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As is far too often the case this season, the Canadiens, in the middle of a losing streak, were facing off against the hottest team in the league in the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado was riding a 10-game winning streak upon their arrival in Montreal, so the Habs were clearly hoping to catch a team looking past them on this night. This appeared to be the case as Montreal dominated most of this contest as they outhit the Avalanche by a wide margin on their way to a 4-2 victory.

The opening sequence on the night promised a spirited affair as both teams ramped up some physical play to start the night as it included big hit attempts by both teams, with the best hit coming from Jeff Petry behind Carey Price’s net. If Montreal was successful at hitting everything that moved, it was mostly because the Avalanche had control of the puck as the play took place in the Montreal zone. The Habs’ strategy proved successful though. Colorado started trying to retaliate and ended up with a high sticking penalty. Montreal’s power play was not very dangerous as the best chance belonged to Jonathan Drouin who ended up placing his shot well wide.

Immediately following this power play, Jordie Benn was guilty of a defensive zone turnover which resulted in Benn committing a hooking infraction, sending the Avalanche to their first man advantage of the night. Colorado’s power play looked more dangerous, but couldn’t really do much more than pass the puck around the Montreal zone. The Habs finally got going in the last five minutes of the period, as they pressured the young Avalanche blue line and created good scoring chances for Alex Galchenyuk, Artturi Lehkonen, and Benn. As the period ended, one could state that despite the speed of execution on both sides of this contest, it was a period filled with little to no scoring chances that would cause fans to really be entertained by this period.

Montreal came out much stronger on the puck to start the second and controlled the play in the Avalanche zone over the opening three minutes of the period. David Schlemko was called for high-sticking on an errant follow through. The Canadiens were successful in killing the second penalty as they prevented Colorado from ever really getting access to their zone.

With 14:18 to play in the period, Galchenyuk and Drouin played a little give-and-go at the Colorado zone entrance. It’s the type of play that usually drives coaches crazy, but this time it worked out. The play confused the Avalanche coverage and allowed Drouin to come out with the puck. The shot attempt was blocked, but Nicolas Deslauriers was hot on Drouin’s tracks and jumped all over the loose puck for the first goal of the game.

Immediately following the goal, the Habs once again started cycling in the Colorado zone, this time forcing a tripping penalty. After the first power play unit created a series of excellent scoring chances, only half of it retreated to the bench. This allowed Drouin to get back to work. He offered Paul Byron a shot in the slot that was stopped and then sent the same pass through the slot once more. This time, Byron tipped the puck across to Galchenyuk who had to be quick to get the puck up and over Jonathan Bernier for a 2-0 lead with 12:03 to play in the period.

Only 20 seconds after the goal, it was Montreal’s turn to take a penalty as Jakub Jerabek was sent off for elbowing. Colorado would get set up in Montreal’s zone this time, but Carey Price was up to the task to keep the Avalanche off the board. Paul Byron then gave Colorado another man advantage with a blatant tripping penalty in the neutral zone. Montreal would successfully kill that one as well. The fact that Colorado played the night prior began to be evident as Montreal immediately returned to the offensive zone once the penalty was expired. Bernier had to make several key stops to keep the game within reach over the last five minutes of the period.

The third period started with a Colorado penalty which gave the Habs a great chance to put this game away and they certainly tried as Bernier was absolutely peppered over the two-minute span. After the power play, Montreal continued to completely dominate as the chances were coming in waves, as the Avalanche appeared to be hanging on for dear life. The few times Colorado did attempt to get in the offensive zone, Montreal’s strategy to hit them repeatedly clearly was frustrating the young Avalanche. If I’m a team watching this game that plays the Avalanche soon, I’m sending a wall of physicality their way as they really appeared to lose their cool.

This became apparent as Nail Yakupov would take a hooking penalty while Nathan MacKinnon got away with an absolutely bush-league interference hit on Charles Hudon. The power play would not amount to much as the Canadiens chose to play a rather safe version of their man advantage with a two-goal lead. After the penalty expired, Jeff Petry decided to skate the puck out of the Montreal zone and ended up looking like Bobby Orr as he went through four Colorado skaters before offering a beautiful pass to Drouin who merely had to tap it in to make it 3-0.

Montreal then inexplicably proceeded to take their foot off the pedal. Nathan MacKinnon took the puck at the blueline and timed his shot with the passing of Rantanen to fool Price and make it 3-1 with over five minutes still to play. Colorado quickly came back on the attack, sensing a potential comeback but Price shut the door. With a little over a minute to play and the goaltender pulled, Brendan Gallagher made a solid play along the boards in the defensive zone which allowed him to skate to the red line and place the puck into the empty net to seal the contest. With 12 seconds to play, the Avalanche got one back as J.T. Compher got his own rebound back after a blocked shot by Jerabek to make it a 4-2 final.

Observation of the Night

Montreal outhit the Avalanche 36-18 which Deslauriers and Petry leading the way with five apiece. With the success of the strategy on this night, I wonder if it’s something they’ll attempt against bigger and more experienced opponents. It was certainly a strategy that was odd to see from the Canadiens, who are usually too small and frail to play such a style. It’s not a style I necessarily dislike, though I do wonder how the Habs would fare using it against, say, the Columbus Blue Jackets.

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night

1st Star – Jonathan Drouin

Tonight’s Drouin is the player I was expecting when Montreal made the acquisition over the summer. He was creative with the puck, intelligent with the puck, aggressive in the corners, and hungry to make it to the tough areas earn his goals. If the coaching staff can sell Drouin on playing with this much intensity on a more consistent basis, his skill will handle the scoreboard.

Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +2, 2 shots, 1 hit, 18 :05 T.O.I.

2nd Star – Alex Galchenyuk

It seems like Galchenyuk has found a way to appear in this section regularly since the start of December. He’s quickly vaulted up Montreal’s stat sheet also as he now only trails Max Pacioretty for the team lead in points, and is doing it with far less ice time (on average). If he keeps playing with intensity and limiting the turnovers, I would think the coaching staff will continue to give him the ice time he’s seen of late. This represents an important piece of the puzzle if he can keep up this pace of play.

Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 3 shots (8 shot attempts), 16:33 T.O.I.

3rd Star – Max Pacioretty

Pacioretty had his goal streak snapped but he was a leader as he set the pace early with attempted big hits in the Colorado zone. It appeared as though every time Colorado got a bit of momentum, there was Pacioretty laying the body on Avalanche defencemen to bring the momentum back to his team. For a player that often gets criticized for being individualistic, he was noticeably sold on the team concept tonight.

Stats: 0 points, +2, 4 shots, 5 hits, 17:18 T.O.I.

Honourable Mention – Paul Byron

Byron keeps being placed in the most impossible situations and finding ways to succeed. He’s consistently bounced all over the lineup, and while most pundits claimed that he could never repeat his 20-goal performance from a season ago, he’s on pace to do it, and is now finding success as the team’s top centre. I’m certainly not making the point that he should be left as the team’s top centre long-term, but it takes nothing away from the success Byron is finding there lately.

Stats: 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 2 shots, 16:05 T.O.I.