The Habs and the Oilers both came into Saturday’s game on hot streaks, both with recent coaching changes. The Oilers certainly have the higher level of talent and had the advantage of home ice, but on this night the Habs once again looked like a transformed team as they outscored the Oilers 5-2.
Two in the First is Better than Just One
The Habs came out flying at the beginning of the first period, taking several shots in the first minute, and Mike Hoffman had a real scoring opportunity but Mike Smith was in the right position to block Hoffman’s wrist shot.
Kale Clague would record another shot at 2:21 but that would be the end of the Habs’ early dominance as the Oilers clued in that this was not the same Montreal team that they had pushed around at will just five weeks ago.
Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane had their first dangerous opportunity on Samuel Montembeault at 8:48 of the period, but the Canadiens’ goalie got his left pad out to stop Kane’s backhander.
The Oilers had by this time shifted their game up by a few gears, and the Habs were struggling to clear the puck out of their own defensive zone. Michael Pezzetta did his part, delivering a heavy check on Philip Broberg on the boards, but it took another Montembeault save, this time on Derek Ryan, to freeze the play and give the team a chance to catch their collective breath.
The Habs were poised and ready to take advantage of any chances, though, and they got theirs less than a minute later as Markus Niemelainen made an error in clearing the puck from deep in the Edmonton zone. Cole Caufield was skating in, looking for an opportunity, and he snatched the one handed to him by Niemelainen, lifting the puck high on Smith on the blocker side and into the net, to give Habs the early lead.
The joy was short-lived, though, and shortly after the centre ice faceoff, the Oilers rushed into the Habs’ zone. Draisaitl was on the right-side boards, with two Oilers and two Canadiens in front of the net. As Montembeault was watching him for a shot, Draisaitl instead passed the puck behind that crowd. Kane saw it coming, swiveled around, and whipped the puck into the left side of the net before Montembeault could react to it.
Only 22 seconds in the lead, then, before the Oilers tied it back up again.
Three and a half minutes later Joel Armia had a chance, breaking past the Oilers’ defence, but Smith poked the puck away before the big Finn could get a shot away.
Draisaitl, Kailer Yamamoto, and Kane had a three-on-one break with 2:45 remaining, but Montembeault got his pad out again to deny the Oilers’ high-powered unit.
About 20 seconds later, Kane was called for hooking Caufield for the first penalty of the game, giving the Habs a power play. The Habs controlled the play in the Edmonton zone, and took a few shots, but were having trouble finding a real opening on Smith.
But, then Chris Wideman got the puck to Nick Suzuki, who took a shot on Smith. The goalie made a fairly easy pad save but gave up a big rebound to the front of the net. Brendan Gallagher spotted it, took a few strides, and shot it past Smith to score his first goal in 19 games. With just 39 seconds remaining in the period, it was Canadiens in the lead again.
Draisaitl had one last chance at scoring as the final seconds ticked away: he took a shot as the clock ran out, and Montembeault dove to the side of the net and made a glove save. It would not have counted, but the superb save by Montembeault likely boosted the confidence of both the young goalie and the team as a whole.
Shots in the first were 10-9 in the Oilers’ favour, while the high-danger chances were tied at six apiece.
Sometimes You Need to Score Twice for One to Count
The start of the second period was far less eventful. For the first five minutes, that is.
At 5:37, though, Zach Hyman broke into the Habs’ defensive zone, shadowed by Clague. He outmuscled Clague, though, driving for the net from the right side, but a push from Clague was enough to send him into Montembeault as he skated across the net. Montembeault stumbled, and a trailing Ryan McLeod lifted the puck into the right side of the net.
Head coach Martin St. Louis challenged the goal on the basis of goaltender interference, but the challenge was rejected as the referees determined that Clague had sent Hyman into Montembeault. It would be a delay of game penalty, then, and Caufield was sent to the box to serve it.
The Oilers’ big guns came out for the power play, and Connor McDavid, Draisaitl, and company passed the puck around as if there were no white sweaters in the Montreal zone. Three solid Montembeault saves later, Lehkonen got his skate on a pass and sent Laurent Dauphin and Rem Pitlick on a shorthanded break. They could not get a shot away, but that changed the tone of the power play, and the Oilers would not get a fourth shot on their man advantage.
At 8:25, Josh Anderson drew a penalty on Warren Foegele, giving the Habs another power play opportunity. The Canadiens may own the league’s worst record on a man advantage, but they had the power play working again. Suzuki got a pass high on the right side, took a few strides, waited, and then let go a quick wrister just past a defender, and into the top corner of the net on Smith’s blocker side to restore the lead.
It was again a very short-lasting lead, as Edmonton challenged the goal based on the zone entry having been offside. On the slo-mo, it was clear that they had a case, and Suzuki’s 13th of the season was no more.
However, just seconds after the play was restarted, Suzuki had the puck again, on a pass from Chris Wideman, in practically the identical spot, and he again lifted it into the top corner, to Smith’s frustration. This time there was no challenge and the goal stood, and the Habs were ahead again at 10:17, just past the halfway point of the game.
