The Habs kicked off the final ten games of the regular season by hosting the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night. The Jets were without Mark Scheifele as they attempted to keep their slim playoff chances alive. Scheifele was injured on Sunday night and while it is rare that I comment on the opposition’s injuries, this one was noteworthy in that it promised to lessen the emotional state of the game for many fans. It is also noteworthy because the Habs were without conviction for most of the night and maybe could have used the emotion of the fan base versus Scheifele in this game. As it stands, they were mostly outplayed in their 4-2 loss.
The goaltending matchup heavily favoured Winnipeg as Samuel Montembeault faced Connor Hellebuyck. The blue line remained mostly the same as Alexander Romanov was paired to David Savard, Jeff Petry to Joel Edmundson, and the third pair saw Corey Schueneman join Jordan Harris.
Up front, the top line of Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Rem Pitlick remained. They were seconded by Christian Dvorak, Joel Armia, and Brendan Gallagher. The third line featured Jake Evans, Josh Anderson, and Mike Hoffman. The fourth was Ryan Poehling with Paul Byron and Jesse Ylonen.
The game started with a fast pace as both teams tried to catch the opposing defenders flat-footed. Both teams were defensively sound to start the game as the only scoring chance came for Poehling after a really crafty play by Ylonen to gain the middle of the ice. After Neal Pionk got away with a blatant hold after being beat by Harris, Byron got caught with a blatant trip on Josh Morrissey that was called sending the Jets to the game’s first power play. The Canadiens killed the advantage giving little to Winnipeg in the process.
One of the better players in the first period was Harris who joined the attack on a few occasions and looked quite dangerous when he did as the Jets appeared unprepared for what the young man was offering offensively. Near the five-minute mark, Caufield and Adam Lowry exchanged the first real scoring chances of the game, but both keepers stood tall. The Jets won the period in shots on net with an 8-6 advantage.
Dvorak built on a solid first period by starting the second with an excellent zone entry before deking Dylan DeMelo and forcing an excellent stop by Hellebuyck. The rebound found itself in the slot and Armia beat DeMelo to the loose puck to open the scoring.
The goal woke up the Jets who suddenly came alive forcing two superb saves by Montembeault. Finally, a well-placed dropped pass by Nikolaj Ehlers gave Morgan Barron a great chance that he placed perfectly in the top corner to even the scoring within the first two minutes of the period.
The Dvorak line continued its great play as Armia created a 2-on-1 for Schueneman and Gallagher that forced Hellebuyck to make a great stop. Four minutes into the period, it was Barron again who deked Pitlick before delivering a great pass to Paul Stastny who put home Winnipeg’s second goal for their first lead.
The second half of the game kicked off with some stellar saves as both goaltenders made excellent saves to prevent Armia and Stastny from scoring their seconds of the game. Montreal then controlled five minutes of play as the Dvorak and Poehling lines continued to be the better forwards.
With six minutes to play, the Habs forgot to play defence for a three-minute stretch as it was a complete Montem-Show that allowed the Canadiens to stay within one goal as the third-string netminder came up with three consecutive highlight-reel stops that had the Bell Centre up and chanting his name. Then, Pierre-Luc Dubois held Suzuki for Montreal’s first power play of the evening. The advantage was quite good even though it ultimately came up short.
The third period saw the Jets shut down all offensive play in favour of low-event hockey. The Habs had no answer for this style of play in the first five minutes of play. With 6:19 expired, a Suzuki faceoff win in the offensive zone allowed Petry to release a big clapper from the point. The shot went off a covered Anderson to beat Hellebuyck and tie the game. The game remained surprisingly cautious after the Habs goal.
With nine minutes to play, a terrible read off the rush allowed Evgeny Svechnikov the chance to fool Montembeault as Petry and Edmundson covered the same guy in front of the net.
The bad defensive play continued as the Evans line was victimized and Pitlick’s terrible night continued. Luckily for the line, the Jets hit the post leaving the Habs within one goal.
With 1:40 left, Montembeault left while Hoffman was dumping the puck into Winnipeg’s zone. The Habs did not get the puck back and the Jets went up the ice and immediately scored to put the game out of reach.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Christian Dvorak
If most of the fan base, myself included, was underwhelmed with Dvorak and what he had to offer at the start of the season, it is clear that he is much more comfortable now and he is thriving since his return from his injury. He appears to have a clear mission given by the coaching staff and the ability to try plays when he finds himself in the offensive zone. He’s even been seen smiling a few times recently so that has to be a good omen, right? It was another good night for him as his line was by far the best of the four for the Habs on this night.
Stats: 1 assist, 2 shots, 14:34 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Samuel Montembeault
Montembeault was spectacular in the second period to keep Montreal in this game far longer than they really should have been. Several stops made in that period were high-quality chances and were really highlight-reel. A few of them may have been set up by his rebound control, but truthfully, if the team can’t expect that and react accordingly when their third-string netminder is between the pipes, then the team simply isn’t very good defensively and the goaltender deserves all the credit received after those saves. Great on Montembeault as he may very well be playing himself into a backup role somewhere in the NHL next season.
Stats: 31 saves, 34 shots, .917 save %, 3.00 G.A.A., 59:54 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jesse Ylonen
I made this point not long ago and I’ll make it again. Ylonen is outplaying a vast majority of veteran wingers on this team right now and should no longer be playing on the team’s fourth line. I’ll go a step further. The way this game played out, it’s an absolute disaster that that Ylonen was on the bench and Mike Hoffman was on the ice when the coaching staff decided to pull Montembeault. Hoffman absolutely did not deserve to be there. Ylonen played another strong game as he is smart and when given the chance, he seems to be creating offensively also. Move him up the lineup already!
Editor’s Note: Shortly after this post was submitted, Ylonen was sent back to Laval.
Stats: 3 shots, 11:23 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jordan Harris
Harris had a spectacular first period as he joined the rush and apparently surprised Winnipeg with his solid play. The Jets adjusted and caught Harris and Schueneman out of position in the second, but countering that will come with time and experience. For now, let’s focus on the positive that is the raw skill and ability that Harris presents as an important turning point in the style of defender sought by this organization.
Stats: 16:39 T.O.I.