After taking away a hard-fought but less-than-pretty win in Columbus, the Canadiens headed to the Windy City for a rare Friday afternoon matinee engagement with the Blackhawks, who were holding down third place in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes. Head coach Martin St. Louis didn’t make any roster changes between the two games, giving Sam Montembeault a second consecutive start for the first time this year, as a reward for his strong performance on Wednesday.
Notably, though, Kaiden Guhle moved to the right, his off-side, on the top pairing with Joel Edmundson. The big veteran seemed to struggle on the right side against the Blue Jackets, would the rookie manage a game on the wrong side better than Edmundson?
Could we score first, please?
After too many games recently where the Habs had been scored on early — and sometimes often — St. Louis had his troops working hard early. Christian Dvorak passed the puck from the boards to Evgenii Dadonov, who was heading for the net, for the first scoring chance of the game, but Dadonov was unable to get his stick on the pass.
Little more than three minutes into the game, though, Edmundson picked up a loose puck at centre ice and kept going, passing the puck to Sean Monahan on the left-side boards as he crossed the blue line. Monahan sent it right back to Edmundson, who was heading directly for the net, and the big defenceman tipped it past Arvid Soderblom for an early Montreal advantage, always a nice sight.
Dvorak and Dadonov had another chance at scoring just before the midway point of the period, but this time Dvorak shot the puck over the top of the net.
Jake Evans broke in with Cole Caufield shortly after that, but the young sniper was unable to get a shot off; this was fairly typical of the game, as the Blackhawks paid special attention to Caufield, minimizing his scoring opportunities.
As the Canadiens were forechecking in the Chicago zone after that rush, Monahan won the board battle and fed a pass to Josh Anderson at the side of the net, but Soderblom snatched the shot away harmlessly. And a few minutes later, Dvorak broke in with Joel Armia, albeit with two Chicago defenders in close tow. Dvorak got the puck to Armia, but with Andreas Athanasiou all over him, the big Finn was unable to move the puck to a good shooting position, and Soderblom pocketed the weak shot with ease.
With three and a half minutes left on the clock, Connor Murphy and Max Domi broke into Montreal’s zone, with Murphy shooting wide of the net. The puck hit the boards behind the net, and then glanced off the outside edge onto Domi’s stick. Montembeault made a desperate sliding left-pad save on Domi’s shot to keep the one-goal edge.
Mike Matheson was called for high-sticking with 1:53 remaining in the period, but the Blackhawks did not look dangerous on the power play. Until the dying seconds of the period, that is: Athanasiou broke in, took a shot, blocked by Johnathan Kovacevic, but could not get his stick on the rebound.
The shots for the period totaled eight for each team, with the Habs holding a 4-3 edge in high-danger scoring chances.
Two more of those, if you would?
The second period started with more of the same: with the third line forechecking in the Blackhawks’ zone, Monahan freed up the puck in the corner and got it to Armia, who battled off a Chicago defender behind the net. Armia flicked the puck to Anderson, once again close to the right goalpost, and the winger one-timed the puck, only to have Soderblom get his trapper in front of the shot.
But about five minutes in, things started to look worse. The Blackhawks were exerting pressure, and the Canadiens were having trouble getting out of their own zone. Brendan Gallagher failed to clear the puck, and the Chicago forwards were buzzing behind and in front of the net. Montembeault stopped a shot by Jason Dickinson, but the puck was still loose.
Gallagher got to the loose puck on the right-side boards, but once again hit a Chicago player and failed to clear. With most of Montreal’s players already headed out of the zone, Dickinson spotted Caleb Jones skating in all alone on the other side of the net, passed, and Jones one-timed the puck behind Montembeault to tie up the game.
It only took a minute after that for the Blackhawks to gift the Canadiens an opportunity to regain the one-goal advantage, as Jonathan Toews slashed Kovacevic and headed for a two-minute session in the sin bin.
The first power-play unit controlled the play from the start, cycling the puck but not getting a shot away. But as Matheson got the puck to Nick Suzuki, the Montreal captain made a move as if to pass to Caufield, and the Chicago defenders were drawn to the sniper as ducks to breadcrumbs. That gave Suzuki just a bit more space, and as he stepped forward, he drilled the puck into the top-right corner, well above Soderblom’s glove. 2-1 Canadiens, with just over half the game remaining.
And then it was Monahan, Anderson, and Armia on a rush into the Chicago zone. This time it was Armia with a shot — it looked great but hit the right-side post, and the winger still remains without a goal this season. And then Matheson, powering in on the right and cutting to the front of the net, tried, but could not tuck in between Soderblom’s legs.
At the 11-minute mark, Dadonov was unfortunate to get his stick on the skates of the rushing Jones and was sent off on a tripping penalty. This time the Patrick Kane-Jonathan Toews show was running at full speed, and the Blackhawks recorded six shots on Montembeault, but “Monty” was determined to keep the puck out.
Arber Xhekaj was sent off next, at 17:40, as his stick slid up onto the glove of MacKenzie Entwistle, resulting in a hooking infraction. As the Habs started killing a second late-period penalty, Kane, Toews, and Domi maintained control in the Montreal zone, but the penalty killers mostly kept them boxed out. Still, with less than a minute remaining in the period, Montembeault had to make a stonking save on Kane, and then a second one less than 10 seconds later on Toews.
