After a few eventful days off the ice with the return of some injured players, the rumour mill churning in full force with the impending trade deadline, and the departure of yet another veteran in Ben Chiarot, the Habs likely welcomed the distraction of getting back on the ice to play an actual game on Thursday night.
Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki were joined on the top line by Joel Armia. The second line saw the return of Christian Dvorak as he was joined by Artturi Lehkonen and Brendan Gallagher. The third line was composed of Laurent Dauphin with Rem Pitlick and Mike Hoffman, which meant a Michael Pezzetta, Jake Evans, and Paul Byron fourth line. The blue line pairings were Joel Edmundson and Jeff Petry, Alexander Romanov and Brett Kulak, and Corey Schueneman and Chris Wideman.
The goaltending matchup was another point of interest as Jake Allen returned to the crease for the Habs as he took on Jake Oettinger. The Jakes battled each other and stole the show in the first period. Both netminders were excellent all night long, but ultimately, the Habs’ uneven play on this particular night allowed a more talented Stars team to get away with a rather average effort as they were able to skate away with a 4-3 overtime victory that was wildly entertaining for the fans in the stands.
The first period kicked off with plenty of action as a Dallas forward got behind Montreal’s defence as Allen was quickly tested. The rebound came out to the Habs defender who immediately fired the puck up the ice where it was Pezzetta’s turn for a partial break. Pezzetta was not successful, but he did manage to cause a penalty as John Klingberg was sent off for holding. The man advantage was not able to muster much as it effectively killed the flow of the opening minute of play. Both teams were suddenly having difficulties completing passes, so the play remained in the neutral zone with little action to speak of.
The second half of the period kicked off with a Dauphin interference penalty in the offensive zone. The penalty kill came up huge as the Stars were unable to even set up in the zone before a frustrated Ryan Suter took a reactionary penalty against a hard-working Evans in the final moments of the advantage. The ensuing Canadiens advantage looked just as disorganized until the final moments when Hoffman got a glorious scoring chance on a cross-ice pass. Oettinger showed he was equal to Allen on the sequence as he came across and absolutely robbed Hoffman.
The first goal of the game with under two minutes left came Schueneman’s lack of experience to run a perfectly executed pick play that allowed Michael Raffl the necessary time to complete a backdoor pass to the completely unguarded Radek Faksa who put the puck into the open net.
The second period started with the Stars hitting the post and a big Romanov hit before a few offside calls and a hand pass really broke the Stars’ momentum from the initial shifts.
After what was a rather low-event half-period, the ninth minute of play provided a ton of intrigue. A second consecutive shift spent in the offensive zone for the Canadiens took a turn when Faksa delivered a cross-ice hit to the lower back of Gallagher. Gallagher went down and was immediately on his way to the locker room. The makeup call was immediate as Marian Studenic was called on a rather forgettable interference minor.
The power play made Dallas pay immediately. A won faceoff by Dvorak sent the puck around the offensive zone until Wideman found Suzuki in his favourite spot. While everyone was looking for the shot, Suzuki went cross-ice as Caufield released a lethal one-timer to even the score.
The Canadiens continued to attack as the second half of the game got underway. Pitlick came close to getting free on a breakaway before Pezzetta almost found Byron in the slot as the Habs were suddenly the better team on the ice. A masterful pass from Dauphin to Pitlick forced another excellent save by Oettinger.
After two missed high sticks on Armia and Lehkonen, Edmundson was called for a blatant trip on Alexander Radulov. Dallas’ second power play of the night was much better than the first as Tyler Seguin got a few good looks but couldn’t solve Allen. As the advantage expired, an Esa Lindell shot missed the net only to land on Jamile Benn’s stick next to the net who had an easy goal. With 33 seconds to play, it was Kulak’s turn to take a penalty, this time a holding call that meant Montreal ended the period shorthanded.
The Stars started the third period on the man advantage as Gallagher returned to the bench to the surprise of this writer. They were the better team early thanks to the power play as Allen had to make another stellar stop on Joe Pavelski three and a half minutes into the period.
This start to the period was mitigated when Faksa ran over Allen. Montreal’s man advantage came close as a tic-tac-toe attempt from Suzuki to Dvorak to Armia was blocked by Joel Hanley. The Habs should have received another power play after the first one as Pavelski was guilty of a retaliatory slash, but the Canadiens sent out seven skaters with the penalty pending which meant a 4-on-4 instead of a power play.
