With less than twenty-four hours to go before the NHL’s trade deadline, the Habs played their second late-night game on Thursday that featured a team awaiting more trades against a team that was fresh from a franchise-altering move. The Canadiens were the quiet team though the roster configuration suggested they weren’t done. The Kings were their opponent as they were fresh off dealing Jonathan Quick and a top pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Vladislav Gavrikov and Joonas Korpisalo in a move that is rumoured to have displeased some veterans on the second-place Kings. These distractions were not too evident as Los Angeles played much better than Montreal once the second period started on their way to a hard-fought 3-2 win. It was a perfect tank night as some young players had big games and kept the game close, but ultimately ended up with a regulation loss.
As mentioned, the roster for the Habs suggested that some teams were watching specific players. That started in goal where Jake Allen got a second consecutive start, though that may be as simple as giving Samuel Montembeault the easier start in Anaheim on Friday. The most obvious showcase was on the blue line where they opted to dress seven defensemen. This includes Kaiden Guhle and Joel Edmundson on the top pair. Mike Matheson and Justin Barron remained the second pairing, Johnathan Kovacevic and Jordan Harris remained the third, with David Savard splitting time with Edmundson at the top.
Mike Hoffman was the other showcase as he remained on the top line with Nick Suzuki and Denis Gurianov despite a rather poor effort on Tuesday. The second line featured Jonathan Drouin, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, and Josh Anderson. The third line was Christian Dvorak, Rem Pitlick, and Jesse Ylonen, as Alex Belzile and Michael Pezzetta were the duo at the bottom of the lineup as newly acquired Chris Tierney found himself in the press box for this game.
25 seconds into the game, the Kings were called for high-sticking and the Habs had the first advantage. The power play was effective if not spectacular as Hoffman passed to Harvey-Pinard in the low slot twice for some good scoring chances that Pheonix Copley stopped.
Viktor Arvidsson had a breakaway once back at 5-on-5, but Allen caught him with a poke check to negate the chance. Gavrikov’s debut did not start great as he was outworked by a Harvey-Pinard forecheck and took an interference penalty. This time, the Habs made them pay as a cross-ice pass by Suzuki was intercepted, but Anderson was all over the rebound as he snuck it five-hole on Copley to open the scoring.
The second half of the period started with a Drouin holding penalty which was scary considering the Kings’ second-ranked power play. This time, the Habs escaped the opportunity despite some good chances as Allen had to stand tall.
However, the advantage was enough to turn the tides of the period as Los Angeles really took over and controlled a large portion of the period. With three minutes to play, the officials called a penalty against the Habs in the offensive zone before discussing it amongst themselves and not calling a penalty. The Kings end the period with a 10-7 shot advantage but a 1-0 deficit where it mattered.
The start of the second period came with some worrisome news as it was announced that Barron was injured and was not returning to the game. It didn’t seem too distracting to the Canadiens who came out strong for the second as they logged the first three shots of the period in the opening five minutes as the game picked up considerably in pace when compared to the first period. The quick pace suited the Kings, and the open play did too as they slowly picked up the pace and overtook control of the chances as the period advanced.
The open play finally smiled for the Kings as Dvorak lost a defensive zone draw and both Dvorak and Ylonen failed to cover Alex Iafallo. He accepted a pass from behind the net to beat Allen up high and tie the game with 12:18 to play. The goal whipped the Canadiens as they controlled the few minutes that followed the goal.
The second half of the period kicked off with a high-sticking penalty against Savard. Los Angeles was very dangerous on their advantage, but Allen stood tall and was easily the best penalty killer. The Kings completely dominated the rest of the period, but Allen made a few more huge stops to keep the game 1-1. Edmundson took a penalty with five seconds to play meaning another advantage for the Kings heading to the third period with a 23-12 shot advantage.
The Kings started the third period with the power play, but the highly-ranked special team continued to struggle as the Habs escaped yet another shorthanded sequence.
The Kings continued to be the better team until Adrian Kempe took an interference minor with 16:08 to play. For the third time in the game, Montreal’s advantage looked very dangerous and forced Copley to be sharp. They were not able to carry that momentum after the penalty as the Kings’ pressure all over the ice trapped the Habs into making mistakes.
With 12:33 to play, Ylonen, who had a tough night, tried to make a strange reverse play in the defensive zone. The result of the play was the loss of the puck and immediately led to a point shot where Gabriel Vilardi jumped on a rebound to take their first lead of the game.
They would extend the lead a minute later when Hoffman made a very similar play to Ylonen, and the result was the same. This time the pass from the corner went straight to the slot where Anze Kopitar fired it home.
The Habs fired back another minute later. Matheson busted through the neutral zone trap employed by the Kings and found a streaking Gurianov who skated and wired a slap shot to the top corner to beat Copley and make it 3-2.
Allen then had to come up big again as Drouin took a second penalty on the night with under five minutes to play. The Habs came up with a huge penalty kill and got the final two minutes to push for the equalizer. Gurianov made a nice play in the final minute, but Copley stood tall and secured the win.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jake Allen
Allen was credited by many with a stolen game against the Sharks and I personally disagreed with that assessment. There’s no denying he was the best Hab for the entire 60 minutes on this night. In the second period alone, he made three stops that had the Kings looking up at the rafters. Not very different in the third period as he made big stops before the Kings scored, made a few more after the Habs made it 3-2, and ended the night with another 30-save performance as the game would have been a blowout without him.
Stats: 30 saves, 33 shots, .909 save %, 3.08 GAA, 58:29 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Mike Matheson
Matheson lost his partner after the first period, but he never missed a beat as he continued to be the best Habs defender by a country mile. It seemed as though every time the Habs got some offensive zone time, it came with Matheson on the ice as he was the only defender that appeared capable of handling the pressure from the Kings forecheck.
Stats: 1 assist, 3 shots, 1 hit, 24:46 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Denis Gurianov
Anderson and Harvey-Pinard also played really solid games, but what can be said of Gurianov’s first two games with the Habs that won’t seem like hyperbole? He’s a shoot-first winger that has size and though he won’t use it consistently (he was much less physical tonight than Tuesday), he still knows how to use it to win battles and to protect the puck which is great. He’s made nice plays with the puck and plays with good pace. For the second time in Kent Hughes’ short stint, he’s acquired a player that I haven’t been excited about, only to quickly have my eyes opened once that player gets some ice time with the Habs (the other being Dach).
Stats: 1 goal, 2 shots, 2 hits, 18:52 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Joel Edmundson
Call it a gut feeling, but I believe we’ve seen the big blue liner play his last game with his childhood team. This honourable mention is far more about the whole of his tenure than what he did on this night, though I must say that he really did not look like the return was premature. Edmundson had a roller coaster ride with the Habs as he was a key piece in getting the team to the Stanley Cup Finals a few seasons ago. There was also some bad as he went through the loss of his father during his time with the team. On the ice, he was always a player limited in what he can do with the puck, but he’s a force in the defensive zone and boy did he care about this team and wearing that logo. If this was really his final game as a Hab, I think his time can be looked upon positively and I wish him well wherever this deadline takes him.
Stats: 4 hits, 14:42 T.O.I.