The Canadiens edged the Penguins 3-2 in overtime in their first bout of the season, to take their record to a surprising 2-1-1 in a season of low expectations. Saturday’s rematch had the Penguins arriving in town on the back of a two-game winning streak, having beaten the Capitals and the Leafs, and looking for a third one in a row.
It could have been, but the bleu, blanc, et rouge had their scoring working at full tilt and came back every time Pittsburgh took the lead. A dramatic overtime winner capped one of the most entertaining games of the season and moved the Habs to 8-6-1, two points ahead of the Penguins – and tied for third in the Atlantic division.
First things first
The Penguins made the first attempt, breaking in from the opening faceoff, but Jake Allen easily turned away the weak shot.
After the subsequent faceoff, Sean Monahan picked up the puck and weaved through the Pittsburgh defence, but his shot was from a poor angle and blocked by Tristan Jarry. Josh Anderson then picked up the loose puck from Chad Ruhwedel on the boards, moved closer to the centre, and snapped a wrist shot from between the circles, beating Jarry on the Canadiens’ first shot of the game, only 1:48 into the first period.
Christian Dvorak and Brendan Gallagher had a chance to double the lead near the six-minute mark, as they broke in and Dvorak tapped a pass over to Gallagher, but Jarry stopped the wrister without much difficulty.
Jason Zucker had his chance only 30 seconds later, as he broke in close to Allen, unmolested, but Allen got his right pad out, and Zucker was unable to tuck the puck under it.
After the early scoring and scoring attempts, the second half of the period saw two offensively-minded teams attempting to convince the fans that they are all about the defence. It did look that way for 10 minutes or so, but it would soon become clear that it was a mere mirage.
The Habs ruled the shot count at 7-4, and the high-danger chances were recorded at the amazingly low count of one apiece.
A second quick start
After the quick start by Montreal in the first frame, the Penguins were determined not to get caught flat-footed this time and applied pressure early. It paid off, as Jeff Petry attempted a pass from behind the net to Zucker, who was parked in front. The pass didn’t make it that far, though, as it bounced off the blade of Jake Evans’s stick – and directly into the net.
Allen could not, and could not be expected to, do anything about this one, but it was a goal for the former Habs defender and a 1-1 tie nevertheless.
The Penguins kept up the pressure, and Allen had to make a save on another ex-Hab, this time Ryan Poehling, just 40 seconds later – and then the slightly more famous Penguin, Sidney Crosby was also at it, trying to find some empty net.
And then, another unlucky bounce. Johnathan Kovacevic was attempting to clear the puck from behind the net, and his clearing pass hit a referee’s skate, bouncing directly to Zucker. A pass to Marcus Pettersson, who shot the puck on the net, and a deflection off Rickard Rakell to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
As the Canadiens recovered from the shock of the early shellacking, they also found their skating legs. A three-on-two break, and then a four-on-two, but neither one of those appeared to come close to scoring.
Jan Rutta was sent off for slashing Nick Suzuki at 8:14, but the Habs’ on-again, off-again power play appeared to be in the latter mode. Arber Xhekaj and Cole Caufield managed to record shots on net but Jarry was everywhere in front of the net.
Kirby Dach, Suzuki, and Caufield controlled play and pressed. Evans and Joel Armia attacked but were outnumbered. Then it was Mike Hoffman, Dvorak, and Gallagher. It seemed that everyone with the blue, white, and red sweater was energized.
Finally, Armia drew a penalty at 17:24, as Rutta (again) was called into the box, this time for holding.
The second power play looked much better, with the first unit controlling the play, until Suzuki’s stick broke on a shot, giving the Penguins a shorthanded break. The second unit’s play was not as good, but Xhekaj made a nice play near the top of the circle, faking the shot, passing, getting the puck back, and then one-timing it.
There was much more shooting this time, 19 shots for the Habs and eight for Pittsburgh, and the Habs holding an impressive 8-2 edge in high-danger chances. Alas, the only goals in the period were the two for the Penguins.
The third act is where it all happens
As the third period kicked off, it was the Habs taking the initiative again, as in the first. David Savard spotted Dach heading for the offensive zone on the right-hand boards and fed him the puck. Marcus Pettersson slammed him into the boards in the corner, but both got up quickly.
As Dach circled the net and moved to the front, Pettersson came looking for him and shoved him toward Jarry. That ended up being a poor decision by the Penguins’ defender, as Suzuki had picked up the puck, and now Caufield had at the blue line. A quick shot by the young winger and the puck flew past the distracted Jarry. A tie game again, this time at 2-2.