The Habs were quick to pounce on this chance as Romanov made a strong pinch in the offensive zone which resulted in the puck on Caufield’s stick in the high slot. With everyone expecting the shot, Caufield opted for a pass to the front of the net where Suzuki was all alone and was patient enough to see Oettinger commit as he went around the netminder to even the score yet again.
The Canadiens would then take their first lead of the game with only 7:13 left to play after a master class in forechecking from Dauphin and Pitlick. This got the puck to the blue line where Schueneman fired a wrister on net that beat Oettinger as two Stars tried to block the shot and really screened their netminder.
The Habs were feeling it as Evans missed a breakaway before Oettinger got away with a clear interference on Evans. Then, with under five minutes left to play, Gallagher got a 2-on-1 and opted for the shot. The shot missed the net and the puck was immediately headed in the other direction. With everyone scrambling to get back, Klingberg took advantage of Wideman trying to block the shot and screening Allen to snipe home the game-tying goal.
This did not stop Montreal’s effort as they remained the better team. Suter then got away with a blatant interference which gave the Stars a minute-long shift in the offensive zone. This is only noteworthy in that with 1:20 to play, Oettinger got adventurous playing the puck and ultimately got caught by Armia behind his own net. Armia was called for goaltender interference. It was a penalty, but considering what was let go all night long for both teams, it was a cringe-worthy one to hand out.
Montreal killed the penalty, including the final 40 seconds to kick off the overtime period. At 3-on-3, Caufield, Suzuki, and Petry were masterful at controlling their shift and looking like they were going to end the game. Instead, they left the ice and Hoffman drew a penalty that was absolutely garbage against Klingberg. I know it was more than likely a makeup call for the Armia minor, but seriously, the officiating has to figure out how to not be a story in this league.
The Canadiens opted to play four forwards on the 4-on-3 and their sequence looked quite dangerous until Hoffman twice opted for bad shot attempts instead of continuing to control the puck. With ten seconds left in the overtime, Petry took the puck off the defensive boards (WHY!!) and missed his clearing attempt. The puck instead found Klingberg who found a way to beat Allen. The goal would be reviewed by the league for goalie interference but stood, allowing Dallas to skate away with the extra point.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Cole Caufield
I feel like Tuesday, Caufield scored his two goals based on his game-breaker talent despite his overall game. I think he wasn’t engaged as often since the arrival of St. Louis. In this one, he scored another two points but he was far more engaged and he deserved more than the two points on the board. He was dangerous every time he touched the puck and made those around him more offensively dangerous. When he can figure out how to be this player on a more consistent level, he and Suzuki will be a scary thing for the opposition to face.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 5 shots, 20:07 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nick Suzuki
Watching this young man blossom into a true number one centre is so much fun. Suzuki is dangerous night in and night out for a long enough stretch here that it makes one wonder if he’s simply arrived. If so, how much pressure does that take off the incoming draft pick as they can come in next season and be one of the guys along with Caufield and Suzuki instead of being the guy? Another match where Suzuki surprised with his intelligence and creativity. What a treat to watch.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 3 shots, 22:50 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jake Allen
Allen was spectacular in his first game back and likely was the main reason the Habs skated away with a point after making at least one monster save in every period. He got a bit jobbed on the game-winner, but he’ll have plenty of time between now to the end of the season to address the poor record of the first half of the season that was absolutely not his own doing. Looking forward to having him back and getting better goaltending on a consistent basis.
Stats: 31 saves, 35 shots against, .886 save %, 3.76 G.A.A., 63:51 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Corey Schueneman
What a story he has been for the Habs. He’s delivering some great hockey and forcing the hand of management to keep him in the lineup. Not only this, but I think with the upcoming talent on the blueline, he’s making a name for himself to be a depth piece on this roster to be a bit of a security blanket for those incoming kids and once that role is fulfilled, he can likely fill that role around that league for a number of years. Watching a late bloomer making a career for himself in a year like this one is always fun. Others likely deserve this spot, but I’m choosing Schueneman to highlight his first career goal.
Stats: 1 goal, -2, 1 shot, 13:23 T.O.I.