After an exciting overtime victory against the Islanders on Saturday afternoon, the Habs kicked off Super Bowl Sunday by hosting another afternoon hockey game, this time against the visiting Edmonton Oilers. If this was basically a scheduled loss with the schedule maker lining up the Canadiens with a back-to-back coming out of a bye week, they missed the memo. It was also a stylistic mismatch as Montreal’s current iteration simply matched up quite poorly against the offensively potent Oilers. As mentioned, on the ice, this mattered little as the Habs showed up and rallied twice on their way to consecutive wins on the weekend, this time by a 6-2 score.
The lineup only had one change since the previous day as Rafael Harvey-Pinard joined Nick Suzuki and Josh Anderson on the top trio. Kirby Dach was flanked by veterans Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman, the latter fresh off a three-point performance. The third line consisted of Christian Dvorak centring Joel Armia and Jesse Ylonen, while Jonathan Drouin centred Alex Belzile and Michael Pezzetta on the fourth. The blue line saw overtime hero Mike Matheson paired with Justin Barron, while Arber Xhekaj and David Savard rounded out the top four. Johnathan Kovacevic and Jordan Harris were the bottom pair in defending a net manned by Jake Allen.
The start of the game saw Dadonov deliver a nice pass to Dach in the slot though he was stopped by Stuart Skinner. The Habs really controlled the opening five minutes of play and were finally rewarded when Connor McDavid took a hooking penalty against Drouin who did an excellent job of keeping his feet moving through the sequence. The man advantage kept the momentum going even if they were unable to capitalize.
With 11:33 to play, fans got to witness a fun moment as Belzile, Pezzetta, and Ylonen crashed the net. The puck finally ended up on Belzile’s stick in the high slot where he wired home a beautiful top-corner shot for his first NHL goal.
As the second half of the period got underway, Armia and Drouin played catch across the offensive zone with the Oilers watching and they missed a few good chances. They still didn’t have a shot on net when Xhekaj took an interference penalty. Edmonton got some zone time, but some strong play by Armia and Dvorak kept them out of the slot for most of the sequence.
Just as the Habs were starting to get their legs back, Dadonov took an interference penalty of his own with three minutes left in the period. The penalty kill was even better than the first as the Oilers got nothing going and the Habs replied with a few scoring chances to end the period.
The second period started much like the first as the Canadiens had much better legs than the Oilers which allowed them to be first on every loose puck that was available. At the end of a two-minute shift where the Habs had McDavid completely hemmed in his own defensive zone, Dadonov found Harris along the offensive red line and Harris surprised Skinner with an odd angle shot that went in to extend the lead.
This time, the Oilers responded as Allen made a few good saves on the following shift as Leon Draisaitl was dangerous. Cody Ceci took a penalty once again drawn by Drouin’s hard work and Montreal’s power play made him pay. With 11:37 to play, a cross-ice pass from Drouin to Dadonov resulted in a nice rebound for Anderson to extend the lead to 3-0.
Once again, Edmonton responded strongly as they really overtook the second half of the median period. The play that got the Oilers going was a cross-check battle between Evander Kane and Xhekaj got two skirmishes to erupt as Xhekaj took on Vincent Desharnais and Anderson took on Kane. The result was a list of offsetting penalties and Xhekaj to the dressing room with an injury that he didn’t return from.
Edmonton’s dominance in the period was aided by a parade of penalties for the Habs. First was Drouin for hooking. As the penalty was expiring, Harris had a delayed penalty when Zach Hyman ran into Allen leading to a Draisaitl rebound goal. The Habs didn’t challenge so it was Drouin out of the box, Harris in, and the power play was reset. 30 seconds later, Savard was called for his own hooking penalty, the softest penalty this season against the Habs, but McDavid got that call.
The 90 seconds 5-on-3 resulted in some Allen saves, some blocked shots, and from frustrated Edmonton players, but no goal. However, as the last penalty was expiring, Kane fired a shot toward the net and the timing was just so that Matheson was passing in front of the net which screened Allen and reduced the lead to 3-2.
However, the Canadiens would respond before the end of the period. It was once again a power play marker as Evan Bouchard was called for interference with 2:20 to play. The call was about as valid as Savard’s and the outcome was the same. Some strong passing in the offensive zone got Matheson the puck and Harvey-Pinard was in the slot to redirect the point shot and make it 4-2.
If one expected Edmonton to come out looking to get back in the game in the third, they were surprised that once again, it was the Habs winning all the loose puck battles and generating scoring chances early.
2:58 into the period, it was Harris extending the lead as he got a pass from Armia, who took the hit to make the play before he toe-dragged Draisaitl and beat Skinner low to the glove side to make it 5-2. Harris’s second goal got the Oilers moving as they really applied sustained pressure for the first time in the game, but Allen was equal to the task.
Just before the midway point in the period, Armia took a hooking minor that could have opened the door for the Oilers. Instead, Dach applied the forecheck, stole the puck, deked out a second Oiler, and found a streaking Dvorak who snapped it home to make it 6-2 with a shorthanded goal.
The final ten minutes featured some good chances for Edmonton and some strong saves by Allen as he shut the door and sealed the victory for the Habs.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Jordan Harris
Harris is the quiet assassin on Montreal’s blue line as he’s rarely the centre of attention, yet that means he’s never in trouble either. He was the centre of attention on this night for all the good reasons. Harris and Kovacevic played two excellent games on the weekend, and they got rewarded with extra ice after Xhekaj went down. It will be interesting to see if the two rookies can take the ball and run with it as they are sure to get an extended look in the role with the list of injuries on the blue line.
Stats: 2 goals, +4, 3 shots, 23:15 TOI
Second Star – Johnathan Kovacevic
I thought Kovacevic had a really impressive game on Saturday, specifically in the first period where he was involved in the attack on at least three chances for the Habs. He was mostly supporting his partner who had the offensive flair for this game, but he was still very efficient in doing so and he skated away with a nice stat line for his effort.
Stats: 1 assist, +4, 2 shots, 18:23 TOI
Third Star – Jonathan Drouin
Drouin is likely playing his final 30 or so games in Montreal, and if he can continue his recent play, he might be able to earn himself a PTO somewhere for next season. No one has ever questioned his skill, but what was truly noteworthy this afternoon was his willingness to fight through checks to make plays. Has a coaching staff finally unlocked the desire and passion within Drouin? Time will tell.
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 2 shots, 14:14 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Evgenii Dadonov
I was extremely critical of Dadonov as he started the season playing soft hockey, looking entirely uninterested in being a part of the Habs. Important for me to admit that since December, he’s been so much better. He’s attacking the game with speed and simply looks engaged. He’s guilty of the occasional soft play, but never the disengagement that we saw to start the season. On top of playing, I’d say that he’s been just about the most consistent Montreal player in terms of knowing what you’re going to get out of him night in, night out. Impressive and I hope other GMs are seeing this with the deadline coming up soon.
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 1 shot, 13:52 T.O.I.