Penguins head coach, Mike Sullivan, requested a coach’s challenge on the basis of goaltender interference, but the replays showed clearly that Dach was attempting to stay outside the blue ice. The challenge was denied, and the Canadiens received a bonus power play.
While the Habs were trying to get set up Poehling stripped the puck from Sean Monahan, giving the Penguins a shorthanded two-on-one break. Allen made the save, but the power play unit still couldn’t control the play in the offensive zone.
And then, just 30 seconds after the end of the power play, Zucker got the puck to Evgeni Malkin in the Habs’ zone. Malkin skated into the right-side circle and flipped a backhander over Allen’s shoulder and into the top-left corner of the net to put Pittsburgh into a 3-2 lead.
The two teams were now effectively apologizing for the first period’s defensive outburst, and doing their best to imitate the 1980s firewagon hockey.
So, it was just another 50 seconds before a goal light flashed on again. Suzuki was forechecking in the Pittsburgh zone, and then Savard stopped a Pittsburgh clearing attempt on the boards. He found Suzuki near the centre of the zone, apparently completely unexpected by the Penguins’ defenders.
Suzuki turned around, took a few steps, and sent a pass to Dach on the right side. Bryan Rust intercepted the pass, but the puck came right back to Suzuki, and the Habs’ star centre had no trouble finding enough open net, with Jarry moving to block Dach. And it was another tie game, now 3-3.
Hoffman and Gallagher, not usually the speediest duo, found themselves on a two-on-one break soon after. Jake Guentzel, trying to prevent a pass by Hoffman, pushed Gallagher backwards into the boards and then wrestled him onto the ice, until the linesmen pulled him off. Both Guentzel and Gallagher were sent to the box.
Savard then tripped Pettersson, triggering a Pittsburgh four-on-three power play, during which the Habs had to hold off Crosby, Malkin, and Letang to survive. Letang wiped out the last part of that, though, by cross-checking Harris into the ice, resulting in 25 seconds of three-on-three hockey.
Suzuki had a chance during the first rush of those 25 seconds, but then it was Jeff Carter rushing in with Brock McGinn. As Harris slid to block the pass, Carter found the opening and sent the pass to McGinn, who tapped it into the net for a 4-3 Pittsburgh lead.
It was not over yet, as the Habs responded quickly again. On Montreal’s eventual power play after the other penalties ended, Jonathan Drouin took a shot on net from the Pittsburgh blue line. Jarry couldn’t control the rebound, and Monahan was there and ready to lift it into the net, just 40 seconds after Pittsburgh’s go-ahead goal, at 14:42.
No one could find a fifth goal in the remaining five minutes of the period, though.
The shots were 14-11 for the Habs and high-danger chances were 5-4 in their favour.
Fans over the moon
After some frenetic but broken plays to start the overtime period, Kaiden Guhle calmed things down behind Allen. Dach moved from there to the right side, first confusing Crosby and then leaving Malkin in his dust as he picked up the pass from Guhle. With Hoffman as his wingman, the two turned it quickly into a two-on-one. As Dach approached the net on the right, he threaded a pass past Petry to Hoffman, on the left side, and the veteran sniper beat Jarry cleanly to extend his scoring streak to three games.
Two shots for the Habs and one for the Penguins, but the Hoffman shot was the only one that mattered as the Habs took a victory in the kind of hockey game that fans cannot fail to love.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Nick Suzuki (1g, 1a, 4 shots, 22:22 TOI) does it all. An incredible 22 minutes on the ice, from power play to penalty kill – and he can shoot, too. +0 on the night, the risk on the 3-on-3 in the third not paying off, but that was the only black mark on the night.
Second Star: Kirby Dach (0g, 2a, 0 shots, 19:37 TOI) is blossoming quickly in Montreal and the Habs fans are quickly forgetting the name of the young Russian defender that was traded to get him. Will he stay on the wing or move to centre, he has the tools for a top-six forward in either case.
Third Star: Kaiden Guhle (0g, 1a, 0 shots, 21:22 TOI) continues to play a mature, complete game that belies his young age. Without his passing, plays like the overtime winner would not happen.
Honourable Mention: Brendan Gallagher (0g, 0a, 5 shots, 14:37 TOI) is finding chemistry with Hoffman and Dvorak. The three had numerous rushes and scoring chances in spite of spending much of the evening playing against the Malkin line.