After a long layoff following their West Coast road trip, the Habs were back in action on Saturday as they hosted the Kings. A comeback in the second half of the third period fell just short as Los Angeles picked up the 4-2 victory.
Montreal activated Mike Hoffman off injured reserve for this one and he wound up taking the place of Mike Matheson in the lineup. No, the Habs didn’t make Hoffman play defence but with 12 healthy forwards, they were able to ice a regular lineup. With Sean Monahan still injured, Kirby Dach was moved back to centre, allowing the Canadiens to roll with four centres after having just three in Seattle. The team lined up as follows (at least to start):
Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Slafkovsky – Dach – Hoffman
Dadonov – Dvorak – Armia
Pitlick – Evans – Pezzetta
Edmundson – Guhle
Harris – Kovacevic
Xhekaj – Wideman
After a tentative first few minutes, Los Angeles got the first good chance of the game just past the three-minute mark. Trevor Moore got control of the puck at the offensive blueline and blew by Arber Xhekaj to create a breakaway. Surprisingly, he dropped it for Phillip Danault which gave Jake Allen plenty of time to square up to the shot to make the stop.
On the next shift, Kevin Fiala slashed Joel Edmundson’s stick out of his hand, giving Montreal the first power play. With Matheson out, Martin St. Louis opted for the return of the five-forward first unit which did manage three shots but they weren’t able to solve Pheonix Copley.
Three minutes after the advantage expired, Evgenii Dadonov turned the puck over behind Montreal’s net, allowing the Kings to retain possession. Seconds later, Kevin Fiala sent a quick pass from behind the net out front to an open Anze Kopitar who made no mistake to open up the scoring.
Just 19 seconds later, the lead was doubled. A neutral zone turnover allowed Los Angeles to quickly counter-attack; Danault came in on the left side and dropped a pass back for Victor Arvidsson in the middle and the winger’s wrister beat Allen clean.
Montreal wasn’t able to generate much over the next few shifts but they were handed a second power play when Kopitar tripped Josh Anderson. This time, the power play units accomplished nothing and it was an opportunity squandered.
At this point, the momentum clearly belonged to the Kings who celebrated by basically playing keep-away against the fourth line for the final three minutes of the period. They didn’t get a shot on net during the sequence but it was a fitting way to end an opening frame that one team showed up for and one didn’t. The shots in the first were 16-5 for Los Angeles.
The second didn’t get off to a good start as Dadonov was called for a hook on Danault just 13 seconds in. Adrian Kempe rang a one-timer off the post soon after but it was a decent penalty kill otherwise. Two minutes later, Jaret Anderson-Dolan wrapped the puck around, resulting in the puck sitting in the slot. Los Angeles couldn’t pounce on it in time and Allen was able to keep it out.
The Habs then went back to the power play when Alex Edler went off for holding. The first half of the man advantage was quiet but Montreal started firing away in the second half. They had five shots – including a pair of one-timers from Juraj Slafkovsky – but couldn’t beat Copley. Less than a minute after that, Johnathan Kovacevic was called for a hold on Andersson but the Kings couldn’t generate much with their advantage.
Los Angeles got another shot with the power play with a little over six minutes left when Nick Suzuki slashed Blake Lizotte. Again, it was a pretty good penalty kill from the Habs.
If you’re wondering where the commentary about Montreal’s five-on-five chances is, there’s a reason you’re not seeing it. Montreal’s best chance of the period came on the shift after the penalty kill but Suzuki whiffed on his shot from the slot. Their one power play allowed them to hold the shot advantage in the frame (10-7) but it was a pretty quiet one overall.
Dadonov’s first shift of the third was a little better than the second period as he got a shot in close. However, it was blocked by Sean Durzi, running up his pants for good measure. At this point, St. Louis had changed up all four forward lines to try to get something going.
40 seconds later, Slafkovsky took an unnecessary tripping penalty in the offensive zone. This was a better power play from the Kings but Christian Dvorak made a nice block late to help keep them at bay.
A minute after the penalty expired, Montreal thought they had gotten on the board as a Cole Caufield long wrister beat Copley. The referee blew the play down thinking the puck had gone in. However, it caught the crossbar and stayed out.
That stung even more four minutes later. Edler took a weak point shot that was going nowhere near the net. Unfortunately for the Habs, the shot hit Kaiden Guhle and changed direction completely, beating Allen in the process. Midway through the third and down 3-0, it looked like lights out for the Canadiens.
But Montreal has been a team that hasn’t given up often this season and to their credit, they didn’t do so here. On Guhle’s next shift, he skated the puck into the offensive zone and got control back a few seconds later. With Hoffman covering Guhle’s spot at the point, the blueliner sent a pass to Hoffman who skated into a shot from the faceoff dot that beat Copley to get the home side on the board.
Six minutes later, they got even closer on a bit of an odd play. Caufield skated in from centre, got to the goal line, and threw a weak shot on net that somehow hit Copley and bounced in. Call it a Brendan Gallagher special, if you will.
Allen was pulled soon after and Joel Armia had a couple of good looks in close but both missed the net. That was as close as they were able to get and in the final minute, Adrian Kempe sent a long clearing attempt out that went right into the empty net to cap a pretty strong performance by the Kings. The shots in the final frame were 11-7 for Los Angeles.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Mike Hoffman – Hoffman had had some particularly rough games this season but this certainly wasn’t one of those. He was one of the few Habs who played with some energy throughout the game and frankly, it didn’t look like he was playing his first game in over three weeks. His goal got Montreal back in it and that’s good enough for the first star in a game like this one.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 3 shots, 15:44 TOI
2nd Star: Jake Allen – A rough 19 seconds in the first period notwithstanding, Allen did about everything else he could to keep Montreal in this one. It’s hard to win with minimal goal support – he certainly knows what that’s like – and he certainly wasn’t the reason they lost this contest. He’s still not all the way back to his usual self yet but we’re starting to see more good than bad which is encouraging.
Stats: 31 saves on 34 shots, 58:50 TOI, 3.07 GAA, .912 SV%
3rd Star: Cole Caufield – He was quieter than usual as Montreal struggled to break through the Kings’ defence for most of the night. However, in the clutch, he came through with a key goal. Caufield has shown a knack for scoring some timely goals even in a game that wasn’t quite up to his standards otherwise and that’s a particularly encouraging sign for a young player.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 4 shots, 19:51 TOI
Honourable Mention: The Penalty Kill – With the Habs failing to generate much momentum at even strength, they had to buckle down shorthanded to give themselves any type of chance of getting back into it. They did exactly that, led by Kaiden Guhle on defence and Joel Armia among the forwards. The penalty kill has been iffy at times lately so this was a nice positive despite the loss.
Stats: 0 goals on 7 shots in 8:00