Just a minute later, Hoffman was sent to the box for holding on McDavid. The Oilers’ power play looked much less potent than that of the sad-sack Canadiens, and it was not long before the Habs had their shorthanded opportunity.
Dauphin stole the puck from McDavid and sprinted to the offensive zone. He didn’t get a shot away, but the trailing Armia stopped the puck at the blue line, passed it back to Dauphin, who fooled Smith and potted a shorthanded goal to give the Habs some insurance.
Alas, the Oilers’ video coaches foiled this one, too, and on the slo-mo replay, it was very apparent that the puck had just crossed the line before Armia tapped it back in, and Dauphin had to give back his goal.
Ryan Poehling had a chance for the Habs at 17:00, taking a quick wrister for the empty side of the net, but Smith dove across and snatched the shot in his glove. And Suzuki had yet another chance, but the puck bounced over the blade of his stick before he could release his shot.
In the last minute of the period, the Oilers pushed hard again, and the Habs could not manage to clear the zone. Montembeault made another save, this one on Darnell Nurse, but then Ben Chiarot, making a diving attempt at getting to the puck, could not control his stick and was called for high-sticking Hyman with just 12 seconds left — not enough for Edmonton to get more than one shot on Montembeault.
The Oilers had the shots again, 12-10, but this time the Habs held a 6-4 edge in high-danger scoring chances.
Three Odd Penalties and a Pretty Goal
The third period started with the remaining 1:48 of the Chiarot penalty, and the Habs’ penalty killers were at their best. With 20 seconds remaining, Suzuki and Dauphin broke out, and Suzuki got a nice pass out to Dauphin, but he could not lift the puck over Smith’s left pad.
Three and a half minutes in, Hyman took a dangerous-looking shot on the Montreal net, but Chiarot blocked it. The puck was loose in front of the net, though, and the Oilers might have scored on the play had Anderson not snatched the puck and cleared it away.
Just after the six-minute mark, McLeod was sent off for high-sticking Brett Kulak. The power play looked reasonably potent again, and near the end, with Brendan Gallagher, Artturi Lehkonen, and Pitlick playing in the second unit, Gallagher got the puck to the right of the net. As he was passing the puck to Pitlick on the opposite side, Smith pushed the net off the moorings, giving the Habs a two-man advantage for five seconds, and a longer extension to the single-man advantage.
The two-man moment passed quickly with the Oilers having control for all of it. And then Gallagher gave it back: skating past the Edmonton bench, one of the players on the bench had his stick out over the ice surface, and Gallagher knocked it out of his hands. Curiously, the referee only penalized Gallagher and not the Oilers player, resulting in 1:06 of four-on-four play followed by a 54-second Edmonton power play.
Broberg had a great chance on the four-on-four, skating around Romanov, but Montembeault got his trapper moving and caught Broberg’s shot.
And then, as Devin Shore, who had served Smith’s penalty, was stepping on the ice, Lehkonen and Kulak broke away, crossing the Edmonton blue line almost simultaneously. Lehkonen, on the right side, passed the puck to Kulak on the left. The defender held the puck as he skated around the boards and behind the net. Lehkonen, watching the play, moved in and curled across the front of the net. As Kulak came past the net, he flicked the puck to Lehtonen, who one-timed it into the net before Smith could react.
A shorthanded goal, technically, and as this one did not get called back, the Habs finally had their insurance goal and a 4-2 lead with 9:45 remaining in the game.
It was a defensive effort from there, with occasional counter-attacks, but while the Oilers had some chances yet, Montembeault did what he needed to do, and kept his net clean in the third.
With four minutes remaining, the Oilers pulled Smith to try and score two, but it was not to be. It took only 12 seconds: Poehling won the faceoff, and Gallagher fed the puck to Hoffman, who made no mistake in finding the empty net from the Edmonton blue line for a 5-2 final score.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Nick Suzuki (1g, 2a, 3 shots, 22:22 TOI) beat Smith three times, even if only two of those counted on one of the Habs’ most video-challenged nights. Five-on-five, power play, penalty kill, Suzuki was everywhere.
Second Star: Cole Caufield (1g, 2a, 3 shots, 20:48 TOI) has regained his confidence and mojo, as St. Louis is encouraging him to play his own game. Dangerous throughout the game and a potent combination with Suzuki.
Third Star: Samuel Montembeault (30 shots, 28 saves, 0.933 save percentage) played another strong game after his disastrous outing last time. He made the saves when they mattered — McLeod’s goal could hardly be blamed on him — and kept the Habs in the game long enough for them to secure the lead. Now, about that consistency …
Honourable Mention: Brendan Gallagher (1g, 1a, 2 shots, 14:18 TOI) broke his scoring drought, and added an assist on the empty-netter. Apart from the silly (and questionable) penalty in the third, it was a strong game for him.