As the Canadiens skated onto the ice for the matchup with the Predators, still looking for their seventh win of the season, their lineup had been yet again altered by injuries. Mike Hoffman was finally back, but both Jeff Petry and Josh Anderson were injured, and Brendan Gallagher and Sami Niku were still out after testing positive for COVID-19.
The team fought hard and managed to score three goals, but Jake Allen’s efforts weren’t enough to keep the Predators’ total to less than that. Filip Forsberg’s overtime goal sealed the result at 4-3, and the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge had to settle for a single point — only their 17th point in 26 games so far.
A Trip to the Box First
The start was not auspicious as the initial Nashville pressure resulted in an immediate power play for them, as Hoffman was called for tripping Eeli Tolvanen in the Habs’ defensive zone.
The Predators managed two shots on Allen but the veteran netminder handled those with relative ease. The penalty kill unit was again more effective, as it has been recently: in the past five games, they have allowed only two goals in 15 opportunities for a highly-respectable 86.7% kill rate and a far cry from their early-season struggles that saw them allow eight power play goals in the first five games.
However, back in Nashville, the scoreless tie didn’t last long as Luke Kunin stripped the puck from Cole Caufield at the Predators’ blue line just before five minutes had elapsed. A quick pass to Mattias Ekholm, who carried the puck in, and then Tolvanen deflected a shot into the top of the Habs’ net before the defence really even had a chance to react.
Nick Suzuki finally managed to record a shot on goal for the Canadiens a minute later, but the Predators still largely controlled possession. And only a few minutes later, David Savard headed to the box having pushed Mikael Granlund into the Habs’ net. Fortunately, this power play was even less effective than the first, Allen having to make saves on only two slap shots from near the blue line.
Savard made up for his trip to the penalty box at 12:21, drawing a high-sticking penalty on Ryan Johansen. The power play units combined for five shots in those two minutes, the most dangerous being a Caufield shot from the left circle about halfway through, from a tidy pass by Ryan Poehling. However, Juuse Saros had good visibility into the shot, ensuring that the Habs didn’t get their tying goal on the board.
The Canadiens took a third minor yet in the period, as Suzuki was called on hooking the Nashville defence anchor, Roman Josi, with just over a minute remaining. Tyler Toffoli and Christian Dvorak broke out on a shorthanded odd-man break in the dying seconds of the period, but Saros stopped Toffoli’s wrist shot to close out the first.
The Predators outshot the Habs 12-9 on the period — but the Habs managed only three of those nine shots in five-on-five play.
The penalty kill unit was back on for another 50 seconds to start the second period and did well to keep Nashville’s power play at bay once again.
Four minutes into the period, the Habs got another power play opportunity, this time for Alexandre Carrier holding Poehling’s stick. There was no mistake this time: Caufield got the puck back to Chris Wideman at the left point, and Wideman found Suzuki wide open at the other side. Suzuki moved into the faceoff circle, and with Ekholm interfering with Saros’ vision of the puck, wired it over the Finn’s shoulder to tie the game at one.
The play was somewhat more balanced at this point, although the Predators were once again outshooting the Canadiens. However, just at the halfway mark of the game, Christian Dvorak outskated Carrier into the Predators zone to beat an icing call. He got the puck to Toffoli, and Savard then took a shot on net. As Saros was unable to control the rebound and it dropped in front of the net, Dvorak was there and tapped in the loose puck for his fifth goal of the season.
Nashville coach John Hynes challenged for goaltender interference, but the referees did not see things his way, and the Habs now had a 2-1 lead, and a power play to boot.
Halfway through the power play, Carrier was called for another penalty, this time for high-sticking Mathieu Perreault, giving the Habs a minute with a two-man advantage. All they managed during that, and the remaining minute with a single-man advantage, though, was a relatively harmless slap shot by Hoffman.
As the minutes were ticking away in the period, and Nashville continued to press in the Habs’ zone, the inevitable happened, as Ekholm took another shot from the left point, and this time Tanner Jeannot deflected the chest-high shot down into the bottom corner of the net. It looked like it might have been a high stick, but a review confirmed that the goal was good.
Granlund drew another Habs penalty to end the period, as Hoffman hooked him with just three seconds remaining.
It was another 12-9 shots edge for Nashville, and the 7-1 difference in high-danger scoring chances was even starker, but the Habs managed to outscore their opponents and enter the final frame with the game all tied up at 2-2.
Two Thirds in the Third
The opening Predator power play didn’t amount to much, with Allen handling the singular shot. The penalty killers had a look on Saros near the end but did not get any serious opportunity.
Just a minute later, Caufield and Perreault broke out of the Montreal end and into the Nashville zone, with the Predator defenders backing up. Caufield spotted a trailing Brett Kulak, and the much-maligned defenceman made no mistake in wiring a shot into the far side corner of Saros’ net for his first of the year.
Nashville started to pile on the pressure immediately, and would not relent for the rest of the period. Allen made save after save, but how long could it last?
But while Allen made saves on Nashville’s top snipers, it was Luke Kunin that finally put it into the net. Less than a minute after completing his major for fighting with Kulak, he swatted a loose puck into the net on the left side. Montreal’s coaches studied the replay but decided that there was not enough there to challenge for interference.
The only real scoring chance the Habs had — and the only shot on Saros in the third, apart from Kulak’s goal — was created by Alexander Romanov with a minute and a half remaining. The young Russian defenceman lobbed a high shot into the centre ice, and Artturi Lehkonen hustled after that, just managing to corral the puck in the Nashville zone. With Josi attempting to interfere, too, Lehkonen couldn’t get a good shot and it was an easy save for Saros.
The third-period stats were grim reading, with the Predators controlling the shots 17-2 and high-danger chances 9-0.
It’s Not Over Until It’s Over
The overtime was much different, and the Habs were again able to exert control for much of it. Jake Evans sent a pass to Mike Hoffman for a breakaway, but Saros turned the veteran sniper’s shot away with a blocker save.
However, with just 12 seconds remaining, it all ended as it so often has this season, as the Predators scored the winner. Forsberg had dropped his stick in the Habs zone but was able to pick it up with the Predators still controlling the play. As Granlund passed the puck across the front of the net, Forsberg one-timed it over Allen’s shoulder.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Jake Allen (44 shots, 40 saves, .909 save percentage) kept the Habs in the game once again with strong saves to give the team confidence. Two goals from net-front deflections could not be blamed on him, as he has been raising his game as the season progresses.
Second Star: Cole Caufield (0g, 2a, 3 shots, +0, 13:00 TOI) couldn’t put a puck in the net but looked dangerous once again, and made an excellent pass to Kulak for the second goal of the night. For some reason, Dominique Ducharme did not give him a look on the 5-on-3 power play, though.
Third Star: Chris Wideman (0g, 1a, -1, 12:56 TOI) is proving the be the kind of power play quarterback the Habs need, and the team’s recent power play performance — four goals in the last six games — is reflecting that.
Honourable Mention: Brett Kulak (1g, 0a, +0, 18:00 TOI) is now getting substantial ice time with the absence of Jeff Petry, and he made it count this time, with a solid goal. His six points in 22 games almost match his production for the Habs in the past two seasons (seven points in 56 games 2019-20 and eight points in 46 games 2020-21)