The Habs got back to business Thursday as they hosted the struggling Detroit Red Wings who are only three spots ahead of the Canadiens in the standings. After an emotional letdown at the end of the game against the Bruins on Tuesday, it was interesting to see the reaction of the Habs in this one. Of course, one must question the legitimacy of the results considering the curse of the reverse-retro lives on. Overall, the Habs played a decent game, and they were rewarded with a single point but their ugly power play once again cost them in a 4-3 overtime loss.
With not many players sitting out, there were not many changes to the line-up as Nick Suzuki remained with Rem Pitlick and Josh Anderson on the top line. Kirby Dach centred the second flanked by Mike Hoffman and Jesse Ylonen. Christian Dvorak pivoted the third with Evgenii Dadonov and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard as his wingers. Alex Belzile anchored the fourth line with Michael Pezzetta and they would have a rotating winger to round it out. The blue line featured Mike Matheson with David Savard as the top pair, Joel Edmundson with Justin Barron as the second, Arber Xhekaj and Jordan Harris as the third, with Chris Wideman dressing in place of Johnathan Kovacevic to round out the group. Jake Allen was back into the crease as Samuel Montembeault got a break after eight straight starts.
The start of the game was not full of action, but the first ten minutes saw two of four shots find the back of the net. The first goal was scored 3:53 into the game as a successful pinch by Edmundson saw the puck bounce off Anderson and roll to the middle of the ice. There, Michael Rasmussen grabbed it and entered Montreal’s zone where Wideman gave the offensive player far too much time and space. Rasmussen gladly skated to the slot and fired a shot over Allen’s glove side shoulder to open the scoring.
Two minutes later, Pezzetta delivered a big hit behind the offensive net. This caused confusion for Ben Chiarot who was pressured by Harvey-Pinard, and he fumbled the puck. The bobbled puck trickled into the slot where Pezzetta shuffled a backhand five-hole on Ville Husso to even the scoring.
The Red Wings took control of the pace of play to start the second half of the period. With about five minutes to play, Detroit ran about three straight pick plays in the offensive zone. The last one did not sit well with Dach who basically body-slammed Rasmussen to the ice which surprisingly went uncalled.
It was announced to start the second that Edmundson was injured and would not return.
Then the period started with some fireworks as Andrew Copp came after Dach for the earlier hit on Rasmussen, but Dach got the better of the fight as he threw some serious haymakers.
Once the teams got back to hockey, Tyler Bertuzzi rang the first shot of the period off the crossbar as the Canadiens were scrambling and playing very shorthanded. Three and a half minutes into the period, Wideman’s rough night continued as he took a penalty for firing a shot into the stands.
Detroit’s first man advantage of the night was a short one as the Habs were once again far too passive. Dylan Larkin was allowed to walk into the high slot unchallenged and rip a shot that Allen stopped, but the puck trickled behind him where Jonatan Berggren pounced on the loose puck to restore the Detroit lead.
Montreal pushed back as Suzuki, Anderson, and Dadonov had a good shift in the offensive zone where Anderson was eventually called for an extremely soft slashing call. The advantage started with a high-stick by the Habs that went uncalled, and the result was a 2-on-1 where Dach found Harvey-Pinard who buried top-shelf for a rare shorty for the Habs.
The Canadiens started the second half of the period strongly with the fourth line of Belzile, Harvey-Pinard, and Pezzetta once again at the heart of the offensive, but it was a point shot from Dominik Kubalik that hit Oskar Sundqvist with 13:30 to once again get Detroit a lead. The fourth line came right back out to take back the momentum. With Dach applying pressure, the Wings were finally called on a pick play as Jake Walman took the penalty.
The advantage passed it around the offensive zone, but not fast enough to move the defenders and was therefore unsuccessful.
The fourth line once again saved the day as with 1:21 to play, Belzile chipped the puck out of the defensive zone to Pezzetta who got rid of his defender by saucering the puck to the centre of the ice. This allowed Harvey-Pinard to win his race and come in against Husso with a defender draped all over his back. This would not stop him as he roofed a backhander over Husso to tie the game heading to the third.
The third period started wide open as Allen had to make a cross-ice sliding save before Dadonov missed a goal-mouth pass. As play settled down, both teams took turns with offensive zone shifts before Allen absolutely robbed Joe Veleno with the save of the night, a glove save, and a beauty on a broken play. The pick plays by the Red Wings were still numerous and obvious. It was a little surprising that they weren’t getting called.
The second half of the third was the quietest segment of the entire game as both teams defended the middle of the ice to ensure they got further away from Connor Bedard and make it to overtime.
Rasmussen was called for a high stick with a minute left in the game, which meant a painful advantage attempt highlighted by a Husso cross-ice save on Hoffman.
This led to a painful minute of 4-on-3 where the Habs were unable to win the game. After a minute of Detroit controlling the puck in the offensive zone, a Dach blocked shot sent Pitlick on a breakaway, but Husso came up huge. As the puck came back up the ice, Rasmussen found his way around a sprawled Savard to deliver a pass to Robby Fabbri who put it home to end the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Harvey-Pinard
That entire line and their work ethic were the leaders for the team on this night, but Harvey-Pinard’s energy and his ability to finish his chances gets him the nod as he had some nice finish on his goals. He is making himself a name as the smaller forward looks to secure a spot in Montreal to start next season.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +3, 3 shots, 4 hits, 3 blocks, 16:07 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Kirby Dach
Some heavy forecheck, a surprise fight that he won decisively, and a sweet saucer pass for a Habs shorthanded goal. Dach is feeling it of late, and this was no exception as he was the standout forward. It will be interesting to see if this segment of great play is his true arrival at the NHL level. If it is, GM Kent Hughes looks like a genius for that draft day trade in 2022.
Stats: 1 assist, 1 fight, 1 shot, 22:01 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Justin Barron
Remember when Barron was sent down to start the season, there were many fans and reporters wondering if this guy was ever going to figure it out while others claimed to be patient with a young defender. Well, injuries have forced Barron into game action perhaps a little sooner than management would have liked, and while it hasn’t always looked pretty for Barron, the last week and a bit have been exactly what the team was hoping for when they acquired Barron last season. Just like Dach, the way he’s playing now guarantees him some top-four minutes and puts pressure on management to move out some vets… if he can do it over an extended stretch to end the season here.
Stats: 1 hit, 18:30 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jake Allen
It wasn’t jaw-dropping, but it was 38 saves on 42 shots in his return to game action. A few really solid saves mixed in, and a nod to the return of an important veteran piece that the Habs will surely need as their roster promises to get even thinner on veterans in the upcoming weeks. Honestly, Belzile and Pezzetta would have been good picks here too, but they were not able to carry their play in the third period which made me change my mind.
Stats: 38 saves, 42 shots, 3.83 GAA, .905 SV%