A ten-game losing streak for the Habs. A struggling defence corps missing an injured Ben Chiarot. Tyler Toffoli, one of the few scorers on the team, shipped to Calgary. What were the chances of the Habs being able to take the fight to the Blues?
As it happened, the Habs were in a fighting mood. A tighter defence, strong goaltending, and good forward mobility kept them in the game at first and then opened up the opportunities for Cole Caufield to do what he does best, turning a late 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 overtime win, the first in overtime for the Habs this year.
First Goal for Byron
The Blues had the early step on the Habs and managed to test Samuel Montembeault twice in the first few minutes, but the young goalie stood tall early.
The tide started to turn about five minutes into the period, with Mike Hoffman getting a good look at the Blues net, but not able to put the puck past goaltender Ville Husso.
An early power play after a penalty to Robert Bortuzzo produced three shots for the Habs, but Husso blocked the way into the net in each case.
However, at 7:13, Artturi Lehkonen was controlling the puck behind the Blues’ net, and as he came out on the right side, he quickly fed it to a waiting Paul Byron on the left, and Byron had little trouble swatting it into the empty net next to Husso for his first goal of the year and a 1-0 Habs lead.
As Bortuzzo headed back into the box at 16:44, this time for tripping Lehkonen, the Habs now received a chance to build on their lead. They were able to get the power play set up, but Ryan Poehling broke the blade on his stick, and while he was getting a replacement, Josh Anderson lost the puck at the blue line to Robert Thomas, who broke out of the zone with Pavel Buchnevich.
Jeff Petry was back to defend the two-on-one, but Thomas was able to complete a pass to Buchnevich and then back to Thomas, drawing Montembeault out of position and giving Thomas an open net to tie up the score at one goal each.
The shots were 11-9 for the Habs, as were the high-danger chances at 4-2 — a rare sight for the Habs this year to be ahead on both counts and not be behind on the score.
Second Chances Don’t Always Produce Second Goals
The Canadiens controlled the early play in the second period but could not exert significant pressure on the Blues.
Corey Schueneman then took a minor penalty for holding Buchnevich’s stick, sending the Blues to a man advantage. However, Petry had the only shot of the segment, as Husso needed to pick up a backhander Petry flipped from near the centre ice.
As the penalty was about to expire, Ryan O’Reilly was called for tripping on Nick Suzuki, and Habs got their chance to try a power play. Two shots on goal, neither one close to the net, was not enough to beat Husso, though. And a second power play, after Justin Faulk cross-checked Laurent Dauphin, was not able to achieve even that much.
The second period stats were even stronger for the Canadiens with a 9-4 edge in shots and 3-2 in high-danger chances. And a 78% Corsi for the period — and yet none of that counts for as much as a puck in the net.
Third Goal is Critical
Early on in the third, Kale Clague was waiting behind the net for things to calm down. Eventually, they did — and then he made a sloppy pass, allowing Thomas to grab it in front of the net. Montembeault got his pad out, though, to prevent Thomas from scoring a second one.
The team also had a bit of a scare early in the period as Joel Armia took the back of a skate in the face in a goalmouth scramble. The big Finn did not return was not visibly injured but did not return for the remainder of the period. He will be re-evaluated on Friday.
Habs had some stretches of pressure early on, and the most spectacular chance had Petry hitting the far post at 7:40.
Niko Mikkola was called for high-sticking Caufield at 8:06. The two minutes of the man advantage did nothing to help the Habs win the game, though. The Blues’ penalty kill was effective again, and while the Habs got their formation set up once, the only thing they had to show for that was a Mike Hoffman shot drilled over the top of the net.
Just past the 11-minute mark, Petry was called for holding — or at least the referee put his hand up for a penalty. However, it took about a minute for the Habs to gain control of the puck, allowing the Blues to already record four shots on Montembeault before Petry even headed to the box.
The Blues recorded three more shots in the first minute of their man advantage but Montembeault turned them all away.
And then Jake Evans and Buchnevich got a little physical in front of the Blues bench, attracting coincidental minors for roughing. One more shot on net, and then the Habs were back to full strength. For all of two seconds, that is, before Alexander Romanov was called for holding.
The second power play was considerably less effective than its predecessor, with the Blues recording but a single shot, as compared to 10 attempts on the previous one. In fact, the only notable scoring chance was a shorthanded Dauphin breakaway for the Habs. However, Husso foiled Dauphin’s attempt at scoring through the five-hole, closing up his pads tight in a butterfly.
But shortly after that, on a harmless-looking zone entry, Vladimir Tarasenko fed a pass forward to Buchnevich from a poor angle, and the latter one-timed it into the near-side net before Montembeault was able to reach the post to block the shot.
Montembeault quickly skated to the bench after the ensuing faceoff, but the Habs had some trouble gaining control of the play. Brendan Gallagher made a sliding save at the Habs’ empty net, and there were fewer than 30 seconds left before they got set up in the St. Louis zone.
With 11 skaters on the ice, empty space was hard to find, but finally, Hoffman found Chris Wideman with some space on the right side of the net. Wideman pulled back for the shot but instead sent it to Caufield at the left side of the net, and there was no mistake as Caufield sent it into the empty net to the left of Husso, tying the game back up with 10 seconds left on the clock.
Suzuki won the opening faceoff of overtime, but the Habs managed only a single shot attempt in the first minute before the Blues took control. Petry twice had the puck in the Habs’ own zone but lost it both times.
But then, a minute later, with Suzuki and Caufield skating hard for the Blues’ zone, Jordan Kyrou broke up the play just before they entered the zone. Another foiled attempt, except that Petry then picked up the loose puck on the left side of the ice, skated deep into the zone, and then passed it across the front of the goal to Caufield, who tapped in his second goal of the night; #22 scoring at 2:22 of the extra session.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Cole Caufield (2g, 0a, 3 shots, +2, 21:04 TOI) was doing what the Habs fans always hoped that he would do: putting pucks in the net. Two tidy taps into the net, being in the right place at the right time. Caufield’s shooting percentage for the year is still only 6.3%, but since Martin St. Louis arrived, he has scored four goals on ten shots as compared to his singular one while Dominique Ducharme was the coach.
Second Star: Samuel Montembeault (25 saves, 27 shots, 0.926 save percentage) kept the Habs in the game, particularly in the second and third periods when the Blues had seven high-danger chances. One of his best games in a bleu, blanc, et rouge sweater, and the third win of the season was well earned.
Third Star: Jeff Petry (0g, 2a, 4 shots, +1, 24:17 TOI) had his first multi-point game of the year. The overtime assist was particularly good, but he did still have some weaker moments in the game as well.
Honourable Mention: Paul Byron (1g, 0a, 1 shot, 15:10 TOI) scored his first goal of the season in his 500th career NHL game, and only sixth after returning from injury.