After a big comeback win in St. Louis on Saturday, the Habs were back in action on Tuesday in Minnesota. They started off strong but a tough second period was something they couldn’t overcome as they fell 4-1.
Martin St. Louis opted to make a couple of changes for this one as Jonathan Drouin and Rem Pitlick both returned after being scratched against the Blues. They took the place of Mike Hoffman and Michael Pezzetta which resulted in some line shuffling with the team lining up as follows:
Caufield – Suzuki – Dach
Anderson – Dvorak – Gallagher
Drouin – Monahan – Armia
Pitlick – Evans – Slafkovsky
Guhle – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic
Xhekaj – Wideman
The Canadiens got off to a strong start with all four lines getting some offensive zone time early on. They had six shots just past the four-minute mark, the last of which was a Kaiden Guhle one-timer that got on net quicker than expected but Marc-Andre Fleury still made the stop. Coming back the other way, Frederick Gaudreau was set up for a dangerous chance but the shot went wide.
Brendan Gallagher then whiffed on a good look at the nine-minute mark, allowing Minnesota to come back the other way. Joel Eriksson Ek was left alone in the slot (not a good idea) but his shot missed. That was a microcosm of the period for the Wild as several of their best opportunities didn’t hit the net.
At the other end, most of Montreal’s attempts throughout the frame were on goal but very few were of the high-end variety. Nevertheless, it was something that would be described as a good road period as the Habs outshot Minnesota 15-7 (Cole Caufield leading the way with five) while getting some good zone time. Sure, Montreal would have preferred a goal or two but all in all, the road team will happily take that type of performance almost every time as long as the lack of goal production doesn’t come back to bite them.
However, it came back to bite them. Guhle nearly scored in the opening minute as his wrister hit Jared Spurgeon and fooled Fleury but rolled just wide. 30 seconds later, Jake Allen put out a terrible rebound on a weak shot from Eriksson Ek and Mason Shaw was there to pot the rebound to open the scoring.
A little over a minute later, Joel Armia showed some great puck control, eventually spinning to send a pass across for Sean Monahan. Monahan couldn’t get the shot off and even if he did, it wouldn’t have mattered as Armia bowled into Fleury, sending Minnesota to the power play. A minute into that advantage, Matt Boldy sent a cross-ice pass to Kirill Kaprizov who redirected it past Allen, just barely but replay showed it narrowly crossed the line before bouncing back out.
The Wild got another chance with the man advantage a minute later as Juraj Slafkovsky and Steven Fogarty got tied up with Slafkovsky sliding into and tripping Fleury in the process. They had a lot of pressure but the Canadiens managed to kill that off.
The Habs got their first chance on the power play just before the nine-minute mark when Boldy was called for a hold on Gallagher. Caufield had a couple of shots but despite having a fair bit of zone time, that was all they could muster up.
With a little over five minutes left, Kaprizov came in on a two-on-one with Marco Rossi. David Savard slid to break up the pass but it hit him and went in the air. Rossi knocked it down and Kaprizov was there to pot it home for his second of the night. St. Louis challenged, feeling that Rossi knocked the puck down with a high stick, qualifying as a challenge under Section 38.2, Missed Game Stoppage Event in the Offensive Zone Leading to a Goal. However, the call stood, sending Minnesota back to the power play. They had a lot of pressure but Allen managed to shut the door.
Minnesota had another good chance in the final minute but Spurgeon’s slot shot just went wide. The period came to an end with the home side holding a 19-12 shot advantage in the frame and a three-goal lead on the scoreboard.
Each team traded goalposts in the first few minutes of the third. Kaprizov drew iron just past the four-minute mark while two and a half minutes later, Chris Wideman’s wrister hit Gallagher and hit the post. After that, Spurgeon roughed up Gallagher and then the winger collided with Jacob Middleton at the blue line. Both of those could have easily been penalties and this feels like a good time to mention that Chris Lee was one of the officials.
Before anyone thinks this played much of an impact, it probably didn’t as the Habs didn’t manage a shot on goal in the first seven minutes. That’s never a good thing when you’re down by three goals.
Montreal did get another crack with the man advantage with eight minutes left when Tyson Jost was called for a cross-check on Johnathan Kovacevic. Caufield had a one-timer early that Fleury stopped but later on, Chris Wideman sent a feed for Kirby Dach who sent it to Suzuki in the bumper position. The captain opted for a one-timer of his own and it was a good idea as his shot beat Fleury to get Montreal on the board.
Off the ensuing faceoff, Christian Dvorak made a nice feed that sprung Gallagher in on a breakaway but Fleury got a piece of it to stop what could have been two goals in ten seconds.
Allen was pulled with 3:31 left and it didn’t take long for the Wild to get the empty-netter. Connor Dewar hustled to break up what would have been an icing call and fed Boldy who tapped it home.
Things got a bit testy in the final couple of minutes. Rossi hit Slafkovsky from behind in the neutral zone with the Montreal rookie inexplicably slowing down instead of skating to the red line to attempt his dump-in. That drew the ire of some Habs with Jake Evans getting in a rare fight against Shaw which didn’t exactly end well for him.
Evans got the extra two on the play, sending Minnesota to another power play. The Wild opted to put their depth players on the ice which included Rossi. Arber Xhekaj wasn’t a fan of that as he chased Rossi around, eventually leading to another scrum. All told, there were 56 penalty minutes in the final 80 seconds as Montreal’s losing streak in Minnesota was extended to nine in a row spanning more than 11 years.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Cole Caufield – He was the engine of Montreal’s attack in this one. Some of it occurred naturally while he was being force-fed at times on the power play but that can’t be held against him. Caufield didn’t score but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 8 shots, 2 hits, 17:38 TOI
2nd Star: Nick Suzuki – He scored Montreal’s only goal of the game and played a big role in Caufield getting plenty of shots. The top line had a very strong game even though they had nothing to show for it at five-on-five.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 1 shot, 9/17 faceoffs, 20:20 TOI
3rd Star: Brendan Gallagher – You can’t fault the effort in this one. Gallagher was his usual aggressive self but unfortunately had little to show for it aside from some bumps and bruises that he no doubt has become accustomed to over the years.
Stats: 0 points, -2 rating, 4 shots, 2 hits, 12:49 TOI
Honourable Mention: Kirby Dach – I’m not sure that I like the fit with him on the wing on that top line considering that he’s supposed to be a solution to Montreal’s centre issues and be working on his faceoffs (he didn’t take a single one). However, he complemented Caufield and Suzuki well which led to a strong showing for that group while setting up the goal on the power play.
Stats: 1 assist, -1 rating, 3 shots, 2 hits, 17:13 TOI