The hoped-for reinforcements for the Habs did not arrive, as Joel Armia and Cole Caufield could not get a flight in from Wisconsin, and Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron were judged not quite ready to play yet. David Savard was a late scratch with a lower-body injury which was revealed to be an ankle injury after the game, one that will keep him out for the next eight weeks. Samuel Montembeault was slotted in for another start, this time to face the Oilers’ top line of Connor McDavid, Kailer Yamamoto, and the just-acquired Evander Kane.
In the event, it was not the McDavid line that did the damage and thoroughly demolished the Habs on this night — it was Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman, ably assisted by the Habs’ defensive work in front of their own net.
The First Team to Score Three Goals Wins?
The game, played in the Bell Centre in front of a full house of empty red seats, started quite tentatively, and by the midway point of the first period, the teams had recorded a collective grand total of only five shots, a sea change from the onslaughts of the past four Habs games.
The only chance of note early on was on a wrist shot by Artturi Lehkonen near the hash mark, but Stuart Skinner handled it with ease. Overall, though, Lehkonen, Nick Suzuki, and Tyler Toffoli started well against their matched-up opponents of McDavid, Yamamoto, and Kane.
But as this season has been wont to go, if it’s not one problem, it’s another. After holding Edmonton to just two shots in the first half of the period, the Oilers blew the game open in the space of two minutes, scoring three goals on just four shots.
It started at 11:21, as Ben Chiarot ignored the presence of Kane in front of the net, and the Oilers’ newest acquisition tipped in a shot by Evan Bouchard, steering it past a helpless Montembeault for the Oil’s first goal.
At 12:48 it was Chris Wideman that fell short in front of the net. He did track Hyman but was not able to prevent the Edmonton forward from deflecting in a Kris Russell shot from near the blue line to double the Oilers’ lead.
And just 20 seconds later, it was Draisaitl cutting across the front of the net. Montembeault made the save, but the rebound came loose in front of the net, and Rem Pitlick, skating in to protect the front of the net, ended up kicking the puck between Montembeault’s pads and into his own net. Draisaitl got the credit for the goal but really had nothing to do with the puck actually going in. However, that said, it was still 3-0 Oilers.
Draisaitl had another chance with just over three minutes remaining, but this time Montembeault got his butterfly stance right block Draisatl’s backhander.
Pitlick, maybe energized by his unfortunate kick, was energized toward the end of the period and particularly made an excellent pass to a fast-driving Josh Anderson just as the clock ticked below the one-minute mark. Anderson got a weak shot off as he was harassed by the Edmonton defence, but followed that up with a second chance at the side of the net after Pitlick got the pass to him again. No goal, but at least it showed some life after the letdown of those three quick goals.
The shots were 10-5 Edmonton — 3-2 Habs in the first half of the period, and then 8-3 Oilers in the second half — while the high-danger chances were 5-2 in the Oilers’ favour.
Two Goals Good, Right?
The Habs started the second period strongly, with more urgency in their game. Three minutes in, the pressure paid off with a flurry of scoring chances. Mike Hoffman picked up a nice pass from Jeff Petry as the two broke in, but was foiled by Skinner. But that same shift saw subsequent chances for Ryan Poehling, Kale Clague, and Hoffman again, only to be stonewalled by Skinner.
But just a minute later, Chiarot took a high wrist shot from near the blue line, hitting Skinner on the right shoulder. The puck dropped down, and Anderson, fighting for space in front of the net, spotted it before anyone else, got his stick on it, and tapped it into the net for the Habs’ first goal.
But on Chiarot’s next shift, he could not control Hyman on the right-side boards in the Habs’ defensive zone, and Hyman got free long enough to thread a cross-ice pass to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins just on the other side of the net. With no one covering him, Nugent-Hopkins waited a moment for Montembeault to commit to a butterfly position and then lifted the puck over the frustrated goalie’s shoulder to restore the three-goal lead.
At the eight-minute mark, Poehling was able to get a clean pass over to Jake Evans as the two blitzed in across the Edmonton blueline, but Evans’ shot was blocked and careened wide.
At 14:30, though, with the Oilers applying the pressure, Hyman carried the puck behind the net. Wideman was covering him, but could not strip him of the puck. Hyman curved out from behind the net to the right side of Montembeault, spun around rapidly, evading Wideman, and snapped off a quick shot to take the Edmonton lead to four goals at 5-1.
