The Habs were in action on Thursday as they battled the Chicago Blackhawks in a matchup that featured two teams who are already thinking about what next season may bring. If the rest of this season will be focused on developing the younger players, then the lineup for this game was definitely a strange one as Jake Evans remained in the second line wing position while Laurent Dauphin centred the third line and both Cole Caufield and recent recall Jesse Ylonen were wingers in the bottom six.
Jake Allen was the starter as he faced Marc-Andre Fleury for the Blackhawks. This mattered little as the Habs were absolutely not willing to challenge the centre of the ice and therefore ended the night without a goal as they honestly did not deserve one. The Hawks won 2-0, capitalizing on a few Montreal mistakes.
The first period looked like a game that featured two teams who are far from playoff contention. Plays were disorganized and passes were not precise. The outcome was that while the Canadiens controlled the pace of play, this meant little as neither team really created much offensively. The Habs were able to get a power play as Dauphin was tripped by Kirby Dach while going around the net. The man advantage was dynamic, though it was unable to get the Habs on the board.
Montreal started the second half of the period with some giveaways that gave the Blackhawks momentum. What was most surprising was where they came from as the two guilty parties were Artturi Lehkonen and Alexander Romanov who have been two of the better Habs of late. The second half of the period was a complete reverse of the first half as Chicago controlled play without creating good scoring chances. The only exception was a brutal Allen giveaway to the slot that Patrick Kane sailed over the empty net.
The second period started with Lehkonen making a strong play on the puck, and then an even better pass across the crease to Ryan Poehling who missed an open net. This was all the Habs could muster as the Hawks continued their control from the second half of the first. With 13:51 to play, Brett Kulak was called for holding. Kane found Alex DeBrincat cross-ice with the penalty pending, but Allen made a great sliding save. The man-advantage did not threaten as the game remained goalless after 30 minutes.
The second half of the game started with a couple of scoring chances. Romanov started it with a big hit which resulted in Chicago spending the rest of the shift looking for a revenge hit. This opened up the middle as newcomer Kale Clague got the puck up the ice to Dauphin who found Michael Pezzetta who was stoned by Fleury.
Clague’s roller-coaster start with the Habs continued though as he was guilty of a giveaway that he compounded by losing a puck battle as the Hawks got two good scoring chances. To avoid a third chance, Clague committed a hook and the Hawks were sent to their second power play of the period.
At 13:48, the man advantage clicked to open the scoring. Kane looked off Lehkonen as Seth Jones shifted to the centre of the blue line. Kane feathered the pass as Jonathan Toews shifted to the back door and all Jones had to do was shoot a little wide for Toews to deflect the puck home and open the scoring.
This woke up the Canadiens, but Fleury was able to keep Mathieu Perreault off the mark after a nice pass by Chris Wideman. After Ducharme explained his strange lineup choices with matchups, he ended the period with Caufield on the ice in the last minute defending Kane which led to a Chicago scoring chance. How this happens on home ice is simply baffling.
The third period was quite frustrating to watch as the Blackhawks were clearly in a defensive shell and the Habs were content to cycle the puck on the outside and never challenge the defensive posture of the Hawks. This resulted with the Habs evening the shots but not coming close to threatening Fleury’s shutout bid.
The final ten minutes of play saw Henrik Borgstrom jump on a costly Romanov giveaway right in the slot and make it 2-0 with eight minutes to play. A minute later, Evans found Poehling in the high slot, but he fired his chance a little over the net. Then Caufield kicked off a great offensive shift that lasted nearly two minutes but ended with a Kane breakaway that Allen had to stop. The Habs pulled Allen to end the game, but were once again content with cycling on the outside and getting point shots toward the net. Outcome: A predictable diddly-squat as the Hawks skated away with a shutout milestone victory for Marc-Andre Fleury.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Ryan Poehling
It feels like I’ve been beating this drum repeatedly lately, but Poehling is visible, creating chances offensively by working hard, and winning puck battles while staying strong positionally.
Stats – 2 shots, 1 hit, 17:25 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jake Allen
Allen faced 25 shots, far less than in previous games. He made big saves but gets the nod here mostly because the rest of the team was terrible.
Stats – 23 saves, 25 shots, .920 save%, 2.10 G.A.A., 57:14 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Cole Caufield
Caufield was rolling on this night, but every single time he got the puck and looked to create offensively, he looked around to find Dauphin and Perreault unable to keep up with his pace. What’s most frustrating was that it was so clear that he was feeling it early on, and a coaching staff that regularly shifted players in the second period last season looked on and never even considered shifting Caufield to play next to an offensive player to find the team a goal?
Stats – -1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 17:18 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Artturi Lehkonen
Contemporary Jan Bulis. Does absolutely everything right, should be a perennial 20-goal scorer. Can’t find the handle on anything and therefore ends up being a fourth line player. He’s playing on the second line right now but if there’s really a team ready to pony up for his services, he should absolutely be shopped prior to the deadline.
Stats – 1 shot, 1 hit, 16:21 T.O.I.