The Habs kicked off a week of late-night hockey in San Jose on Tuesday in yet another Bedard-Bowl game. Both teams were playing their first games since significant trades as the Sharks were without Timo Meier and the Habs saw Denis Gurianov play his first in a Habs uniform after dealing away Evgenii Dadonov. The product on the ice was about as expected as both teams had more to gain by losing the game than winning it and with the looming trade deadline a sufficient distraction for many players on both teams. It was mostly a sloppy affair by both teams, but the Habs woke up for a three-minute stretch in the third, and this was enough to skate away with a 3-1 win.
For the Habs, the roster composition was perhaps more interesting than the game on this night as tradable returns were made and the newly acquired Gurianov shook up the combinations up front. Nick Suzuki had new linemates on the top unit as Gurianov quickly got an opportunity to shine, and Mike Hoffman joined them. Suzuki’s former linemates Rafael Harvey-Pinard et Josh Anderson shifted to the second line where they were pivoted by Jonathan Drouin. How would Harvey-Pinard do without Suzuki? Was Drouin given these linemates in a last-minute effort to shop him? The bottom of the forward group was more usual with Christian Dvorak joined by Rem Pitlick and Jesse Ylonen, while Chris Tierney centred the fourth, flanked by Michael Pezzetta and Alex Belzile.
The blue line was also intriguing as the top pair featured David Savard joined by a returning Kaiden Guhle. This time, one could assume there were no trade motivations to the change. After some eyebrow-raising on Monday, Justin Barron returned to the second pair with his usual partner Mike Matheson. The third pair saw Jordan Harris joined by Johnathan Kovacevic, as Joel Edmundson was speculated to return (mostly for purpose of showing potential suitors he’s healthy) but the team decided to give him a few extra days. Jake Allen was the starter in net but that’s not a trade move if one follows all the speculation at this point.
Enough behind-the-scenes politics, let’s get to the game! The first shift was full of ups and downs as Gurianov was noticeable for his physicality, Anderson got a good shot off, but Hoffman and Barron were guilty of egregious turnovers. The one by Barron 1:43 in saw the puck come out to the slot where Harvey-Pinard tried to help, but three offensive players jumped on the occasion, and it was Jacob McDonald who put it home for an early Sharks lead. Moments later, Evgeny Svechnikov was guilty of a slash in the offensive zone sending the Habs to the game’s first power play.
The advantage was dangerous though it could not finish plays. However, they did carry momentum after the advantage as they were all over the Sharks before a second advantage when Savard moved his legs in the offensive zone to force a tripping call. The second power play of the period was once again spent entirely in the offensive zone as Kaapo Kahkonen was sharp early as the Habs were ahead 11-3 in shots on net.
The second half of the period started with a make-up call as Harris played perfectly defensively but was sent off for holding. The Canadiens gave up very little on the kill, and Allen was sharp when needed. San Jose controlled the rest of the period as the shot totals evened out to 17-15 by the end. Play was extremely sloppy on both sides though as scoring chances were exchanged but not finished as Pezzetta and Suzuki had the best chances for the Habs.
Anderson started the second like it was the first as he found the offensive zone and looked very dangerous. Other than this first shift, the period was slow and low event until Svechnikov crashed Allen which drew a crowd that ended up with both he and Anderson in the box. At 4-on-4, Suzuki and Gurianov had an offensive zone shift before their second shift sent Gurianov on a partial break that was Kahkonen’s best save of the game.
Montreal started to find cracks in the San Jose forecheck in the second half of the middle period and they were rewarded with some good chances off the rush. Anderson just missed a pass to Harvey-Pinard before Dvorak opted for a shot on a 2-on-1 that was stopped by Kahkonen. Some more Suzuki wizardry gave Gurianov his third excellent chance in the period, but Kahkonen remained unsolvable.
Then the Sharks took their second offensive zone penalty of the game for Montreal’s third power play. It was easily the least dangerous advantage for the Habs with the most notable play being Ylonen getting away with a dangerous-looking hit. Allen had to come up big to end the period as San Jose dominated the last two minutes of the period.
The start of the third was hesitant by both teams but the Suzuki line had two strong shifts to give the Habs some hope. Unfortunately, other than a handful of players, the Sharks owned the rest of the night. One chance saw a puck bleed through Allen (this was also a theme on the night) only for Savard to save it off the goal line.
With 11:53 to play, a zone entry by the Suzuki line opened up a point shot by Guhle that made it all the way into the net on a shot that Kahkonen likely wanted to have back. Then, at the 10-minute mark, Pitlick and Ylonen were sent in on a 2-on-1 and Pitlick made a great move before sliding the puck to Ylonen and the Habs suddenly had a lead.
With seven minutes to play, Drouin was sent to the box for an obvious hooking minor. The Sharks’ advantage never got going and the Habs had a little more than five minutes to go for yet another win. The Sharks pulled Kahkonen with 2:10 to go and got a few good looks but Dvorak was able to put it away with four seconds left in the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Josh Anderson
It was one of those Lindros-like efforts for Anderson who was a physical force who had the puck find him all night long. He shot less than he should have on this night, opting for low-percentage passes instead. This is exactly the type of game by Anderson that will convince Hughes to keep him around… or convince other GMs to consider acquiring.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 2 hits, 19:16 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Denis Gurianov
One game does not a career make, but Gurianov had a really good one. He was engaged both physically and defensively which opened a long list of offensive chances for himself and his new linemates. I was mostly surprised with his physicality in defending the puck while it was on his stick and felt like an extended look next to Suzuki might actually make sense. Great game by him.
Stats: +1, 6 shots, 17:02 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Kaiden Guhle
On a night where Harris and Barron struggled, Guhle came back to the lineup and looked like he had not missed a step. Really solid game by the rookie defender coming back from a lengthy absence. And an important goal for the team to make it that much sweeter.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 18:27 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jesse Ylonen
Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how to handle Ylonen. The talent is clearly there. But he goes through so many extended periods of time when he’s completely invisible. Yet, being invisible also means he’s not getting in trouble from a defensive standpoint. But I’d still prefer a little more sandpaper than what he offers on the fourth line. Anyway, for the rest of this season, he’s here and he scored on this night.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 shot, 1 hit, 13:06 T.O.I.