The Habs continued their road trip on Thursday with a contest in Winnipeg as they took on the Jets. Much like the Habs, the Jets have accepted lesser expectations for the season and allowed it to motivate them to a surprisingly strong start. Winnipeg, at least internally, does expect to be a contender for the playoffs, so perhaps that is different from the Canadiens.
The Jets also boast a big-body roster, so the Canadiens decided to reply in kind on this night as Chris Wideman was scratched for the return of Joel Edmundson who made his season debut. It was a very physical contest so the coach’s decision to keep bigger bodies in the lineup was warranted. The Habs held up all night long in a wildly entertaining hockey game, but they ultimately lost an overtime contest by a score of 3-2.
The roster wasn’t too different from the most recent versions as the forward group was the same as Tuesday. Kirby Dach remained on the top line with Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki. Josh Anderson skated next to Brendan Gallagher and Christian Dvorak, the third unit was Jonathan Drouin, Sean Monahan, and Joel Armia which left Rem Pitlick, Jake Evans, and Juraj Slafkovsky as the fourth line. The blue line saw Jordan Harris stay with Johnathan Kovacevic and Kaiden Guhle remain with David Savard which meant that Edmundson made his season debut with Arber Xhekaj as his new partner. Samuel Montembeault got the start in net.
Both teams came out skating hard but were lacking in execution which made for an opening three minutes that was rather sloppy. That sloppy play finally created an opportunity as Suzuki came on too quickly for Dvorak and the Jets would get the game’s first man advantage. Montreal managed to ground the attack and gain momentum from the sequence.
With 13:17 to play, a Savard breakout pass to Caufield was simply tipped to Suzuki who had a full head of steam. He used the speed to get easily around Dylan DeMelo and bury a sweet shot over Connor Hellebuyck’s shoulder as the defender sent Suzuki barrelling into the net.
The goal woke both teams up as the early speed was suddenly paired with precise execution which led to a breakneck pace as Armia and Kyle Connor exchanged a couple of scoring chances each. Both Hellebuyck and Montembeault came up with big stops as it appeared the period would head to the intermission with the Montreal lead intact. Edmundson was noticeable in the period as he was guilty of giving the puck away quite a bit but then committed to multiple shot blocks to make up for the poor puck protection.
With 3:20 left in the period, Pitlick committed what was at least his third hook while forechecking. It wasn’t the most egregious hook, but it was a repeated motion that was bound to get called. This time, Winnipeg made the Habs pay as the entire unit of penalty killers got caught anticipating the cross-ice pass to Connor. This gave Pierre-Luc Dubois way too much space as a result. Dubois accepted the gift and skated in unscathed to rip a shot passed Montembeault to tie the game with 2:32 to play. The rest of the period was quiet as the shots favoured the Jets 10-6 at the end of the period.
The second period started at a slower pace than the first with both teams exchanging shifts of control in the offensive zone. Five minutes in, it was Caufield creating scoring chances for his linemates again. His zone entry created space for Suzuki who got a good shot off to create a rebound. Dach was all over the rebound as he restored Montreal’s lead.
The lead was short-lived as the Dvorak line got buried by the Dubois line. After two strong stops by Montembeault, Blake Wheeler plowed through the netminder as the puck squeaked in behind him. Wheeler put it in. The Canadiens challenged without success leading to a Winnipeg power play after the goal. However, Sam Gagner took a slashing minor 20 seconds later to even the play at 4-on-4, a sequence that was uneventful.
The second half of the game got underway with the Habs taking control as the bottom two lines took turns spending entire shifts in the Winnipeg zone. The only line that struggled was the Dvorak line as they could not come up with their defensive assignments against the Dubois line who was engaged all night long. One such shift led to Pitlick’s second hooking penalty of the game with 6:27 to play in the period. Winnipeg’s power play had nothing which allowed the Habs to end the period with momentum.
Gallagher got two shots before Caufield set him up with a glorious scoring chance that he fanned on. Kovacevic was then called for interference on a play that Dubois initiated. Once again, the Habs were excellent on the kill as the best scoring chance of the sequence went to Suzuki as he got to two shots against Hellebuyck forcing the star netminder to keep his team even headed to the third period. Xhekaj finished the period with a big hit that drew a crowd.
The third period continued much like the rest of this entertaining game as both teams were creating scoring chances and both teams were physical. A few rookie mistakes by Kovacevic and Xhekaj gave the Jets the best scoring chances of the first five minutes of the period, but Montembeault was up to the task even if the stops were somewhat lucky and absolutely unconventional. With 12:30 to play, Connor got his sixth shot on net and likely his third quality scoring chance as he continued to be a threat for the Jets.
The last ten minutes started with a strong defensive play by Armia that was supported by a strong puck play by Monahan. The result was a partial break for Monahan that led to a tripping penalty on Dylan Samberg that opened the door for the Habs.
The power play got a chance early as Drouin got a cross-ice pass but was on too small an angle to make the shot dangerous. Caufield then got a one-timer that smacked Hellebuyck in the helmet. The second unit was also quite dangerous as Gallagher created more scoring chances that he just couldn’t capitalize on. Both teams held nothing back as overtime neared as the pace never slowed in the final moments of the third.
The overtime was short and the Canadiens never really got the puck over the two minutes. Montembeault kicked off the 3-on-3 with a beautiful stick save on Mark Scheifele on a cross-ice one-timer. The Jets were careful to keep the puck on their sticks and Connor finally created confusion between the coverage of Caufield and Harris to get open, and he finally got one by Montembeault to win the game for the Jets on an absolute laser of a shot.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Cole Caufield
On some nights this season, I felt like Caufield was shying away from the puck and trying too hard to let play go by as he found the soft spot in coverage to get the shot and the goal. This game was the polar opposite as it felt like he had the puck on his stick every single shift as he was creating scoring chances all night long. Perhaps not surprisingly, his linemates were the beneficiaries of this play as they both scored thanks to strong neutral zone play with the puck by Caufield. Showing this side of his game will be a long-term benefit to himself too as teams won’t be able to focus solely on his shooting when he has the puck. To this writer, one of Caufield’s best this season.
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 4 shots, 16:44 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Samuel Montembeault
My opinion of Montembeault last season was that he was not ready for the role in which he was placed. His rebound control was an adventure and he often made himself look small in his net. Full credit to the youngster as he’s looked much better early on this season. This game marked the second consecutive start where I felt like Montembeault was very close to being as good as Allen. As someone who really wasn’t a fan of his play last season, I think it’s a nice development and one that might keep him in the NHL for a long time as the Habs are bound to find a bona fide starter at some point and Montembeault could be an option as the backup should he continue to play this way for a prolonged sequence.
Stats: 33 saves, 36 shots, 2.91 GAA, .917 save %, 61:45 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Kirby Dach
Perhaps the most underrated player on the Habs right now as Dach completed two great backchecks before being rewarded with his goal. He’s accepted his role on this line of being the guy that goes in to win battles for his linemates and he’s done quite well as well. He’s also the first player that has been paired with Suzuki and Caufield that sees the ice well enough and has enough skill to really keep up with them on every shift.
Stats: 1 goal, +2, 1 shot, 16:16 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Brendan Gallagher
In his glory days, nights where Gallagher simply out-willed his opposition would have resulted in a two- or three-point night. He’s had a few of those nights this season, but they’ve resulted in little as his rejuvenated body appears to not be matched by his hands. Gallagher is still creating chances; he’s just not finishing. It’s still so much fun to watch him battle. This was a vintage Gallagher night effort-wise.
Stats: -1, 2 shots, 14:39 T.O.I.