After falling to Ottawa on Wednesday, the Habs were back in action Thursday as they hosted the Ducks. Montreal played like a team that looked tired for most of the night and a late spark in the third wasn’t enough as they fell 5-2.
Martin St. Louis made a pair of lineup changes for this one (the only two he could make since the Canadiens are carrying two injured players (Mike Matheson and David Savard) on their active roster instead of calling up healthy replacements. Jake Allen got the nod in net after Samuel Montembeault started against the Sens while Rem Pitlick was in for Michael Pezzetta. The team lined up as follows:
Caufield – Suzuki – Dach
Dadonov – Dvorak – Hoffman
Slafkovsky – Evans – Anderson
Pitlick – Drouin – Armia
Harris – Kovacevic
Edmundson – Guhle
Xhekaj – Wideman
The game got off to an extremely quiet start with scoring chances basically non-existent. Montreal’s top line had a couple of looks four minutes in and that’s about it for the first half of the game.
Kirby Dach missed the net off the rush with nine minutes left as part of a six-minute stretch without a whistle. That stretch ended with a slashing call on Jayson Megna on Jonathan Drouin, giving the Habs the first power play of the game. Let’s just say they struggled mightily, hearing some boos in the process.
Not long after the penalty expired, the puck bounced to Joel Armia who had an open net. However, the bounce went right over Armia’s stick instead. To make matters worse, Armia took a slashing call while trying to break up a rush from Ryan Strome 25 seconds later.
Anaheim quickly made them pay. On what was a strong passing play all around, the puck eventually worked its way to Trevor Zegras. He sent a pass to the front of the net where Troy Terry was open at the crease and Terry redirected it in.
On the next shift, Zegras stickhandled to the slot and dropped a pass for John Klingberg. Klingberg didn’t get much on the shot but Allen wasn’t ready for it as a very stoppable shot squeaked through him to make it 2-0; the Ducks scored twice in 20 seconds after going more than 167 minutes without a goal.
Dmitry Kulikov and Josh Anderson were called for offsetting minors with 1:15 remaining in the period, creating a four-on-four situation. While it had the potential to create some back and forth, it didn’t happen as a very meek period came to an end. The Ducks held the 10-8 advantage in shots.
The second period got off to a bit of a better start as Montreal got a few shots through on Lukas Dostal but again, nothing of the particularly dangerous variety. The third pairing each got a point shot through near the four-minute mark as it looked like they might have been making an adjustment to try some screened shots from distance but while it generated a bit of pressure, it didn’t yield a goal.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Anaheim’s first good chance failed to materialize when Kevin Shattenkirk fell, breaking up what would have been a two-on-one. 40 seconds later, Allen made a big stop on Mason McTavish after the puck took an odd bounce off the Zamboni door, ricocheting right to the slot.
Just under eight minutes in, Cole Caufield had a brutal giveaway to Zegras in the defensive zone. He fed Adam Henrique but Allen made a good pad stop. Caufield tried to score at the other end to make up for it but Dostal made a nice stop.
11 minutes in, Terry went off for a hold on Kaiden Guhle. This time, the first unit was at least competitive with a couple of decent looks. However, the second group struggled mightily and the boo-birds were out again.
The Habs got another power play opportunity late in the frame when Klingberg tripped Christian Dvorak. Montreal had good zone pressure for the first 94 seconds but couldn’t get much through on goal as their two-goal deficit remained intact at the buzzer. Shots on goal were 12-5 for the home side in the middle stanza.
Montreal didn’t score with the rest of the carryover advantage but they got another chance when Simon Benoit tripped Caufield. This time, the power play got on the board as some quick passing eventually saw Dach at the point fire a quick pass to Caufield who was just below the faceoff dot. The odd-angled one-timer worked and the Canadiens were on the board. Drouin hit the post on the next shift.
Six and a half minutes in, Johnathan Kovacevic’s point shot went wide. Caufield quickly pounced on the rebound behind the net and wrapped it around and in with Dostal getting tangled up with his own defender to create the opening. Somehow, it was tied.
Megna and Shattenkirk hit the post two minutes apart before the Ducks were able to get on the board again. This time, they took advantage of Montreal creating their own goalie interference as Jordan Harris’ skate caught Allen, sending him out of position. That created an opening for Klingberg to fire home his second of the night.
20 seconds later, the Habs were on their heels again when Mike Hoffman was sent off for goalie interference. Kulikov helped angle Hoffman towards Dostal and with the netminder out of his crease, there wasn’t a whole lot Hoffman could have done to avoid the contact. Montreal was able to kill it off and then survived yet another goalpost soon after.
Allen was pulled with 1:38 left on an offensive zone draw and while the Habs won it, Drouin turned it over with a needless poor pass. He then doubled up on his mistake by playing ‘ole’ defence on Henrique, allowing the veteran to skate in and pot the empty-netter. Allen was again pulled soon after and with nine seconds left, Frank Vatrano raced in and scored another one to give the Ducks only their second regulation win of the season and their first victory outside the State of California.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Cole Caufield – I didn’t like his first two periods but he had a bit more spark in the third. And hey, two goals in the first half of the final frame certainly don’t hurt either. It wasn’t his best game but in the end, he still found a way to be productive.
Stats: 2 goals, -3 rating, 5 shots, 20:31 TOI
2nd Star: Jake Allen – The second goal was one he should have had but I’ll give him credit for shutting things down after that. (The third one he likely would have stopped had it not been for Harris.) He kept Montreal in it during a game they didn’t show up for in the first 40 minutes and they’ll take that from the veteran most nights.
Stats: 27 saves on 30 shots, 3.07 GAA, .900 SV%
3rd Star: Arber Xhekaj – The third pairing had a reasonable game with Xhekaj being the one that stood out the most. He got a few shots through, one of which at least led to a bit of a scramble in front and he played a reliable defensive game. Performances like that aren’t flashy and exciting but that’s what the Habs need from him with some regularity.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 3 shots, 3 hits, 2 takeaways, 15:33 TOI
Honourable Mention: Jake Evans – At five-on-five, his line was Montreal’s best when it came to puck possession. The points aren’t piling up but there has been some consistent improvement from him over the last couple of weeks. It’s not enough to get excited about just yet but it’s encouraging as he looks much more comfortable off the fourth line.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 1 shot, 7/15 faceoffs, 16:32 TOI