After being doubled up in a loss on Saturday, the Habs were back in action on Tuesday as they hosted the Wild. They put up a better effort but the offensive production went quiet again as Minnesota skated away with the 2-0 victory.
Martin St. Louis made several lineup changes for this one, some by necessity and some by choice. Jake Evans is listed as day-to-day with a non-COVID illness so Laurent Dauphin drew in. Paul Byron took the place of the suspended Michael Pezzetta while Mathieu Perreault suited up for Joel Armia who has returned home for a family matter. Meanwhile, Jordan Harris was in for Corey Schueneman who was a healthy scratch while Carey Price got the nod in goal after Samuel Montembeault had a rough outing against Washington.
Montreal carried over their defensive zone sloppiness into this one as they turned the puck over early and often. Just past the two-minute mark, Frederick Gaudreau took a feed from Kevin Fiala in close and he had time to turn around and get off a backhand shot but caught the post. Just past the five-minute mark, the Habs skated the puck into Minnesota’s end for the first time. It was impressive that they weren’t losing despite their atrocious start.
However, the goalless draw didn’t last much longer. Brendan Gallagher, who made a bad decision to take an unobstructed long-range slapper with the Wild being caught for a long shift, compounded that with a poor decision that led to a trip on Kirill Kaprizov. On the ensuing advantage, Dauphin broke his stick and went to the bench for a new one, creating a five-on-three. Mats Zuccarello took the puck in the trapezoid and waited for the perfect passing lane to open up. He slid it over to Fiala and it was quickly one-timed home. Fiala was wide open on the play with the replay showing Dauphin trying to hustle back to cover him.
The Habs got their first power play opportunity of the game just past the midway point when Jonas Brodin went off for a trip on Tyler Pitlick. The first unit actually did relatively well in terms of generating some decent looks, the best of which came from Josh Anderson after Nick Suzuki threaded a pass through to him. However, the shot caught the side of the net, not the back of it.
Montreal was starting to settle in by this point of the game and got another chance with the man advantage when Dmitry Kulikov tripped Suzuki. The power play was ugly. An early turnover led to a two-on-one, one that saw Gaudreau keep the puck the whole way and eventually backhanded one wide after showing plenty of patience to outwait the defender. Seconds later, Fiala was in on a breakaway, causing Chris Wideman to hook him. It probably should have been a penalty shot but instead, it was four-on-four.
Minnesota didn’t do anything much with their power play and this time, it was the Habs that had the best shot as Tyler Pitlick beat Zuccarello to the puck and went in on the breakaway but Cam Talbot made the glove stop. The shots wound up being even in the period at 8-8 despite the Wild carrying the play for several stretches.
The Canadiens were down a player to start the second as Paul Byron was ruled out for the game with a lower-body injury. Byron, of course, missed most of the season with a hip issue and was held out of Saturday’s game as well.
The Habs got off to a better start to the second period as the scrambly play wasn’t there this time around. They also went to the defence of Price as after Mitchell Chaffee just narrowly caught a piece of the netminder following a shot, four Canadiens converged quickly, causing a brief scrum.
A minute later, Tyler Pitlick forced Jacob Middleton to turn it over at the blueline, resulting in a brief two-on-one with Poehling. No shot came of it but it was another nice play from Pitlick.
Three minutes after that, it was the other Pitlick’s turn to impress. Rem made a good play in the defensive zone to get the puck and get around the defender; from there, he was off to the races with a good half-step on the Wild rearguards. However, Talbot did well to cut down the angle and stopped Pitlick’s snapper.
Back to the other Pitlick now. Just past the 12-minute mark, Poehling accepted a cross-ice pass but wasn’t able to get a shot off. He held onto the puck and as he went to circle the net, he sent the puck through the crease, hoping to catch Pitlick with the pass. That’s exactly what happened and Pitlick fired it home for his first as a Hab.
Or so he thought. Minnesota challenged for goalie interference as Dauphin pushed Gaudreau towards Talbot, impeding the goalie’s ability to get across to try to stop the shot. I’m not sure he would have been able to get there but Dauphin’s action did interfere with Talbot and the goal was taken off the board.
To their credit, the Habs weren’t deterred and actually carried the play for the rest of the period although they weren’t able to get one on the board. Brendan Gallagher had a decent-looking chance late off a jam play but that was as close as they got to scoring before the buzzer sounded to end the second. Shots on goal in the period were 9-7 for the home side.
Gallagher had a good chance on his first shift of the third as well but he wasn’t able to corral the rebound off a point shot with a wide-open net in front of him. That proved costly as a minute later, Price got out of position fighting off Fiala’s shot. The rebound went to Matt Boldy near the goal line and he put the puck between his legs to get the right angle and was able to lift it past Price to double the lead.
It took six minutes for the Habs to really muster up much of a threat to score after that. Cole Caufield had a good chance off the rush and seconds later, he set up Suzuki for a net drive off the opposite wing but Talbot was able to stretch out the pad to keep it out.
Montreal got one last look on the power play with eight minutes to go when Fiala tripped Suzuki but once again, the Canadiens couldn’t get much of anything going with their best scoring chance basically being a swing and a miss on a shot.
Any hopes of a late comeback were dashed in the final few minutes. Harris tried to flip the puck ahead to start a rush but flipped it over the glass instead, earning himself two for delay of game. Halfway through that power play, Jeff Petry tripped Joel Eriksson Ek, leading to a five-on-three. The Wild were content to play keep-away and Montreal didn’t really pressure too much to try to get the puck. Price made a good stop on Eriksson Ek on a two-on-one in the dying seconds to at least finish his night strong, albeit in a losing effort. The shots in the final frame were 15-9 for Minnesota.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Tyler Pitlick – Through the first two periods especially, he might have been Montreal’s best player. He had the goal that was called back, a good play shorthanded to lead to a breakaway, and made a couple of good passes to set up potential chances as well. This was easily his best game in a Canadiens uniform.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 1 shot, 3 hits, 2 blocks, 12:41 TOI
2nd Star: Carey Price – He was busier in this one compared to his season debut but Price didn’t look any worse for wear as the game went on. He kept the Habs in it which, at this point, is an above-average performance for a goalie with Montreal’s offence sputtering most nights. There was no slippage from his game against the Islanders which was good to see.
Stats: 28 saves on 30 shots, 2.00 GAA, .933 SV%
3rd Star: Brendan Gallagher – He didn’t capitalize on his chances but he had a few of them which stands out on a night where the Canadiens were pretty quiet at the offensive end for long stretches. He still isn’t scoring but he is playing a bit better compared to the start of the year.
Stats: 0 points, 2 PIMS, 3 shots, 2 hits, 14:24 TOI
Honourable Mention: David Savard – His name was hardly called all game and yet at the end of the night, he was Montreal’s best defenceman in terms of possession while logging the second-most minutes. That’s a quietly efficient game and I’ll take efficient play from Savard every time.
Stats: 0 points, 2 hits, 2 blocks, 21:34 TOI