Less than a minute later, with 4:54 remaining, Montembeault was clearing the puck behind the net when Zack Kassian bowled him over. The referee had his hand up immediately, and Kassian was sent to the box for a two-minute roughing penalty.
Suzuki won the ensuing faceoff cleanly, to the right of Skinner, getting the puck back to Hoffman, who executed a tidy one-time pass to Toffoli on the left side. Toffoli, in turn, one-timed the shot, low on the far side and into the back of the net. It took just three seconds of the penalty to bring the game back within three goals.
Alas, that didn’t help for long, as Draisaitl won the ensuing faceoff from Evans, and the Oilers took the game to the Habs immediately. Just 24 seconds later, Warren Foegele found Draisaitl free on the right side of the net. The veteran forward made no mistake in wristing the puck into the net for his 31st goal of the season and a 6-2 Edmonton lead.
The shots were 14-6 in the Habs’ favour this time, and the high-danger chances were 9-1. However, with the Habs’ defensive gaffes the Oilers were able to score on three of those six shots.
Delayed Justice in the Third
The third started with Cayden Primeau taking over goaltending duties from Montembeault — that after Montembeault took over from Primeau the last time the Habs played.
The play was otherwise rather lacklustre for much of the third period as if the Habs had already conceded, and the Oilers wanted to make sure not to allow a third goal. At the nine-minute mark, the only shot had been a Draisaitl wrist shot early in the period.
At 13:30, three Oilers broke into the Habs’ zone with nary a defender keeping up with them, leaving all the responsibility to Primeau.
Draisaitl, the puck carrier, passed left to Jesse Puljujarvi, who had a good scoring opportunity, but the young Finn returned the pass to the German to give him a chance for the hat trick on the night. Draisaitl one-timed the pass, but Primeau stretched out his pads and was able to make a spectacular save on the play.
And then, it finally happened: Michael Pezzetta was on the ice at the same time as Kassian. Pezzetta, never afraid to use his fists, was determined to punish Kassian for running into Montembeault, even if it was a period later. The fight was fierce if short, as Pezzetta lost his balance and fell backwards into Primeau’s net, with Kassian on top of him.
Both of the pugilists got a major for fighting with Pezzetta additionally attracting an instigator minor and a misconduct with Kassian also receiving cut over the eye. The power play was a total non-event, though, with the Oilers recording only one shot on goal.
The embarrassment was finally capped by Derek Ryan with 34 seconds remaining in the game, as Devin Shore made a pass to the veteran forward just a few metres from the front of the net, and Ryan one-timed a shot past Primeau for a 7-2 final reading. And, yes, Chiarot was standing right next to Ryan as this happened — the sixth of the seven goals with the veteran defender on the ice.
Shots in the final period were 7-3 for the Oilers, but the high-danger chances favoured the Habs 2-0. Overall, in the game, the Habs had an 11-8 in high-danger chances but the defensive mishaps combined with Skinner’s strong effort ensured that the score very much did not reflect that edge.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Josh Anderson (1g, 0a, 5 shots, -1) scored the first of the two Habs goals, giving the fans some (false) hope of a comeback. Working with Evans and Pitlick, they showed strong effort and were one of the bright spots on this black night.
Second Star: Tyler Toffoli (1g, 0a, 1 shot, +0) not only scored the tidy power play marker, but the Habs top line — Toffoli, Suzuki, and Lehkonen — kept the McDavid line off the scoresheet while on the ice.
Third Star: Nick Suzuki (0g, 1a, 0 shots, +0) won the faceoff when it mattered, getting the puck to Hoffman who then flicked it to Toffoli for the quick power play goal. McDavid was about 20% xGF with Suzuki and Lehkonen facing him, and abou 90% xGF without those two, a massive difference.
Honourable Mention: Cayden Primeau (7 shots, 6 saves, 0.857 save percentage) gets an honourable mention as the representative of the goalie corps, as both Montembeault and Primeau were repeatedly left hanging out to dry, with the Oilers’ snipers open on the doorstep. A grim save percentage for both, and Montembeault in particular, but they were certainly not the only ones to blame for the Oiler goals.