The Habs got back to action after a lengthy hiatus on Wednesday night and did so with several players returning to the ice from even longer periods of inactivity.
Nick Suzuki remained a staple on the top unit but was joined by two players returning to action in Artturi Lehkonen and Mike Hoffman. The second line saw Jonathan Drouin reunited with Christian Dvorak and Joel Armia who were both returning too. The third unit saw the reunion of Laurent Dauphin with Cole Caufield and Ryan Poehling. Finally, the fourth line featured Michael Pezzetta, Cedric Paquette, and Lukas Vejdemo.
The blue line saw the return of familiar faces as Ben Chiarot reunited with David Savard, while Brett Kulak was paired with Jeff Petry. Sami Niku and Chris Wideman formed the third pair as Corey Schueneman was the healthy scratch despite very positive showings prior to the imposed layoff. Jake Allen returned to the crease but exited before the end of the first with an apparent groin injury.
Their opponent for this night was the long-time rivals from Boston as the Bruins arrived with a rather healthy lineup and Linus Ullmark in the crease as Tuukka Rask is expected to make his season debut on Thursday. Boston appeared to take the Habs lightly to start the game but only needed one man advantage to get going as they rather easily won the game by a 5-1 score. The Habs made things physical in the second in an attempt to get back in the game and the Bruins were glad to play that style even once the outcome was apparent. It was another disappointing night for the Habs for all except the Shane Wright hopefuls.
The game started with the Habs skating hard and forcing the Bruins to make mistakes. The Bruins looked surprised by the last place Canadiens. Vejdemo and Poehling were the most noticeable but they were unable to get the Habs on the board.
Just before the midway point of the period, Petry had his helmet ripped off in the defensive zone. He was busy yelling at the official and took too much time getting to the bench. This placed him in a situation where he had to choose between playing the puck without a helmet and taking a penalty or allowing a breakaway against Allen. He opted for the former as the Bruins started the second half of the period on the power play.
The man advantage really got the Bruins going and they never looked back in this period. Taylor Hall and Brad Marchand missed on chances on their power play and finally, with only 5:17 left to play in the period, Niku was mesmerized by the puck as he failed to identify Marchand off the bench as Tomas Nosek fired a puck across that Marchand re-directed home.
Allen appeared to tweak his groin on the play but stayed in the game. 15 seconds later, Marchand beat Savard with speed to slap home a rebound and extend the lead as the netminder once again stayed down after the goal.
The game got to the next TV timeout where Montreal’s medical staff got a hold of Allen who was unable to complete a few small stretches and he was removed from the game and did not return. Samuel Montembeault came in and was immediately under fire as the Habs appeared stunned. The result was predictable as a point shot bounced off Curtis Lazar despite good positioning by Dvorak and the fact that the goal would have 100% been waved off if it were Brendan Gallagher running into the netminder the way Lazar did. The period ended 3-0 for the Bruins.
The second period started much like the first as Poehling and Vejdemo led the charge while the Habs took it to the Bruins for a bit. This time, Bergeron was called for slashing three minutes in. Hoffman almost found Poehling for a redirect that just missed, but that was the only chance the Habs could create over the two minutes.
Suzuki then went to work and created enough havoc in the offensive one to create another man advantage for the Habs. Drouin hit the post to start it but then Montembeault whiffed on a dump in by Patrice Bergeron which opened the door for Marchand to put home the rebound for his hat trick.
With 12:10 left in the period, Poehling got hit from behind. As the play came down the ice, Chiarot exacted revenge with a good, clean, hard check that was called for roughing. The Habs were able to kill the penalty despite scrambling to keep it out.
On the next shift, Pezzetta joined Suzuki and Caufield for a shift. Suzuki was once again driving play and causing chaos in the offensive zone. This time, the result was a Kulak point shot that resulted in Pezzetta picking up a rebound to get the Habs on the board.
Pezzetta continued his strong play by getting under the Bruins’ skin with a hard hit on Matt Grzelcyk and causing a penalty to Bergeron when he retaliated. The power play was once again not able to help the team before Suzuki took a penalty.
On Boston’s power play, it was Dauphin who got the breakaway and rang a shot off the post. The period ended with Kulak taking a penalty with 50 seconds to play.
Boston started the third with the carryover advantage, but Craig Smith took an early penalty to negate that. At the five-minute mark, Marchand took a free run at Suzuki and was called for interference, but it started some chippy play. Wideman head-butted Erik Haula which resulted in Haula jumping him and then Pezzetta got involved with Brandon Carlo. In the end, the teams skated 4-on-4 after the scrum, which meant the Habs got the extra minor which was deserved for the Wideman headbutt.
With the game completely under control, the Bruins should have made this low-event hockey and taken the win. In true Bruins fashion, they continued to hit and really push the pace. They scored a point-shot goal off a Lazar redirect that made Montembeault look bad, but also got the Canadiens to react which I think was a good thing for the Habs. Suzuki responded by going after Marchand a bit before Ullmark took a penalty going after Dauphin which resulted in Dauphin doing okay in a scrum with Haula. The only one to not react was Drouin who got tripped and slowly got up while Boston got a scoring chance. In the end, it mattered little, but it’s the type of thing the team can carry into their next game versus the Bruins.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Nick Suzuki
Suzuki was quiet early but had a strong second period that resulted in power plays and scoring chances throughout the second period. He was then leaned on heavily in the third and was the only Canadien that was able to create anything against the ultra-defensive Bruins in that period. He’ll be an exciting player to have once management can get him some help offensively.
Stats: 3 shots, 2 hits, 16:36 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Michael Pezzetta
Also quiet in the first, he scored the goal in the second and is really the player that woke the Habs up after the team dug a hole and appeared willing to leave Montembeault out to dry early in the second period. Pezzetta scored the goal, caused penalties, and played on the proverbial line to make it interesting when the game appeared over after the Allen departure. He was rewarded by the coaching staff too with some extra shifts and power play time in place of the invisible Armia.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 shot, 3 hits, 12:11 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Ryan Poehling
He’ll never be as flashy as he was in his NHL debut, but he was very effective in this contest. With a bit of puck luck and a linemate ready to shoot, he likely leaves this game with a few assists. The one knock on him for me is that they’ve taken a player with some potential offensive upside and coached him into being content to go through uneventful shifts in the name of not taking risks. I hope that as he gets comfortable at this level, he can look at how Suzuki can create offensive without being excessively risky and evolve his game to that type instead of becoming another honest player who doesn’t provide much offensively.
Stats: -1, 3 shots, 2 hits, 15:10 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Lukas Vejdemo
Unlike Poehling, Vejdemo is a player who must use speed and smarts to get around the rink and be positionally sound. I’m not sure the offence will ever truly be there, so when I see him forechecking hard and making life miserable for the opposition while creating penalties or playing next to a pest like Pezzetta, I’m quite content with the progress and feel like he’s played well enough to make Paquette entirely expendable immediately.
Stats: 1 shot, 3 hits, 11:26 T.O.I.