A rare Monday contest for the Montreal Canadiens was filled with intrigue. For starters, the Habs got another chance at scoring a second consecutive victory for the first time this season. The opponent was ripe for the picking too as the Habs faced the Vancouver Canucks who have struggled as much as the Habs. Adding to this story was that absolutely every player on the roster was starting a fresh audition for the new management team after the seismic weekend that was for the front office of the franchise.
Without surprise, coach Ducharme, who will also want to impress, announced that there would be no change to the lineup after Saturday’s victory over the Penguins. This meant that Jake Allen was back in net as he faced Thatcher Demko for Vancouver. But the Canucks had other plans as they did not want to slip lower than the Habs and despite solid efforts from many kids on the roster, the Habs were unable to solve Demko in the third and dropped a 2-1 decision in what was a very entertaining game.
The start of the game was all Vancouver as an early big hit by Michael Pezzetta riled up the opposition and led to some big saves early by Allen. Domination was total as the Canucks led in shots 11-1 by the time Nick Suzuki was called for tripping with 12:06 to play in the period. It took Vancouver all of six seconds to score on the advantage as Quinn Hughes found Elias Pettersson on a wicked one-timer that beat Allen.
The second half of the period saw the Habs turn the tide and push back. Demko stopped Anderson before getting some help from his post on a good point shot by Chiarot.
Montreal continued to dominate play and with 1:21 left in the period, they were finally rewarded for their efforts. Jonathan Drouin grabbed a loose puck in the neutral and he saw Ryan Poehling on the backdoor as he entered the offensive zone. He slowed it down to allow Poehling to beat Hughes to the front of the net. Drouin made the perfect pass and Poehling tipped it over Demko’s shoulder to even the score after one, with the shot clock now showing a 12-11 advantage for the Canucks.
The second period started with a glorious scoring chance for Josh Anderson that was denied by Demko. The Habs continued like the second half of the first as they controlled play until Cole Caufield tried to make much out of nothing and the odd-man rush that ensued turned the tide of the period. Suddenly, the Canucks were back on top and dominating. Petry, who had a strong first period, then committed yet another head-scratcher. He signalled to Anderson to reverse the puck in the defensive zone and then tried to set a pick instead of picking up the reverse. The outcome was that Horvat jumped on the soft reverse and quickly found Conor Garland who was alone in front of the net to restore the Vancouver lead.
The second half of the game started with a great shift by the fourth line that really changed the pace of play after Alexander Romanov walked the blue line and then skated in for a great scoring chance that Demko was able to stop. The Canucks pushed back though and forced Allen to make some stops before the final five minutes of the period really became the Caufield show as he missed a slot chance before setting up Drouin for a one-timer that forced Demko’s best stop of the night. The period ended with a 32-22 shot difference and a 2-1 lead for the Canucks.
The third period started with Christian Dvorak taking a high-stick from Nils Hoglander that sent the Canadiens to their first man-advantage of the game. The first 30 seconds saw Montreal execute a good power play but once Vancouver got the first clear, it was the end of the puck movement in the offensive zone as they simply did not win enough battles to recover the puck and create offensively.
Shortly after, Evans was called for tripping but was bailed out by his teammates executing an excellent penalty kill, most notably Romanov really covering the one-timer to Pettersson that had bested the Habs in the first man-advantage.
At 11:53, Allen absolutely robbed Hoglander and this would prove to be a huge save. On the next shift, Evans drew an interference penalty on Kyle Burroughs and this time the power play looked fantastic even if they were not able to even the score.
The final ten minutes saw the coaching staff wake up as Poehling was seen on the ice, and Romanov and Sami Niku were handed some extra tasks as the better defenders on this night. The team pushed and created a few interesting chances as Niku almost found Tyler Toffoli in the slot and David Savard just missed a pass to Artturi Lehkonen right by the net. With three minutes to play, Demko absolutely robbed Ben Chiarot who jumped on a rebound in front of the net. This would prove to be the best chance as the Canucks tightened up and skated away with a 2-1 win in what was an entertaining game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jonathan Drouin
Drouin is such a treat to watch when he’s on his game. My issue with him is the frequency with which this happens. He was on in this one, and it showed as he made a great pass on Poehling’s goal, and then he was set up by Poehling before being stopped by Demko. It’s easy to know when Drouin is on because he’s around the puck all night long. He was noticeable on most of his shifts, and despite this was often the first forward back. Great game by him.
Stats: 1 assist, 3 shots, 20:10 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Alexander Romanov
Remember when Romanov was scratched some time ago to a collective groan? Well, he’s come back a changed player and he’s played like a true top-four defender since that scratch. It’s been an interesting development as Petry has continued to struggle, but the young rearguard has been much better. He’s been so solid that he’s now paired with an offensive mind like Niku and has made that transition seamlessly. If this progression continues, it’ll be another example of the lack of patience this market can oftentimes have with its prospects.
Stats: +1, 2 hits, 21:04 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Ryan Poehling
Poehling scored on this night and yes, it was a great pass by Drouin, but how about the effort from the young centre to outskate Quinn Hughes to the front of the net and get his goal. That was Poehling’s effort for the first half of the game before this brilliant coaching staff decided his game was essentially done. Regardless, that’s four goals in his last ten games and it has gotten to the point where the kid should be earning some extra ice time, but he won’t get it because the veterans absolutely won’t be touched with Ducharme at the helm.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 11:31 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Sami Niku
I understand that he’s a defender that takes needless risks at times, but I’ve really liked this player’s game since he has arrived in Montreal. He is smart with the puck, smooth skating and aggressive in his pinches to create some offence. His passes are usually quite accurate and he has the ability to deke a guy to open up a lane. With a bit of guidance, I’d like to see Niku stick around for some time as I think there is something to be developed in this player.
Stats: 1 hit, 16:21 T.O.I.