It was a battle of basement dwellers on Tuesday night as the Coyotes were in town to take on the Habs. The Canadiens got off to a terrible start and weren’t able to overcome it, ultimately falling 6-3.
Despite their placement in the standings, both teams entered this game on a pretty impressive run. Arizona had won six of their last eight games while Montreal came away victorious in eight of their last eleven contests.
Martin St. Louis was forced to make a trio of lineup changes for this one. On the back end, Joel Edmundson returned in place of Ben Chiarot who is sitting out pending a trade that will come between now and Monday afternoon. Meanwhile, up front, Josh Anderson was a late scratch with Artturi Lehkonen returning to the lineup while Ryan Poehling – who was placed on IR earlier in the day – was replaced by Mathieu Perreault. Jesse Ylonen, who’s up from Laval, was a healthy scratch. The new-look forward lines were as follows:
Hoffman – Suzuki – Gallagher
Caufield – Pitlick – Lehkonen
Byron – Evans – Armia
Pezzetta – Perreault – Dauphin
The game got off to an eventful start as less than two minutes in, Joel Armia threw arguably his biggest hit of the season. Unfortunately, it was on Arizona goalie Karel Vejmelka and Montreal slowed down briefly. However, the whistle never blew and Barrett Hayton skated up the wing, past Jeff Petry, and beat Samuel Montembeault five-hole.
Perreault had a good chance to tie it up just over a minute later as he was sprung on a breakaway and went five-hole on Vejmelka but the rookie goalie made the stop. That proved costly as less than a minute later, Anton Stralman skated down from the blueline, found Phil Kessel behind the net, and headed for the crease. Kessel fed a perfect pass that caught Riley Nash and then found Stralman and he made no mistake on the tap-in to make it 2-0.
Off the ensuing draw, Alex Galchenyuk took an interference penalty, sending the Habs to the power play. However, it was the Coyotes who had the best chance as they had a two-on-one. That play went nowhere but the puck found its way to Hayton who had a wide-open net and missed it; Mike Hoffman might have gotten his skate on it just a tad.
While they didn’t score on the man advantage, Montreal at least found their skating legs and the puck was in Arizona’s end for several long stretches. Eventually, they were rewarded for it as with a little over six minutes to go, Laurent Dauphin’s point shot hit Stralman and then headed for Matias Macielli and the rookie forward inadvertently batted it towards Vejmelka and it managed to squeak through, getting the Canadiens on the board.
A minute later, Brendan Gallagher just missed a chance off the rush and landed in the crease, earning him a whack from Vejmelka in the process. A minute and a half after that, Hayton managed to get himself all alone in the slot but his shot went high and wide. That was the last good break Montreal had in the opening period.
Edmundson was called for a cross-check on Christian Fischer with three and a half minutes left, giving Arizona the man advantage. The worst-ranked power play went to work and just before it expired, Galchenyuk sent a cross-ice feed from the right faceoff dot towards the crease. Kessel was able to box out Brett Kulak and was able to tap it by Montembeault.
Unfortunately, they weren’t able to get out of the final minute and a half unscathed. Cole Caufield’s pass for Alexander Romanov went wide, allowing Lawson Crouse to come in on the breakaway. He went high-glove on Montembeault to make it 4-1 with just 10 seconds to go. Shots on goal were 11-7 for the Habs in the period and frankly, aside from the first few minutes and the last few, Montreal played relatively well but didn’t have much to show for it.
Cayden Primeau was in net to start the second, his first NHL action in more than a month. He wasn’t tested early, however. Instead, Lehkonen had the first good chance of the period just past the two-minute mark after Rem Pitlick forced a Kyle Capobianco turnover. Lehkonen wrapped it around but drew iron with his shot.
Two minutes later, the Coyotes executed a tic-tac-toe play with Crouse finding Fischer in the crease but his shot went wide. Seconds later, Gallagher tripped up Clayton Keller, sending Arizona to the power play. The advantage was short-lived, however, as Kessel hooked Jake Evans early on to avoid what would likely have resulted in a Paul Byron breakaway. Primeau had two big stops on the four-on-four sequence, first on Janis Moser and then on Galchenyuk seconds later; Montreal did nothing with their brief power play after that.
