After an exciting win in Tampa Bay on Saturday, the Canadiens were back in Montreal to face the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
Jake Allen got the start in net as he faced Anton Forsberg. The blue line remained the same which meant Chris Wideman was in the stands in favour of Jordan Harris who was paired with David Savard while Joel Edmundson remained with Justin Barron and Alexander Romanov stayed with Corey Schueneman.
Up front, coach Martin St. Louis obviously did not want to change the lines too much. However, the return of Brendan Gallagher led to some changes. The top three lines remained unchanged as Rem Pitlick, Cole Caufield, and Nick Suzuki remained together as the top line. Jake Evans and Mike Hoffman were joined by Josh Anderson while Joel Armia stayed with Paul Byron and Christian Dvorak. Gallagher, therefore, returned on the team’s fourth line alongside Ryan Poehling and Jesse Ylonen.
The lines meant little as it was the special teams that made all the difference as Montreal could not keep Ottawa’s power play off the board as they lost 6-3.
The game started with the Canadiens firing on all cylinders. Two and a half minutes into the contest, an excellent forechecking shift by Evans and Hoffman led to several chances before Evans finally got the puck in the slot to allow Gallagher a rebound chance that he put home. The play would be challenged by the Sens since Hoffman was pushed into Anton Forsberg by Artem Zub, but the goal stood. This also meant that the Habs were on the power play following their goal. It was a good man advantage, especially for the second unit as Ylonen looked quite dangerous, but the Senators escaped the early sequence.
The second half of the first period started with another excellent shift for the Evans line, notably for Barron who completed two pinches at the offensive zone blue line to extend the threat. The shift finally ended when Schueneman rang a point shot off the crossbar and the Sens were able to clear the rebound.
Savard was then guilty of interference which opened the door for Ottawa. They got some zone time with control, but never moved the box to get a high danger chance. With 4:40 to play in the period, Schueneman accepted a pass from Allen in his zone but heard footsteps as he passed the puck to the faceoff dot without looking. With Allen not quite back in his net, the puck was fired to the net by Austin Watson to even the score. The rest of the period was all Ottawa, so much so that the period ended up only 11-9 in shots for Montreal.
The second period started much how the first started as the Habs veteran defencemen were guilty of some ugly-looking giveaways. Montreal finally caught up a bit as Caufield was sprung on a partial breakaway. It was well played by Zub who managed to negate the chance while avoiding the penalty box. Hoffman was then sent on a similar occasion but couldn’t get much on his backhand.
Caufield was then called for interference on a very weak call by the officials. This mattered since the advantage lasted all of four seconds. Brady Tkachuk tipped the point shot which Allen stopped but surrendered a rebound that Tim Stutzle put home to make it 2-1.
31 seconds later, Barron continued his excellent night as he took a shot from the point, had the rebound come back to him, and then walked the entire blue line before sniping home his first NHL goal.
The second half of the game started seeing the Senators really take over the game. After a bad Romanov pinch, Edmundson played an odd-man rush quite well. However, his pass to get out of the zone lacked precision and the entire forward group of Armia, Byron, and Dvorak compounded the mistake as not even one of them stopped to help their defenceman. The result was a 3-on-1 and a tic-tac-toe play with Tkachuk making it 3-2.
Schueneman’s bad luck continued as he hit a second post on the night after a good shift by the Evans line. Harris then took a stick to the face to give the Habs an advantage. On this advantage, Caufield got the puck, faked a pass to Suzuki, then faked a shot before finally releasing as he beat Forsberg for a rather weak goal, but they all look the same on the scorecard.
With a little over a minute to play, Suzuki attempted to finish his check on Stutzle and caught him with a knee. It was a penalty, no doubt about it. However, Stutzle hit the ice with all the drama of the world’s best soccer theatrics until he realized that Suzuki was getting called and that he had drawn a crowd. Then he got up, never even looked at the bench as he skated without trouble for the offensive zone faceoff to begin the advantage.
It is the sort of play that will ultimately give Stutzle a reputation around the league that the kid doesn’t want and someday soon, a really serious play will happen against him, and Ottawa won’t draw a penalty on the play and will be crying to the media after the game. It’s a penalty, no doubt about it. But someone within the organization absolutely must pull the kid aside and make him stop that garbage. The Habs mentioned it in their post-game comments, and here’s hoping he smartens up before the Senators become a playoff team and a play like that fires up the opposition and costs them a series.
The third period started tied but completely belonged to the Senators. They started on the carryover man advantage and made Suzuki pay. A point shot one-timer was tipped twice to beat Allen and give the Sens a lead they would never relinquish with Drake Batherson landing the second tip for the goal.
Ottawa kept coming but Allen stood tall to give the Canadiens a chance to fight back. Stutzle then got away with a few cross-checks in the defensive zone before an incredibly cheap hooking call against Gallagher was signaled. It never got called though because the Sens would score on the delayed penalty. Romanov and Edmundson backed up way too much as Colin White took advantage and beat Allen on a shot he would like to have back.
The final ten minutes started with a weak call to rival Caufield’s earlier penalty, this time against Travis Hamonic. The advantage got nothing going and Ottawa was on cruise control from there. Allen was pulled early, but 20 seconds later, at the 4:04 mark, the Habs got confused in the neutral zone attack and coughed it up. Watson accepted the gift and scored to make it 6-3 on his second of the night.
With a minute left in a decided game, Stutzle decided to finish his check hard on Gallagher. Given Gallagher’s season both production-wise and health-wise, Gallagher took exception and jumped Stutzle. It was entirely deserved, but the Habs ended up with the extra penalty on the play.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jake Evans
With Suzuki having a rare off-night, Evans stepped up and his entire line was easily the best for the Habs. If only they played this way when Suzuki is going to create a secondary threat in the offensive zone. Evans was around the puck all night long.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 17:19 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Justin Barron
If I was a little underwhelmed with the first handful of games by Barron, he silenced this critic in this one. He was all over the puck, made excellent decisions in his pinches, and played solid defensively, though I would argue he still needs work on gap control. He’s still quite young and I’d prefer him to get some extended time in the AHL next season, but the potential is absolutely present, and we got a good glimpse of it on Tuesday.
Stats: 1 goal, -1, 5 shots, 17:21 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Cole Caufield
I likely won’t endear myself to the fan base, but I’ve felt that Caufield has been cheating offensively for the last handful of games. Fortunately for him, Suzuki was doing the work away from the spotlight for Caufield to get the chances, and Caufield was putting home his chances, so it went without much comment. On this night, I felt that Suzuki was off all night and Caufield stepped up and did the work to keep the line out of trouble. And as per usual, when he got the chance to put home, he did (even if it wasn’t a nice one), so he gets the nod here and makes this writer happily eat a bit of crow.
Stats: 1 goal, -2, 2 shots, 16:38 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jesse Ylonen
I don’t like questioning a coaching staff in a lost season with promises of important change on the horizon. However, can anyone explain to me why Ylonen is still on the fourth line? He’s outplayed a large number of the roster for the last handful of games and is doing so with limited ice-time. The coaching staff has clearly noticed as he’s now on the second wave of the power play and a prominent part of that unit. I just don’t understand what more you need to see out of Byron, Anderson, Armia, Hoffman, or even Gallagher at this point in the season. Get the kid some talented linemates and let’s see what he can do!
Stats: 4 shots, 11:50 T.O.I.