The Habs had another opportunity to end an ugly losing streak as they returned to the Bell Centre on Thursday night and hosted the middle of the pack Philadelphia Flyers who had won their last three contests. It was announced nearly two hours prior to puck drop that the Quebec government had closed the Bell Centre to fans. The skating lineup remained similar to Tuesday’s, with only one change as Jake Evans’ return to the lineup resulted in him taking Mathieu Perreault’s spot next to Nick Suzuki and Mike Hoffman.
Comments after Tuesday’s game by coach Dominique Ducharme that Jake Allen was playing a bit too much meant that it came as no surprise that Allen was given the night off. What was a surprise was that the Habs did not call upon Samuel Montembeault, instead opting for a recall of Cayden Primeau and inserting the young netminder into action. Primeau’s third start of the season saw him face Carter Hart, but the Habs showed up for their young netminder and beat the Flyers by a 3-2 score in their first shootout game of the season.
It was another start that required the bail-out from the goaltender as Claude Giroux tested Primeau early. Two minutes into the contest saw the Flyers take a blatant interference call sending a power play that looked great on Tuesday onto the ice. The man advantage looked good again as Suzuki got a good look before Hoffman rang a shot off the post continuing another theme from Tuesday.
On the shift that followed the power play, Joel Armia got a great scoring chance that sent the Flyers scrambling. The result was a Brett Kulak’s point shot being masterfully deflected by Artturi Lehkonen mid-pivot to beat Hart and get the Habs a lead 5:20 into the game. Just before the ten-minute mark, another offensive push came from the Suzuki line only to see Ben Chiarot hit yet another post.
The second half of the period saw the Habs continue to take advantage of the empty home building as they absolutely dominated. Cole Caufield, Lehkonen, and Hoffman all had good scoring chances while the line of Jonathan Drouin, Laurent Dauphin and Jesse Ylonen continued being the best line for the Habs as they continually attacked the middle of the ice that forced the Flyers to scramble in coverage. This eventually led Philadelphia to take a second penalty where the Habs were once again quite dangerous. The period ended 1-0, but the Habs truly deserved much better that period as they outshot the Flyers 19-8.
The second period kicked off with yet another strong shift by the Dauphin line but this was followed by a painful shift where Hoffman failed to properly clear the defensive zone. This resulted, as it has been all season, in the Habs paying for one of their first mistakes of the game as they scrambled defensively as the puck found Max Willman in the slot who evened the game only 2:20 into the period.
The period momentarily shifted on that goal as the Canadiens were suddenly hesitant with the puck and hesitant to the puck as play was in the Montreal zone. After a few minutes, the Habs got back to skating and evened momentum though the Flyers were clearly in the game now.
The second half of the game got under way with two sensational saves by Hart on Caufield who made some nice moves to find himself all alone in the slot before being stoned. Then Armia was guilty of an offensive zone trip sending the Flyers to their first power play of the game. The Habs successfully killed the penalty with a few solid stops by Primeau helping it out.
The Habs then continued to dominate as both Caufield and Lehkonen got stopped by Hart. Primeau then made his best stop of the night on a rebound to Couturier before Evans and Jeff Petry got their wires crossed which allowed Jackson Cates to skate in and bury a shot I’m sure Primeau would like a second chance at five-hole with just under a minute left to the period. And just like that, the Habs were outshooting the Flyers 30-22, but were behind 2-1 after 40 minutes.
Philadelphia came out and buried the Habs in their defensive zone to start the third period. As per the last two games, the Habs got back to the offensive zone via the Dauphin line. This time, it resulted in a scary play as Drouin found Dauphin at the top of the slot but one-timer was deflected by Ivan Provorov right into his own throat as play was immediately whistled down though Provorov remained in the game. The Habs had a few offensive zone shifts until Primeau had a bit of an adventure right before the midway point in the period that he did well to recover on.
The final ten minutes of regulation saw the Habs really activate the defence which quickly led to a chance for Drouin. This was followed by Ylonen attacking the middle of the ice with speed which created an interesting rebound that Armia over-skated. Then Suzuki created a scoring chance that Evans shot wide.
FINALLY, with 5:36 to play, Chiarot did a great job of skating along the blue line and opening a lane to get the puck to the net. Dauphin, who absolutely deserved this after his last two games, was the one to tie the game on the rebound. The Flyers pushed for the win in the final few minutes, but the Canadiens were able to hang on for at least one point.
Overtime started with a nifty pass by Suzuki to Drouin who rang a shot off the post. The officiating then decided to take the game into their hands with an absolutely ridiculous roughing call on Chiarot leading to a 4-on-3 for the Flyers. Primeau made two solid saves before Alexander Romanov had a good block. Chiarot got a good chance coming out of the box, so the Habs were successful in killing off the occasion. Both teams exchanged scoring chances in the final moments, but this one would require a shootout.
Drouin hit the brakes before sniping one top-shelf before Couturier was stopped by Primeau. Then Caufield missed high before Giroux was stopped on a slow skating effort. Hoffman was then stopped before Cam Atkinson tried a deke that Primeau turned aside for the victory on a play that he seemed to hurt himself on.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Laurent Dauphin
Easily the most pleasant surprise of the week has been the play of the Drouin-Dauphin-Ylonen line and how fitting that the player who is usually on puck retrieval for the line got some recognition by putting home the goal that gained the team a point in the standings. Dauphin was on my short list of noteworthy candidates before scoring his goal, and he absolutely gets paid off for two strong games.
Stats: 1 goal, +2, 2 shots, 17:29 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Cole Caufield
When everyone had Caufield pegged as the odds-on favourite to win the Calder, this is the type of performance they were expecting the kid to have on a far more regular basis. He was all over the offensive zone all night long, missing on about five or six grade-A scoring chances in the first two periods alone.
Stats: -1, 8 shots, 16:13 T.O.I.
3rd line – Artturi Lehkonen
Playing on a line with the two kids, Lehkonen was all kinds of responsible and found the time to create chances for his two young linemates. What’s even more impressive is that his hustle for the puck created a ton of space, specifically for Caufield who found himself with all those great scoring chances all night long, most of which came off of Lehkonen’s hard work.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 6 shots, 15:47 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Cayden Primeau
The second goal wasn’t great but Primeau made some saves early to get the team going, made some big stops when the score was tied to give his team confidence, and then made a few more once down 2-1 to keep them close. He continued with more in overtime and was perfect in the shootout. I’m not convinced he is ready for the NHL, but this was his best game of the season for the Habs so far.
Stats: 37 saves, 39 shots, .949 save %, 1.85 G.A.A., 65:00 T.O.I.