The Habs kicked off a busy week as they hosted the Flames on Monday, a team they beat 2-1 only 11 days ago in Calgary. It was a Jake Allen win as the Flames peppered him with 44 shots. Much like the Canadiens, the Flames have spent much of this season playing win-lose hockey, something that didn’t bode well as Calgary was fresh off two losses, but so was Montreal.
Both teams were dealing with significant injuries as Elias Lindholm and MacKenzie Weegar were out while for Montreal, David Savard, Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher, and Mike Matheson remained sidelined. Despite the lack of scoring, the fans were really treated to an excellent game full of action as both teams played fast and physical before the Habs were able to win it in the shootout by a 2-1 score.
The lineup was altered significantly prior to Saturday’s contest, but it didn’t last long as coach St. Louis opted to start this game how he finished Saturday. This meant that Kirby Dach was back on the wing next to Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Christian Dvorak centred the second line alongside Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman. Jake Evans was the third centre with Juraj Slafkovsky and Josh Anderson as his wingers. Rem Pitlick anchored the fourth line playing with Michael Pezzetta and Joel Armia. The blue line featured Joel Edmundson next to Kaiden Guhle while the second pairing featured Jordan Harris and Johnathan Kovacevic. Arber Xhekaj and Chris Wideman rounded out the group while Allen tried to duplicate his performance against the Flames.
36 seconds into the game, Calgary’s recent penalty troubles resurfaced as Noah Hanifin was guilty of an obvious interference penalty against Evans. The Habs’ 30th rank did not score but it performed better than its rank as Caufield finished a nice passing play by smoking a one-timer off the crossbar.
The Canadiens returned the favour quickly as Armia was given a soft penalty for slashing. Calgary’s advantage was not as convincing as the Habs as they never really gained Montreal’s zone thanks in large part to an excellent effort by Evans. The Habs were playing fast and controlling play as they were generating a high quality of shots early.
The second half of the period kicked off much like the first as Trevor Lewis took a tripping penalty at the 11:00 mark. The first unit was thwarted by poor decisions by Dadonov. The second unit peppered Jacob Markstrom as Armia and Slafkovsky both got at least three shots toward the net on the sequence.
With six minutes left, Connor Mackey dropped the mitts with Pezzetta as the latter definitely got the better of that exchange. The Canadiens continued to control play until Guhle lost the puck just inside the offensive blue line. Calgary got a 2-on-1 which was followed by a Tyler Toffoli post as a fun period ended scoreless.
Calgary came out skating in the second and quickly drew a tripping penalty from Kovacevic 53 seconds in. The advantage did not create anything and was cut short as Matthew Phillips tripped Suzuki a minute later. The 4-on-4 generated nothing and then the highlight of the ensuing Montreal power play was Caufield getting demolished in the defensive zone after a completely boneheaded pass by Hoffman in the offensive zone which concluded with Dach taking a penalty trying to defend Caufield. This time, the Habs created two scoring chances at 4-on-4 as both came from the stick of Evans after excellent efforts by Guhle and Armia.
Calgary’s shortened advantage finally opened the scoring as the Flames were all over rebounds and the third finally landed on Jonathan Huberdeau’s stick as he put it over a sprawled Allen.
With 13 minutes left in the period, Slafkovsky was tripped during a zone entry as the Habs returned to the man advantage without Caufield who was in concussion protocol. Nikita Zadorov then took a delay of game penalty 20 seconds later which opened the door for Montreal.
The 5-on-3 generated some great chances, with the best coming as Suzuki’s now vintage cross-ice pass found Dach who didn’t get a clean shot off and that was enough for Markstrom to get across. A dangerous play happened at the end of the 5-on-3 as a one-timer by Suzuki hit Chris Tanev squarely in the head. He stayed down for an extended period of time before being helped to the dressing room. The injury took the air out of both teams as play became tentative all around and the Habs squandered a sequence where they need to produce.
The second half of the game saw the Evans line have a good shift and then Anderson, after getting interfered with twice, got called for a completely phantom call for a trip on a defender he never touched. The Flames’ advantage looked good but never scored as Phillips hit the post. Immediately after the penalty, Nazem Kadri ran into Suzuki and got the worst of it. Andrew Mangiapane immediately sought revenge and Wideman jumped in as the two wrestled on the ground in an adequate UFC impersonation.
