It was the powerhouse and perennial rival, Toronto Maple Leafs, that visited Montreal on Saturday night. The Leafs dominated the game, as was expected, but with the help of Jake Allen’s goaltending, the Canadiens would come out victorious, to the unabated joy of the Bell Centre fans.
Nothing At All in the First
Toronto’s strength was on display from the first shift on. With the puck on the boards to the right of Allen, new Habs defenceman William Lagesson lost the puck to Mitch Marner, and it was quickly to Michael Bunting, and then to Auston Matthews, whose lightning one-timer beat Allen and gave the Leafs an early lead.
The pressure did not abate after that goal, and the Habs were struggling early to keep the game within reach. They had a few counterattacks, but it would take fully nine minutes for them to record a shot on the Leafs’ rookie goaltender Erik Kallgren, playing only his fifth NHL game.
The Leafs kept piling it on and creating scoring chances. Alexander Romanov missed his check on Justin Holl at the 12-minute mark, enabling Holl to drive the net for a good scoring chance. Pierre Engvall had another two minutes later, beating Allen on the glove side, but the puck glanced off the post and out.
The Habs’ best chance came with three and a half minutes left in the period, as Nick Suzuki got Leafs defenceman T.J. Brodie to commit to a slide, giving Suzuki an opening, but Kallgren made a save on Suzuki’s backhander — only the third Habs’ shot in the period.
The stats demonstrated the lopsided play in the period, with Toronto holding a 12-3 edge in shots and a 6-2 edge in high-danger scoring chances. Only the scoreboard was close, with a single goal separating the two teams.
Tyler Pitlick left the game after a heavy check in the first period and did not return.
Two in the Second?
The pressure was back on in the second period, but the Habs’ attacks were somewhat more frequent than in the first period.
At 4:18 it paid off when Suzuki carried the puck into the Toronto zone. Joel Armia got control of the puck behind the net and passed it to the front, where a waiting Christian Dvorak was ready and lifted it over Kallgren for the tying goal.
The game was only tied until the end of the brief video review, though, as Toronto challenged the goal. The referees quickly announced that Suzuki had been offside entering the zone, and Dvorak’s goal was erased from the scoresheet.
The chances were considerably more even in the second period, though, and the Habs made it count at 9:44, when David Savard, not being covered by William Nylander, tapped in a cross-ice pass from Laurent Dauphin on a rush to tie the game again.
Morgan Rielly was called for interference on Paul Byron only 20 seconds after that. The Montreal power play did not look particularly dangerous, though, and Ilya Lyubushkin had a dangerous shorthanded opportunity as the penalty was approaching its end.
The second power play of the game, to Justin Holl for interference on Josh Anderson, was a different one, though. It was a Cole Caufield show early, as the young sniper threatened repeatedly. He shot the puck wide of Kallgren’s net twice early in the man advantage.
At the 18-minute mark, though, Chris Wideman found him open on the left side of the net, and Caufield fired the puck into the top corner to give the Habs their first lead in the game 48 seconds into the power play.
Even so, the period ended with three Toronto shot attempts, as the Leafs were not intent on going to the intermission behind in the game.
Shots in the wide-open period were 15-12 for the Leafs, and the high-danger scoring chances 9-4, but Allen kept the Habs in the game with save after save.
Batten the Hatches for the Third
Joel Edmundson was sent to the penalty box at 2:17 of the third period, for roughing against Michael Bunting behind the Montreal net. The Toronto power play got set up quickly, but while the Leafs recorded three more shots on Allen, they could not get the puck past him.
However, the Maple Leafs got another power play opportunity just a few minutes after the expiry of that one, at 6:41, as Dvorak was called for holding. This time the Leafs’ big guns were able to deliver, as Marner took a shot from near the left-side boards, and Allen’s save produced a rebound. Nylander jumped on that and tapped it into the net to tie the game back up at 7:33.
That didn’t equalize the advantage, though, as Edmundson had cross-checked John Tavares in front of Allen just about as Nylander was about to score.
Allen made a spectacular blocker save on a Marner one-timer just seconds into the power play, and even Marner was impressed that the Habs goalie had managed that.
The Habs quickly followed with a strike attempt of their own, as Romanov carried the puck into the Leafs’ zone and passed it cross-ice to Savard. Savard, curling across the front of the net, had a spectacular chance but could not lift his backhander over Kallgren’s pad.
It was increasingly looking like another overtime game was in the offing, but with 2:28 remaining, the Habs regained the lead. As Joel Armia and Matthews tangled just inside the Montreal blue line, Paul Byron snatched the loose puck and skated hard into the Leafs’ zone. It was a three on one, with Armia and Dvorak trailing, but Byron took the shot, and put it past Kallgren, low on the short side.
With Kallgren out of the net, Leafs exerted strong pressure once again but could not beat Allen, and it was Dvorak that finally sealed the result with an empty-netter at 19:37.
The third-period stats were rude reading, the Leafs having a 24-3 edge in shots and 8-1 in high-danger scoring chances, but Allen’s performance kept the bleu, blanc et rouge in the game, and Byron scored when it most mattered.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Jake Allen (51 shots, 49 saves, 0.961 save percentage) was the only player keeping the game from being a blowout in Toronto’s favour when the Maple Leafs were all over them for extended stretches. This was one of his best performances since joining Montreal last season.
Second Star: Nick Suzuki (2 assists, 3 shots, 23:06 TOI) was the catalyst for the one line that was able to generate some consistent zone time while also helping to set up Montreal’s first two goals of the game.
Third Star: Alexander Romanov (0 points, +2, 27:16 TOI) continues to play with more confidence and is showing flashes of becoming the impact defender many hoped he’d become. It wasn’t all perfect – he missed on some hits that led to scoring chances – but with Ben Chiarot gone, he’s taking advantage of the extra opportunities to showcase himself.
Honourable Mention: Paul Byron (1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 2 shots, 16:06 TOI) scored the game-winner with just over two minutes left in regulation and made the play to set up Dvorak’s clinching goal. He wasn’t great throughout the game but came up big late.
Following the game, Jesse Ylonen was recalled from Laval on an emergency basis with both Tyler Pitlick and Michael Pezzetta leaving this game due to injuries.