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For a game with absolutely no playoff implications, the Habs returned to the confines of the Bell Centre to face the Rangers in a game featuring plenty of intrigue. As both teams prepare to sell off some veteran assets, questions surroundings healthy scratches David Schlemko, Michael Grabner, and Rick Nash remain to be answered over the next few days. Players on the ice belong in the same group, notably Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty. The possibility of these long-tenured Canadiens departing remains an intriguing part of the next week. In addition to trade possibilities, the Rangers opted to give Alexandar Georgiev his first career NHL start. The Habs countered with Antti Niemi, but they had their own debut player in Noah Juulsen. The outcome favoured the Habs on this night, as they dominated play and skated away with a 3-1 win to snap their six-game losing skid.

The Habs came out strong as the first two and a half minutes were played in the New York zone with Charles Hudon and Juulsen getting chances to fire some pucks on the rookie New York goaltender. Despite these chances, the Habs offence was mostly kept to the outside, meaning Georgiev wasn’t truly tested. This was the case until Logan Shaw took an offensive zone tripping penalty. The Rangers’ power play wasn’t very threatening until they generated two good scoring chances over the last 30 seconds of execution.

As soon as the penalty expired, the Habs went back to the attack as Jonathan Drouin found Artturi Lehkonen who was covered and unable to get a clear shot away. With 13 minutes to play in the period, Brendan Gallagher broke into the Rangers’ zone and had his shot blocked. Fortunately, the rebound went right to Paul Byron. Byron bobbled the puck initially before managing to get enough on it to send a cross-ice pass to Tomas Plekanec who scored to make it 1-0 Montreal. A minute and a half after the goal, rookie John Gilmour held Drouin to send the Habs to their first man advantage of the night.

In the first 30 seconds of the power play, Alex Galchenyuk and Gallagher both failed to capitalize on good scoring chances, but that would be all the offence created on this occasion. Not discouraged by their failure to score, the Habs continued to completely dominate the period as the Habs played one of the most aggressive periods of the season. With 4:39 to play, Artturi Lehkonen was charged with a hooking penalty. Before the Rangers could get set up, Juulsen blocked a shot and sprung Phillip Danault. Danault’s shorthanded rush was dangerous enough to cause a Brady Skjei holding penalty creating a lengthy and eventless 4-on-4. With 14 seconds to play in the period, Neal Pionk was sent to the box for slashing to end the period.

The Habs man advantage to start the second period created a series of chances that once again wasn’t finished by the Canadiens. What this dangerous power play was able to create was momentum as Montreal took off where they left off, creating the better chances. With four minutes expired in the period, Hudon skated into the Rangers’ zone and was patient enough to cause Skjei to commit, creating a sliver of hope to slide a pass across to Jeff Petry. The pass was perfect and Petry had an empty cage at his disposal to increase the lead to 2-0.

Only one minute later, an awesome pass from Joe Morrow sent Gallagher on a breakaway. Gallagher was able to get his shot off which prevented the penalty shot, but the result was still a power play as Marc Staal was called for hooking on the play. This attempt was able to generate some chances, but no finish would occur. The Habs would carry that play well past the midway point of the period, creating so much offence and chances that the Rangers appeared to be standing still in their own zone. The best shift of the sequence came with Hudon on the wing of Drouin and Pacioretty, as Juulsen joined the attack on multiple chances. Georgiev was quite excellent during said sequence, otherwise, Montreal would have scored more than once on that shift.

For the better part of the second half of the period, the Habs continued to control the play and create great scoring chances. With only seconds remaining in the period, Kevin Hayes would be sent to the box for hooking, allowing the Habs to start the third like they started the second, on the man advantage.

The Habs simply were not letting up on this night as they started the third with a power play that would immediately produce two excellent chances for Galchenyuk and Gallagher (twice!). As the man advantage ended, J.T. Miller completed a sweet rush, deked around Niemi and slid the puck towards the empty net. Unfortunately for Miller, as the puck was sliding in, Victor Mete presented himself to save Niemi and stopped the puck before it could cross the red line.

This play would kick off the first real sustained attack for the Rangers all night. The result in the Rangers pressure was a penalty for interference to Jordie Benn with five minutes expired in the period. Their power play didn’t get anything going but they continued to control the pace of play when the infraction was served. This last-ditch effort to get in the game for the Rangers wasn’t fruitful as the Habs remained aggressive and intelligent in defensive coverage to deny the Rangers’ attempts. The few times New York was able to get through, Niemi stood tall as he showed that last game was perhaps more about bad luck than his skill level.

With 4:37 left to play, Hudon was called for an offensive zone trip, a penalty that is quite undesirable considering the moment of the game and the place on the ice. This time the Rangers’ man advantage would strike. With three minutes to play, a shot from the blue line by Tony DeAngelo was not controlled by Niemi. The rebound was clearly kicked in by Kevin Hayes, so the goal was initially called off by the officials. Though the puck was kicked in, the puck hitHayes’ stick after he kicked it, so the goal counted, and it was a one-goal game with three minutes to play.

With the Rangers’ net open and less than two minutes to go, Danault swatted at a loose puck that travels three zones to slide directly into the net to seal the night’s fate. Of note on that last play, it was another strong defensive play by Juulsen that created the goal.

Observation of the Night

The controlled aggressiveness displayed by the Montreal Canadiens on this night is definitely something the coaching staff might want to bottle and try to release in giant doses forever. This aggression, I believe, was the result of having guys in proper positioning around the ice. This was then complemented by proper pass execution from the defenders to the forwards. With Juulsen and Mete logging this much ice time in a pressure-free scenario, one of the biggest deficits on the team was exposed by the two rookies. More of Juulsen and Mete between now and the end of the season, please!

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night

1st Star – Tomas Plekanec

I have no idea who lit a fire under Plekanec’s butt lately, but hopefully, this will continue to happen for two very specific reasons. One, seeing Plekanec produce is a good omen for a player who has struggled so much offensively over the last year and a half. Two, every game Plekanec displays that he is not a finished player, more scouts return to their respective teams with positive reports only five days away from the trade deadline. If Plekanec can raise his value ever so slightly, then the Canadiens may be ask a bigger return for the veteran. He’s playing great over the last two games.

Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 2 shots, 13:37 T.O.I.

2nd Star – Charles Hudon

The most consistent offensive weapon in Montreal’s arsenal continued to be just that on this night. His pass on Petry’s goal was absolutely beautiful as he threaded the needle. If this last section of the regular season can solidify Hudon as an offensive weapon at the NHL level for years to come, this would be a promising progression for the young man who has paid his dues and deserves some success at the NHL level.

Stats: 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 14:04 T.O.I.

3rd Star – Noah Juulsen

Juulsen was playing in his first NHL contest, and he did not appear out of place at all. In fact, I’d argue he looked confident and comfortable on the ice. He made solid decisions with the puck, solid decisions away from the puck, and more importantly he was solid in all plays he made. Considering the frustrating amount of soft plays by many defenders this season, watching Juulsen tonight was a welcome change of pace. He’s still quite young, and he was clearly charged up tonight for his first ever game, but it was a promising first impression to say the least.

Stats: 0 points, +2, 2 shots, 4 hits, 17:14 T.O.I.  

Honourable Mention – Brendan Gallagher

The smallest player with the biggest heart on the team continued to lead the way on this night. It was a typical effort from Gallagher, only he didn’t finish the plays that he’s been able to capitalize on for much of the season. Still a solid effort on his part.

Stats: 1 assist, +2, 6 shots, 17:09 T.O.I.