The result was a Calgary man advantage as Mangiapane, Wideman, and Suzuki all got penalties on the play. The Habs did a great job of killing another penalty before playing extremely sloppy hockey to end the period as the Flames outshot the Habs in the period 18-8 but the Canadiens hung on to trail by a single goal after two periods.
The Habs came back strong for the third period as Xhekaj was at the heart of the sequence as he completed an excellent pinch before getting his shot from the point to the net to create some chaos. The second shift saw Montreal tie it up as Slafkovsky picked up a puck in the corner, showing great patience to allow Anderson to get open and chip a nice pass through Markstrom at 1:40 of the period.
The Habs took over the pace of the game as play was much faster and this favoured the Habs though this also opened play somewhat.
The final ten minutes started with the game still tied but both teams were still going for it. Zadorov rocked Harris in open ice which resulted in a 2-on-0. Dillon Dube and Kadri made way too many passes, and this allowed Kovacevic to skate back and take out Kadri at the last minute. Kovacevic then completed another hit before a rather dumb trip by Dach in the offensive zone sent the Flames to their sixth advantage on the night. The penalty kill was once again up to the task as Calgary got a whole lot of zone time that didn’t really result in any scoring chances.
With four minutes to play, Guhle coughed it up at his own blue line as Mikael Backlund tipped the Hanifin point shot but Allen came up with his nicest and most important save of the night. A strong forecheck by Slafkovsky opened up a scoring chance for Anderson who missed the net. Calgary came right back as Blake Coleman got open after Wideman got outmuscled for a puck. He got two chances, but Allen stood tall to send the game to overtime.
A minute into overtime, Toffoli got a high stick to Anderson’s face which meant the Canadiens were spending the rest of the overtime on the power play. Suzuki immediately got two good chances, but he wasn’t able to solve Markstrom. The Habs really buzzed throughout but Markstrom was outstanding as the Flames killed the penalty and sent the game to a shootout. Pitlick was stopped while Huberdeau was able to score one five-hole on Allen. Suzuki then beat Markstrom short side before Rasmus Anderson beat Allen but missed the net to even things up once again. Dach then beat Markstrom with a beautiful manoeuvre as Allen stopped Kadri to win the game for the Habs.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jake Evans
In this one, Evans having 0 goals on the season was on full display. He played excellent hockey on the forecheck, made excellent decisions away and around the puck, and was a beast on the penalty kill. When all of that was said and done, Evans still doesn’t have the skill to finish regularly. I’ll take him on my fourth line all day every day, but he’ll never be more than that on a team that is truly competing in the NHL. What an excellent game he had on this night. And look at that ice time due to the far too many penalties taken by the team that really allowed Evans to shine.
Stats: +1, 2 shots, 22:05 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Josh Anderson
Anderson’s lack of consistency is frustrating at times. Then there are games like this when he uses his legs and his brains at the same time and fans get a glimpse of what he should be. He was dangerous all night long and had some help as Slafkovsky also had a great game. Unsurprisingly, this was the duo that got together for Montreal’s only goal on the night. If only he could play this way more often… if only.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 4 shots, 2 hits, 18:22 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Juraj Slafkovsky
Slafkovsky had a crazy good power play shift in the first that I thought should have earned him some ice (over Armia and Dadonov anyways) on the 5-on-3 once Caufield could not participate. Then, he played the passer to kick off the third period on the Anderson goal, and what a pass it was. Then, he did get some time on the man advantage and looked dangerous there also. It’s been a few weeks now where I feel like his game is finding a new level, so I wonder how long he has to play this way to earn a bit more trust from the coaching staff, other than a Caufield injury of course?
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 4 hits, 15:22 T.O.I.
Honourable Mentions – Arber Xhekaj and Joel Armia
Arber had a really rough second period that followed a good but not great first. However, he started the third with three excellent plays to secure possession before the period had five minutes expired. His ability to get shots through and to pick smart moments to pinch on top of the already noted physical play make him an absolute gem on the blue line. It’s the perfect marriage of skill and grit that makes him a player that all Montreal fans should be excited to watch develop.
Stats: 3 hits, 14:51 T.O.I.
In prior seasons, this was a game where Armia would have scored four points. Since the start of last season, he’s become a goalie crest shooter even when he’s on his game (once every 10 games). He had an excellent game and created many scoring chances. Despite all of that, I disliked seeing him on the 5-on-3 over Slafkovsky and he remains at 0 goals for the season after that solid effort.
Stats: 5 shots, 16:42 T.O.I.