The Habs kicked off yet another week with a visit to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins and the red-hot Tristan Jarry who was facing the overworked Jake Allen. The intriguing goaltending matchup meant little early as both teams spent the first period creating many scoring chances but were met with many posts. The second saw a parade to the penalty box cut any and all momentum from the game for the Habs. The third saw the Canadiens cheat offensively to try to even the game and as usual, such a strategy backfired and the Penguins took the lead and ran with it. Ultimately, Pittsburgh was too much to handle as they won 5-2 as Montreal’s losing streak continued.
Another series of events forced coach Ducharme to configure yet another lineup with changes coming as late as the pregame skate when Jeff Petry was deemed ready to return. Petry was paired to Alexander Romanov inexplicably leaving David Savard with Ben Chiarot, both of whom struggled mightily against the speed of the Penguins. The third pair featured Kale Clague and Brett Kulak.
Up front, Jake Evans was not able to play which meant more line juggling. Mathieu Perreault joined Nick Suzuki and Mike Hoffman, while Arturri Lehkonen would be paired with Ryan Poehling and Cole Caufield. This meant that Jonathan Drouin would be on a line with Laurent Dauphin and Jesse Ylonen, leaving Joel Armia on the fourth line with Cedric Paquette and Michael Pezzetta.
The game started with a ton of pace as both teams skated hard and created some good scoring chances early. The Habs carried the play through the first five minutes with the Poehling line getting the best of those chances. Jeff Carter then got a good shot off on Allen before Drouin found a seam to allow Dauphin to break in and force Jarry to make the best save of the sequence.
The first half of the period ended with an exchange of posts as Suzuki rang a rebound off the post which resulted in a 2-on-1 for the Penguins that Chiarot played as poorly as possible. Chiarot was bailed out by the post as the hockey karma was evened out on that particular play.
The second half of the period started with a Penguins goal as Allen gave out a terrible rebound on a point shot and found the rebound fly high after a Petry slash at the puck. That high puck was swatted out of the air and into the net by Kasperi Kapanen. A few moments later, Hoffman hit another post and the result was once again unfriendly as play went the other way and Kulak was called for hooking giving the Penguins to the game’s first power play. The Habs killed the penalty but the Pens had taken all of the momentum as the Canadiens spent the rest of the period in their own zone.
The second period started with an Armia penalty which was quickly followed by a Romanov tripping call. This meant a 1:43 5-on-3 for the Penguins. Montreal managed to kill off the entire thing which should have meant a boost of confidence for the team. Instead, the Pens continued to control the play until Clague got his stick stuck in Sidney Crosby’s skate allowing yet another man advantage for the Penguins. This time, they were able to capitalize on a tired group of penalty killers as Kris Letang found Evan Rodrigues for a one-timer to extend the lead.
On the next shift, Dauphin caught Pittsburgh’s defence sleeping with a strong forecheck. He created a turnover, found Drouin who was alone in front of the net, and Drouin made no mistake in deking Jarry to make it 2-1.
On the next shift, with 12:17 to play and the Habs suddenly energized, the Penguins were penalized for the first time of the night. The power play came at a great time and so they parlayed the momentum to have a dangerous power play that came close but couldn’t finish. Who knew the dual-threat of Hoffman and Caufield on a single unit may be a good idea?
The game’s second half kicked off with Letang hitting a post and just like that, the momentum was gone. On that same shift, Mike Matheson sent a missile from the blue line that beat a screened Allen to restore the two-goal lead.
The next shift saw Chiarot take a dumb penalty and Pittsburgh was back on the man advantage. The Habs killed this penalty and then followed it with a strong shift from Drouin and Suzuki. With only three seconds to play in the period, Drouin came off the bench, created some space and found Ylonen who found the back of the net with an absolute rocket from the very top of the slot for his first career NHL goal. Just like that, the game was 3-2 and the Habs had a chance after a not so good second period.
Only 30 seconds into the final period, Chiarot and Suzuki failed to get the puck out of the defensive zone. They turned it over and Brian Dumoulin’s shot from the blue line beat a screened Allen to make it 4-2. That goal meant the end of anything entertaining as the Penguins went into a shell and the Habs had no answer to Pittsburgh clogging up the neutral zone. In the few minutes leading up to the half of the period, the Habs showed frustration which resulted in a Crosby chance that was followed by a Brian Boyle snipe to extend the lead to three.
The final ten minutes kicked off with Poehling trying for redemption as he got a chance and hit Montreal’s fourth clear-cut post on the night. The Habs had some good shifts in front of Jarry as the Dauphin line was once again the leader in creating scoring chances. Caufield then hit the fifth post on a shift where he was eventually tripped for a final man advantage for the Habs. They once again could not score on the power play as the game ended with yet another loss.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jonathan Drouin
When Drouin skates both with and away from the puck, his talent is undeniable. The problem is that it happens too little. On this night, he understood that he was the one carrying his line and he stepped up to the plate and controlled the pace of play for most of the night when he was on the ice. What a surprise! It meant some non-circular numbers in the stats sheet.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 18:30 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Laurent Dauphin
In limited usage, Dauphin made the most of being paired with the talented Drouin. He quickly understood that he was the player that was to hustle after pucks and win his battles for his more talented linemates.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 15:54 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jake Allen
As per usual, Allen was excellent for most of the night only to find himself in strange situations that he caused himself. The few flaws in his game only highlight how spoiled we have been as a fan base over the last decade. Allen is more than fine, and yet he’s not the sole reason the team is winning so the team is struggling. Another big night for him as he kept the team in contention likely longer than they deserved to be.
Stats: 26 saves, 31 shots, 5.00 GAA, .839 save %, 60:00 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Alexander Romanov
No one is going to argue that things are perfect with Romanov. However, the positive strides being taken by this defender are obvious and that is an encouraging sign for a player that was so highly touted by the outgoing regime who then refused to give him the chance to be that player. If he can close out the season the way he’s played for the last month, he’ll soon be an important leader on a blue line that should see an influx of talent over the next few seasons.
Stats: -1, 3 shots, 5 hits, 20:36 T.O.I.