Just shy of the eight-minute mark, Dauphin had a perfect pass from the left side-boards as he found a streaking Armia for a redirect. Unfortunately for Montreal, Vejmelka got his glove on it.
With less than three minutes to go, Hoffman was sent off for a weak cross-check, sending Arizona back to the power play. It clicked quickly as Shayne Gostisbehere sent a pass to Keller. He surveyed, skated to the top of the faceoff circle, and wristed one past Primeau.
Moments later, Nick Ritchie was called for roughing on Chris Wideman. Ritchie seemingly wanted to fight Wideman which didn’t make a lot of sense, nor did him hitting the blueliner enough times to take a penalty. It was unnecessary and the Canadiens made him pay quickly. Six seconds after the puck was dropped, it was in the net with Wideman setting up Caufield for a wrister from the top of the circle through Lehkonen’s screen.
Caufield wasn’t done there. Off the centre ice draw, he quickly got the puck in the neutral zone, skated in, made a move, and sent a hard, high wrister through Dysin Mayo’s attempt to block it and past Vejmelka for his second goal in eight seconds. That’s the third-fastest stretch to get to two goals in franchise history (Peter Mahovlich did it in five seconds in 1971 and Stephane Richer in seven seconds in 1987). Primeau made a good stop on Kessel late in the period to keep it a two-goal game. Shots on goals in the middle stanza were 14-7 for Montreal.
Kulak had a good opportunity early in the third when Vejmelka was swimming outside of his crease but couldn’t get the shot through. Seconds later, Lehkonen was sent off for a trip on Gostisbehere but the Habs did a good job on the penalty kill this time around.
Arizona sat back for most of the period so the Habs had their opportunities. At the 6:30 mark, Romanov’s point shot was stopped but the rebound was kicked out to Perreault but his shot hit the post. Two minutes later, Nick Suzuki tried a bank shot from behind the net. Vejmelka wound up directing it out right to Hoffman but Capobianco dove to knock the puck away to prevent what would have been an empty-netter. Three and a half minutes later, Gallagher skated in on a three-on-one and instead of firing it on net with the hope of one of the other two getting the rebound, he tried to force a pass across and it was broken up.
St. Louis decided to be aggressive and pulled Primeau with 4:43 to go. It didn’t work. Montreal struggled to get control and 25 seconds after the goalie was out, he went back in following Nick Schmaltz’s empty-netter from centre ice. The young netminder made a nice stop on Hayton on a two-on-one with just over a minute to go to cap his evening but the Coyotes skated away with the two points.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Cole Caufield – His game didn’t get off to a great start with his turnover leading to what wound up being the winner from Crouse but his two goals late in the second really sparked the Habs and made the finish interesting. He has that game-breaking ability to go get a key goal when needed and it has been a while since Montreal had someone that is capable of doing that.
Stats: 2 goals, -1 rating, 3 shots, 14:20 TOI
2nd Star: Alexander Romanov – The youngster had a very eventful game and it wasn’t all good. However, I liked the aggression and Romanov is at his best when he’s playing on his toes and being involved in the play. With Ben Chiarot no longer his partner, Romanov will be leaned on a lot more down the stretch. This was a good first showing on that front.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 3 shots, 4 blocks, 23:46 TOI
3rd Star: Mike Hoffman – Nothing really went his way in this one as there were several times where he just missed or the puck was knocked away. But he was really noticeable, particularly in the second half of the game and was in the right spots to fire from. Considering his tendency to be invisible when he’s not scoring, I liked how involved he was overall. Playing with Nick Suzuki has certainly elevated his game.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 4 shots, 19:01 TOI
Honourable Mention: Laurent Dauphin – I won’t give him much credit for the goal which, let’s face it, was a complete fluke. But Dauphin was noticeable on most of his shifts and set up some other chances. The fourth line is where he has a reasonable chance to fit in for the stretch run so a good performance in this role certainly helps his cause.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 1 shot, 3/8 faceoffs, 9:20 TOI