The Habs had no time to dwell on Monday night’s disappointing result and inability to defend a lead as they were right back in action on Tuesday night against the Seattle Kraken. The Kraken are easily the league’s biggest surprise this season as they entered the game second in the Pacific with an astounding 15-6-3 record. Tuesday’s game also marked the first game for Shane Wright against the team that did not select him first overall, so likely a little added motivation on top of it being his first game back in the NHL after a short stint in the AHL. While Wright did light the lamp, Montreal’s opportunistic ways this season were once again on full display as they were outshot handily but still managed to skate away with a 4-2 victory.
With the news of Sean Monahan being unavailable on the team’s last game of the road trip, the team had to play with 11 forwards and seven defencemen. This meant that the Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach line remained, as did the second unit of Evgenii Dadonov, Joel Armia, and Christian Dvorak. Juraj Slafkovsky and Josh Anderson found themselves pivoted by Jake Evans on the third line, while Michael Pezzetta and Rem Pitlick would get the rare shift with someone getting a double shift up the middle.
The blue line stayed the same as Monday as Joel Edmundson and Kaiden Guhle formed the top pairing. Mike Matheson was joined by Johnathan Kovacevic on the team’s second pairing. Arber Xhekaj and Jordan Harris formed the final pairing as Chris Wideman dressed as the seventh defenceman. After an uneven performance by Samuel Montembeault, Jake Allen got the nod in net.
The game opened with a feeling out process which was to be expected as the Canadiens were sure to be tighter defensively after the debacle that was Monday night. Eight minutes in, with the shots 4-2 for the Kraken, Adam Larsson committed an obvious interference on Evans sending the Habs to the game’s first advantage. The power play was atrocious as it failed to generate a shot on net and handed the Kraken the first real momentum boost of the game.
The second half of the period saw Seattle take control as Allen had to make excellent saves on both Matty Beniers and Wright.
Much like Monday night, Allen’s excellent goaltending early allowed Montreal to get on the board first. Some strong play by Dach got the puck back to the blue line where Kovacevic’s quick release was enough to fool Martin Jones and gain a 1-0 lead with 7:04 to play.
With 4:24 to play in the period, the inevitable happened as Yanni Gourde simply outworked Matheson behind the Habs net. This got the puck to Oliver Bjorkstrand who found Wright in the slot. The rookie fired home his first NHL goal. Eight seconds later, Edmundson was called for tripping. The Canadiens escaped the penalty as the period ended with a 1-1 score, 11-4 for Seattle on the shot clock.
Two minutes into the second period, Suzuki picked off a terrible pass attempt at the Seattle blue line. He slowed everyone down to open a passing lane to his favourite target. Caufield was waiting on his usual wing as he ripped home a one-timer to give the Habs a 2-1 lead.
On the ensuing faceoff, Slafkovsky won a board battle in the neutral zone. This got the puck to Dvorak heading into the offensive zone. Dvorak completed a beautiful cross-ice pass to a streaking Anderson who went over a sliding Jones as the lead was extended to 3-1 only seven seconds after the Caufield marker.
Wideman was then called for interference as Seattle went back to the advantage. Jordan Eberle missed a tap-in on the sequence, but Montreal defended quite well overall as they got out of the situation against a good power play for the second time of the game.
With 11:38 to play, the Canadiens got a power play after a puck over glass penalty against Seattle. The second unit got the first chance and completed some strong passing in the offensive zone. Then Suzuki went to work as he found Caufield who missed the net. The Habs once again had no shots on their advantage despite a much better effort.
After an exciting start to the second period, the game slowed down considerably in the second half. The Habs were suddenly defending their lead and protecting the centre of the ice and the Kraken controlled play but were unwilling to risk big errors while trying to force plays to the middle. With 2:56 to play, Schwartz took a hooking penalty on Dach. The advantage would be short-lived as Matheson was called for interference.
The four-on-four smiled to the Habs which started with a solid hit by Guhle. The hit got Montreal going toward the offensive zone as Evans found a trailing Edmundson. Edmundson went cross-ice to Pitlick who scored and made it 4-1.
Shades of Monday night were not to be ignored, however, as the Kraken found themselves on a power play to close out the period and a quick centring pass to Jared McCann was successful as the Kraken made it 4-2 with 0.1 seconds left in the period.
The third period got under way with a Gourde breakaway that Allen stopped. Allen then got jittery as he was sliding too far on a few chances around his crease. The sequence finally ended after Armia fired a shot on his own net that looked somewhat dangerous.
In the end, the Habs escaped an early scare and settled down after that. The Kraken really applied tons of pressure in the first half of the period, and while the Canadiens weren’t playing excellent defence, they were able to bend and not break.
The second half of the third was a completely different story. The Kraken appeared defeated and the Habs were able to defend their lead while playing a safe cycle game in the offensive zone. Seattle pulled Jones for the final two minutes, but their inability to gain the middle of the ice made Allen’s job a little easier. Montreal kept Seattle off the board despite a final shot tally of 33-16 in favour of the home team.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Christian Dvorak
When this writer thinks of Dvorak, he thinks of a defensively responsible, good on the faceoff, third centre who leaves something to be desired offensively. A little bit like the Joel Armia of centres. Lately, it’s been a little upside-down for Dvorak. He remains an even player on the season while putting up 11 points on what has been good playmaking. His faceoff stats on this night were an atrocious 27%, but he once again was able to carry the puck and find a play that directly led to a goal all while playing a season-high 21 minutes.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 21:04 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Rem Pitlick
After a dreamy 21-22 for Pitlick, it’s been a rather nightmarish start to the 22-23 campaign. Pitlick came out on this night determined to forget about that as this was easily his best effort on the season. And without much surprise, the best effort by Pitlick meant Jake Evans finding himself in better offensive situations where he was able to play with his winger off the rush and create. I’ve been harsh on both Evans and Pitlick this season, so it was nice to see them come through and justify that I expect more out of both of them. This was also a nice effort for Pitlick to guarantee himself a bit more playing time.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 1 shot, 9:31 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Johnathan Kovacevic
His first NHL goal is surely something to highlight as the blue liner had come close many times over the course of the season but was finally able to put one home on this night. Overall, I felt like Kovacevic had a strong game where he often supported the puck and made his teammates look good all over the ice. Now if he can figure out his footwork to not get himself in trouble in coverage, he’d be a stabilizing force on this youthful blue line.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 18:51 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Nick Suzuki
It feels like I have Suzuki pencilled in to one of these slots every game, and even on nights when I want to consciously remove him, he completes plays to keep me from doing so. With almost five minutes of power play time, one expects the offence. He had a good night at the faceoff circle as well (61%). And he played his usual intelligent game as he was credited with three takeaways in relation to only one giveaway. In addition, he was responsible for the absolutely gorgeous play that netted Caufield his 15th goal of the season. Perhaps what was most impressive about that one was the timing of it. The Habs were slugging through a performance where the red-hot Kraken were the better team. Suzuki jumped up to intercept a sloppy pass and simply had everyone on the ice on a string as he waited for the right seem to open up. The captain stepping up and turning the tide of an entire period where the Canadiens then pounced for another two goals. There is a reason why he leads the forwards in ice time almost every night.
Stats: 1 assist, +2, 1 shot, 2 hits, 3 takeaways, 22:47 T.O.I.