in the direction of the Montreal net. However, while it was going wide, it then bounced off Alexander Romanov and went past Allen who didn’t track it well, leading to one of the stranger goals of the season.
The Habs did get some good fortune of their own before the end of the period, however. Carlson’s clearing attempt caught Artturi Lehkonen and bounced right to Jake Evans in the slot. He was able to lift it past Ilya Samsonov to get Montreal on the board with just over a minute to go. That was the only positive from the period though as they were outshot 16-5 and outplayed for the majority of it.
Things didn’t get off to much better of a start in the second. A hard hit from Tom Wilson on Niku helped lead to a two-on-one for the Caps but Allen was able to stop Daniel Sprong’s shot. Four minutes later, Brendan Gallagher hustled back to break up what would have been another two-on-one and after the whistle, was knocked down by Garnet Hathaway, sending the Habs to the power play. Aside from a Cole Caufield shot off the rush, it didn’t generate anything of consequence.
Less than a minute after the advantage ended, Washington put out their top line and they went right back to work. Kuznetsov continued to be unimpeded by Montreal’s defenders, allowing the Capitals to set up once again. He got it to Ovechkin who sent it back to Carlson. Carlson faked a shot and then had a perfectly-placed pass to Kuznetsov for a tap-in to restore the three-goal lead.
The Canadiens started to show some signs of life after that. With five and a half minutes left, Evans was stopped on a wraparound attempt while Lehkonen’s rebound was denied as well. Less than three minutes later, Niku sent a pass to Gallagher who was alone in the crease but he couldn’t corral the pass.
After getting a fortuitous bounce late in the first, the Habs got another one in the second. Caufield opted to shoot on a late two-on-one and Samsonov on his off-wing again. The puck bounced up, hit the boards, and bounced in front of the net but on the other side. Caufield tracked it well and fired it on net. Samsonov got a pad on it but he was so deep in his net that the pad was over the goal line. After a quick video review, the shot was correctly ruled a goal, giving Caufield his first of the season on what was another odd goal in a game that had a few of them at this point. That brought the gap back to two after 40 minutes with each team getting ten shots in the period.
The start of the third was a rocky one as well for the Canadiens. Christian Dvorak bumped into Allen’s head while defending a first-minute rush, never a good thing when your goalie is coming back from a concussion. On the next shift, Washington came in two-on-one, Ovechkin held on, got Allen to bite on the shot fake, then sent it over to Wilson who had a wide-open net and made no mistake to make it 5-2.
The Evans line got another chance to score soon after as Lehkonen found Evans who had gotten behind Washington’s defence but his redirect went wide.
Barely a minute later, it got worse for the Habs. Dmitry Orlov skated down the sideboards and just threw the puck towards the net. It hit Chris Wideman’s skate and went right past Allen to make it 6-2.
A minute and a half later, Evans set up Gallagher for a good look in close but he couldn’t bury it.
Montreal got another chance with the man advantage in the second half of the period when Carlson was sent off for holding Niku on a rush. Hathaway had the best chance of the period when he went in on a breakaway but his shot went wide.
The Habs managed to get another late one and again, it was the Evans line that did the damage. Gallagher sent in Lehkonen on a breakaway and he was able to beat Samsonov five-hole but that’s as close as the Habs got.
Samsonov made 25 saves for the win while Allen turned aside 28 of 34 in a losing effort. Washington scored on their lone advantage while Montreal didn’t convert on their three opportunities as it was another tough night for their special teams.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Jake Evans – His line had some defensive struggles but they were also the only ones to do much offensively. He had the opening goal of the game, set up another, and had a good night at the faceoff dot. That’s good enough for the top nod here.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, -1 rating, 4 shots, 9/14 faceoffs, 15:11 TOI
2nd Star: Brendan Gallagher – On a night where not a lot of Habs were hustling with any sort of inconsistency, his motor really stood out in a positive way. He had a hand in several of Montreal’s better scoring chances as well.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 3 shots, 1 block, 16:21 TOI
3rd Star: Artturi Lehkonen – You can probably guess why he’s here. The other part of the only line that played well, he directed the puck over to Evans for his goal, scored the last one, and had a decent game in between. It’s nice to see him finally get on the board as he has scored in consecutive games.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, even rating, 4 shots, 15:28 TOI
Honourable Mention: Cole Caufield – There were a few moments where he was noticeable but he was very quiet for long stretches of the game. However, I liked his aggression with the shot when he had the puck on his stick and a lot of players wouldn’t have followed the rebound like he did on the play that led to his first of the season. Good scoring instincts can make a difference and those instincts finally got the monkey off his back.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 4 shots, 15:55 TOI