The Habs were back in action on Thursday after a rather impressive come-from-behind victory over the Penguins. They hosted the Arizona Coyotes in a game of two teams who are supposed to be in the Conor Bedard discussion all year long. The Coyotes certainly looked like a team that belongs in that discussion, but for the third time in five games, the Canadiens looked like a team at the other end of the spectrum as they completely dominated and stayed perfect on home ice. This 6-2 victory was never in doubt as the kids continue to play wildly entertaining hockey. Even if the results don’t last, I hope the energy and play style do.
Montreal kept their new top line together as Sean Monahan joined Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. The second unit consisted of Evgenii Dadonov, Brendan Gallagher, and Christian Dvorak, while the third saw Kirby Dach joined by Josh Anderson and Jonathan Drouin. This left Jake Evans to centre Juraj Slafkovsky and Mike Hoffman.
The blue line remained the same since opening day as David Savard and Kaiden Guhle formed the top pair, with Jordan Harris and Johnathan Kovacevic forming the next. Arber Xhekaj and Chris Wideman rounded out the group. Jake Allen was back in the lineup and got the start in the blue paint.
The start of the game saw the Habs come at the Coyotes and the results were quick in showing too. Just 1:58 into the contest, Dach made a great play to strip the puck and enter the offensive zone. He attacked the middle of the ice and then made a pass to Drouin who appeared to hit the post. It mattered little as Anderson was on the doorstep to put in the rebound.
A little more than two minutes later, the defender’s clearing attempt hit Lawson Crouse’s back skate and rebounded to Caufield who skated to the slot unchallenged and got a squeaker by Connor Ingram to make it 2-0 early.
The onslaught wasn’t done there. At 7:17, two Arizona forwards decided to cover Dvorak while the Habs broke out of their defensive zone. The outcome was an easy flip pass for Savard who sent Dadonov and Gallagher on a two-on-one. Gallagher looked to Dadonov but eventually fired home his first of the season passed Ingram to make it 3-0. Worth noting that the Coyotes still had no shots on Allen when Gallagher scored his goal on the Habs’ fourth shot.
The Coyotes finally got their initial shot on Allen with eight minutes to play in the period, but that momentum was short-lived as Zack Kassian challenged Xhekaj and got fed some serious knuckles as the legend of Xhekaj continues to grow. Xhekaj needed some ice for his knuckles once he got to the penalty box and he’ll need some earplugs for the noise this fight appears to be making league-wide.
With four minutes to play, the officials tried really hard to let the Coyotes back into the game as Slafkovsky was called for a ridiculous slashing minor. The Canadiens killed the minor and finished a pristine period.
The start of the second looked more like what was expected between these two teams as the play was extremely sloppy which meant a ton of broken plays in the neutral zone. A strong shift by Harris really tilted the ice in favour of the Habs yet again. On the next shift, Anderson feathered a nice pass to Drouin on a 2-on-1, but Ingram made a great save to keep Drouin off the board.
Just before the halfway point of the period, Xhekaj skated into the offensive zone to deliver which rushed the attempted clear. Slafkovsky intercepted the pass, skated in, and fired home his first NHL goal. The crowd went absolutely wild at the announcement in a moment that produced some goosebumps for this writer. Arizona finally woke up and started the second half of the game with Clayton Keller buzzing and finally testing Jake Allen. Allen made his best saves of the game up to this point.
Montreal was suddenly completely asleep as the Coyotes got a few more chances, but Allen continued to be up to the task. It finally cost them as Guhle was called for a second questionable call against the Canadiens, this time for holding. Suzuki stood up for his time as he intercepted a power play pass and made his way toward the Coyote net only to be tripped which meant a penalty shot. Suzuki went with a Datsyuk-esque deke as he dragged the puck behind himself before flipping it over an over-committed goaltender to make it 5-0. The Coyotes dominated the rest of the period but faced Allen or the post on the one shot that managed to get through.
The third period started with a strong Gallagher shift that resulted in the Habs getting their only man advantage of the evening. Other than one Caufield shot from his office, it was a pretty bland effort by the home side. After that, it was the Jake Allen show. With the game firmly in hand, the Canadiens took their foot off the accelerator and the Coyotes pounced. Clayton Keller was especially dangerous all period long.
It was off a rebound on another Keller chance that Arizona finally broke through. With 13:39 to play, Travis Boyd found J.J. Moser who finally beat Allen. Less than two minutes later, it was Keller again who started a tic-tac-toe, this time with Boyd finishing the play and suddenly it was 5-2.
Savard then took a cross-checking penalty and it really looked like Montreal was playing with fire. The Coyotes hit a crossbar that had to be saved by Harris before the Habs settled down and killed the penalty. Allen then made his best save of the night as he came across on a cross-ice one-timer off the stick of Kassian. Monahan buried an empty netter with a little over three minutes to play to seal the deal.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Juraj Slafkovsky
Slafkovsky had a season-high in time on ice, rewarded the coaching staff with a very pretty first NHL goal, and then rewarded the fans with a wave to acknowledge the noise in the building upon the announcement of his goal. He had fun with fans when carrying pucks out as the game’s first star and then delivered what had to be one of the funniest interviews given by an NHL player in recent memory where he essentially bragged about he and Xhekaj taunting Josh Brown after his goal and then mentioned Arber being able to kill guys which made it fun to play with him. So the kid might need a bit of PR work, but what a moment for fans.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 14:26 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nick Suzuki
As has seemingly been the case since his arrival in the NHL, Suzuki likes to step up and answer the bell when the pressure is on. The youngest captain in team history, carrying a team as the 1C all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in the past, big fat contract to live up to, no problem, he’s answering the bell. And how about his marker in this one, whoa!! He’s still learning how to face the opposition’s elite players on a nightly basis, but there’s little doubt that he belongs in that role, and now he’s got a legitimate sniper next to him that teams have to respect. Should be very interesting to see how the two fare points-wise with a full season together. Should be a fun ride for the fans anyway.
Stats: 1 goal, +3, 2 shots, 14:56 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Arber Xhekaj
In previous years, Kassian starts running around the Habs have no answer, the Coyotes take over control of the game, and Carey Price has to stand on his head for the team to maybe win 3-2. Xhekaj made sure that Arizona’s ideas of intimidating the Habs didn’t last long, and a 5-0 lead ensued. Oh, and he was the one to step up and forecheck to create the opening on the Slafkovsky goal too. It’s not always pretty with Xhekaj, and he’s got a steeper learning curve than both Guhle and Harris, but he brings a totally different element to the team that I think will be very hard to replace should the team opt to send him for a Laval stint. I wouldn’t be shocked if it happened, but it’s hard to imagine right now.
Stats: +1, 5 PIMS, 3 shots, 3 hits, 17:40 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jordan Harris
Since the start of the season, Harris has delivered small yet important plays that quietly go while setting up his teammates for the big shiny moment that leaves fans in awe. He seems to be cool as a cucumber, but maybe that’s just from always being in the right spot and seemingly never getting himself in too much trouble. Oh, and he’s doing while playing over 20 minutes a night in these first five games. What a fun rookie he has been to watch so far. Thank goodness he didn’t sign elsewhere when he could have!
Stats: +3, 4 shots, 1 hit, 21:31 T.O.I.