Jake Evans and Monahan picked up the loose puck from that Toews save and made a shorthanded rush into the Chicago zone. Evans fought off a Chicago defender on the right-side boards, Monahan picked up the puck, curved in front of the net — and hit another goalpost.
The shots in the second were 9-7 for Chicago, as were the high-danger chances, 5-4.
Could we get a third goal to put it away?
In the final period, the Habs were buzzing around in the Chicago zone early, looking for that elusive insurance goal. With former Habs first-round pick Jarred Tinordi (all 6’6 and 229 lbs of him) trying to crunch Caufield and Kirby Dach, the young forwards wanted to pay back the best way they could, by scoring. And Dach got the puck to Caufield in front of Soderblom at 1:50, but Soderblom snatched Caufield’s wrister.
Dickinson checked Slafkovsky hard early in the period, and the rookie winger went down heavily and did not get up immediately. Michael Pezzetta went after Dickinson, but no penalties were called on the play. As the teams were getting ready for the ensuing faceoff, the Chicago coaches noticed Xhekaj on the ice, and quickly scrambled to get Dickinson off, lest he get beaten up by the Montreal rookie.
With six minutes to go and Chicago looking to tie the game up, Matheson was at the back of the net, faking passes but not really fooling Toews. The Blackhawks fans started booing the delay, and then Matheson lost an edge and fell as he spun around. He still got the puck away, though, sending Suzuki off on a breakaway. Suzuki tried to get Soderblom to commit and switched to his backhand, but Soderblom was not fooled enough and kept his net clean again.
Guhle was sent off at 15:20 for high stickin’ Dickinson, giving Chicago the opportunity they had been waiting for. Dvorak cleared the puck from the initial faceoff, but the Blackhawks’ offensive zone entry was so smooth that one wondered how all those black sweaters ended up in Montreal’s zone so quickly. And it was all Toews and Kane again — just imagine how bad this Chicago team will be if those two are traded away at the deadline — and the fourth shot on goal in a 30-second span tied it up. This time Kane spotted Taylor Raddysh, parked in front of the net, unaccompanied by any Montreal defencemen, let alone David Savard. Raddysh made quick work of converting Kane’s shot and tucking it behind Montembeault.
Armia and Monahan had another scoring opportunity with 90 seconds to go, but otherwise, both teams were clearly playing to secure a point and move onto overtime.
The shots were 8-5 for the Blackhawks, with six high-danger chances by each team.
When will this dilly-dallying be over?
The Blackhawks took control of the overtime period from the opening faceoff and retained possession, but killed time and barely ventured out of their own defensive zone in the first two minutes, waiting for Montreal’s top players to return to the bench.
Then we saw a flurry of rushes, the Habs going in at three on two, the Blackhawks right back at two on one, and finally the Habs again, this time also two on one. Only one of those resulted in a shot on the net, and Montembeault foiled Athanasiou’s wrist shot.
Then, in a faux pas worth of Don Cherry, the Blackhawks sent new skaters on the ice without waiting for the others to return to the bench. Five skaters instead of three should surely be a penalty, and it was. The ensuing four-on-three power play looked particularly inept, though, and in those two minutes, they attempted only four shots, with only Suzuki’s goal-front tip forcing Soderblom to make a stop.
One shot each was recorded, but the Habs were credited with four high-danger chances to the Blackhawks’ two.
Take your best shot
In the shootout, Toews took the first shot for the home team, lifting the puck over Montembeault’s right pad. St. Louis wasn’t going to fool around and be nice to players by letting them play in the shootout, just because. Instead, it was the top sniper first, and Caufield made no mistake in lifting the puck into the top right corner.
Montembeault then had Kane’s number, getting his right pad out and foiling the future Hall-of-Famer. Suzuki followed that by wristing the puck just over the glove of Soderblom, and it was now do-or-die for the Blackhawks.
They weren’t dead yet, as Athanasiou found the five-hole on Montembeault, who was trying to cover the angles. But Dach, returning to Chicago for the first time since the Chicago team traded him away, would be the hero of the night. As the fans were booing him, he snapped the puck just inside the post on the glove side of Soderblom to give Montreal the shootout win and the two points. Skating away, Dach smiled and put his glove behind his ear, but there was nary a boo to be heard, just stunned silence.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Sean Monahan (0g, 2a, 2 shots, +1, 18:52 TOI) played another outstanding game, and meshed very well with Anderson and Armia. The three combined for five high-danger chances, and that second goal was so close many a time.
Second Star: Nick Suzuki (1g, 0a, 3 shots, +0, 22:10 TOI) also scored in the shootout, and that performance should surely be worthy of a first star, were he anyone other than Suzuki: the expectations for him have grown as he has demonstrated his capabilities.
Third Star: Samuel Montembeault (32 shots, 30 saves, 0.938) didn’t steal the game quite as he did in Columbus but made multiple outstanding saves to keep the Habs in the game, and 1.51 saves above expected speaks for his excellent performance.
Honourable Mention: Kaiden Guhle (0g, 0a, 1 shot, +0, 20:40 TOI) didn’t get his name onto the score sheet, but played an outstanding game on his off side, complementing Edmundson and demonstrating a possible solution to the Habs’ shortage of right-handed defenders.