The Habs were back in action for a rare Monday night contest as they tried to snap a six-game losing streak. This would be no small task as they welcomed the defending Stanley Cup champions in the Colorado Avalanche to the Bell Centre. The game was also noteworthy for the return of fan favourite Artturi Lehkonen, who made sure to help the Canadiens in their tanking efforts on this night. Montreal was guilty of showing too much respect to the defending champs on this night as the Avs were given far too much open ice to operate and they made good use of it crushing the Habs by an 8-4 score, though the final score might make the Canadiens look better than they played for much of this game for their seventh straight loss.
Trying to spark a bit of offence, coach St. Louis opted for some minor changes to his lineup. Nick Suzuki was joined on the top unit by Rem Pitlick and Denis Gurianov. This meant that Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylonen were dropped to the third line with Chris Tierney. The second and fourth lines remained as Jonathan Drouin was joined by Josh Anderson and Mike Hoffman while Alex Belzile was joined by Michael Pezzetta and Anthony Richard. The blue line was not changed as David Savard and Kaiden Guhle were joined by Mike Matheson and Johnathan Kovacevic while Joel Edmundson and Chris Wideman comprised the third pair.
The Habs appeared overwhelmed by the team speed of the Avalanche early on. With much of the zone time in the Montreal end, Lehkonen completed an excellent screen on Allen with Logan O’Connor’s point shot going in off him 2:59 into the game. The Habs got their first shot and first scoring chance almost five minutes in when Hoffman and Anderson worked a give-and-go to get Hoffman a good shot from the slot.
Unfortunately for the Canadiens, this chance did not result in momentum as the Avs were right back in the offensive zone scoring at 6:09. Bowen Byram got the puck in the neutral zone and Guhle got caught flat-footed as Byram skated around him and then around Allen to score.
Five seconds later, Nathan MacKinnon was sent in on a breakaway, but Allen stopped him. At 8:05, the Avs made it 3-0 when Kovacevic and Anderson checked air while Matt Nieto got a pass as the late guy into the zone. He skated in all alone and then caught Allen cheating pass and misplaying his angle.
The second half of the period saw Suzuki get a good chance to start which got the Habs some legs. The play was finally in the Colorado zone, though the defending champs were covering their slot well. Matheson and Suzuki were notably active with the puck in trying to find scoring chances. Savard then delivered a flip pass that saw Richard blow by a defender only to run out of room in front of Alexandar Georgiev. Matheson then stopped that momentum as his stick got up for an offensive zone high-sticking penalty.
The advantage was short as Mikko Rantanen won a faceoff, got the puck back, and then fired one on net. Lehkonen had the puck hit his glove before getting by Allen at 16:00 for a 4-0 lead.
48 seconds later, Pitlick was driven into the board from behind as Devon Toews took a penalty. The man advantage was not as productive, but that’s difficult when players get the puck in the middle behind coverage and take themselves out of the attacking lane. Immediately following the failed advantage, Suzuki was reunited with Harvey-Pinard and Anderson. The result was an offensive zone faceoff win and a point shot by Kovacevic that was deflected home by Anderson for his twentieth goal of the season.
The 8-3 shot advantage and 4-1 score were indicative of the play in the first, and the second was no better for the Habs. It started poorly with the news that Pitlick would not return in the game, and then J.T. Compher hit the post in the opening minute as the Avs were right back on the offensive and they scored 1:48 into the period. They had four guys touch the puck as the puck zipped around the zone before Rantanen put home a rebound.
Colorado extended the lead to 6-1 at 3:58 as Guhle’s rough night continued as he tried to cover for Drouin who lost his coverage but opened an easy pass in the process that led to a Compher tap-in. That was the end for Allen though it really was not his fault.
As the second half of the game got underway, the Habs remained at five shots on net which is about all anyone needed to know. Montreal got some zone time, but the Avalanche calmly defended the middle. Then Colorado got more zone time and Montembeault had to make three real solid stops before Savard flipped a puck out to send Anderson on a breakaway that Georgiev stopped.
MacKinnon took a penalty with 1:14 to play and then questioned Guhle for diving. Guhle laughed about it, clearly indicating it wasn’t worth doing that with the current score, but then got jumped for it. This brought in Savard as he and Jack Johnson took roughing minors. Gurianov put home a nice shot on the power play for the Habs to make it 6-2 heading to the third period.
Anderson continued his good night as he hit the post in the opening minute before getting into it with Toews after a whistle. The reunion of Anderson-Suzuki-Harvey-Pinard was a good one on this night, albeit the only bright spot on the night for the Habs, really. Anderson smashed a second post for the period before the four-minute mark as Harvey-Pinard was stopped on a tip on the same shift.
With 12 minutes to play, Harvey-Pinard was called for tripping as he battled for the puck with MacKinnon. MacKinnon made him pay as he saw Kovacevic flat-footed and turned on the burners to skate in and fire home a seventh for the road side.
On the next shift, Belzile imitated MacKinnon but could not beat Georgiev. This created chaos for Colorado and Wideman was able to get his point shot in the net to make it 7-3. The goal was originally credited to Wideman but after the game, it was ruled that the shot went off Jesse Ylonen.
The final ten minutes started with a pick play by Guhle in the defensive zone that sent the Habs on the attack with numbers. Matheson finally put a shot home with Harvey-Pinard screening. Evan Rodrigues was rightfully upset but needed to get up and keep playing.
The Suzuki line was all over the Avalanche when the official decided that the excitement was over with an absolute joke of a tripping call with seven minutes to play. Thirty seconds later, a Cale Makar point shot had eyes to make it 8-4.
Pezzetta then tried to fight Byram, and both were sent to their dressing rooms for their efforts. This altercation was the end of it as both teams went through the motions afterward to expire the clock and mercifully end the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Josh Anderson
By far the best Hab on this night. He scored the first goal and hit a minimum of two posts. He provided the screen on Gurianov’s goal, though that doesn’t count for a point on the stat sheet.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 2 hits, 21:33 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nick Suzuki
Once he had wingers that could move, he was dangerous for the entire second half of the game. Definitely wasn’t a strong period for Gurianov and Pitlick until the latter left, injured.
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 1 shot, 20:07 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Mike Matheson
Much like Anderson up front, his speed makes him stand out for the Habs on that blue line. His ability to use his shiftiness to get the puck out of the defensive zone is underrated too. I certainly did not think this way to start the season, but I really see him as part of the equation moving forward and not a trade chip. Lane Hutson will need a mentor, after all.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 22:12 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Rafael Harvey-Pinard
I know this comparison has been made a million times, but this guy is like the second coming of Gallagher. He drags his linemates to battle and whatever line he’s on is almost instantly the team’s best. There is no question he has forced the hand of management and he should 100% start the season in Montreal next season.
Stats: 17:47 T.O.I.