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With Montreal’s forwards struggling to score, their defence corps picked up the slack on Saturday afternoon by scoring four goals on the way to a 5-2 victory over the Ducks to kick off Super Bowl weekend.

Claude Julien made several lineup changes for this game following their 2-0 loss to Carolina on Thursday night.  Recently-recalled Nikita Scherbak was in on the second line along with Alex Galchenyuk and Jonathan Drouin while Logan Shaw was back in on the fourth.  Those two replaced Daniel Carr and Jacob de la Rose.  On the back end, David Schlemko returned from his one game as a healthy scratch, taking the place of Jakub Jerabek.  Plus, Antti Niemi got the nod in goal with the team saving Carey Price for Sunday’s matinee against Ottawa.

As they did on Thursday, Montreal got off to a sluggish start early on and found themselves down 9-0 in shots early on.  However, unlike Thursday, they managed to get on track.

Shaw, playing his first game against his former team, got Montreal on the board as he stuffed one past Ryan Miller after Byron Froese did a nice job driving the net.  Two minutes later, Joe Morrow blasted one home from the point on the power play with Scherbak picking up the secondary assist.  Less than two minutes after that, Schlemko wristed a soft one past Miller to make it 3-0 with all three lineup changes paying dividends early on.

That was the end of the line for Miller who, despite having more wins against Montreal than any other active goaltender in the league, made just four stops on the night.  Reto Berra took over as John Gibson is out with an injury.  The Habs had another man advantage later in the frame but weren’t able to get anything going.  That seemed to wake Anaheim up although Niemi was able to keep them at bay to preserve the three-goal lead after 20 minutes.  Shots on goal in the period were 16-9 for the visitors.

Anaheim started the second on the power play but they weren’t able to get much going.  Shortly after that expired, the Ducks were called for too many men and Montreal made them pay.  Jeff Petry was down near the goal line and put a very weak shot between his legs but it was slow enough to fool Berra as it trickled into the net.  Seconds later, Shaw got free for a partial breakaway but Berra was able to shut the door.

Unfortunately, things started to go downhill from there for the Habs.  Jonathan Drouin left the game after taking a Karl Alzner shot off what appears to be the ribs.  He was taken to hospital for x-rays and did not return.  Those tests came back negative and he will be re-evaluated on Sunday.

Shortly after that, Montreal got called for too many men.  Just before the penalty ended, Max Pacioretty took a hooking penalty on Corey Perry although it may have saved a goal.  On the two-man advantage, Perry got his goal after all as he tipped a centring pass past Niemi.

On his next shift, Perry took an interference penalty, sending the Habs back to the man advantage.  They weren’t able to score and as the penalty expired, Scherbak (playing Drouin’s spot at the point) failed to dump the puck into the offensive zone the full way.  That set up a stretch pass for Nick Ritchie to walk in on Niemi and while he was able to make the first stop, he left a juicy rebound for Rickard Rakell to deposit into the yawning cage.  Tomas Plekanec took a hooking penalty three minutes later but Niemi was able to shut the door and while Montreal spent the second half of the period chasing their tails, they still had the 4-2 edge heading into the third.  Shots on goal in the frame were 20-11 for the Ducks.

Predictably, the Habs went into a defensive shell for the third period and actually did a decent job holding Anaheim at bay.  There was one scary moment early on as Andrew Cogliano was sprung on a shorthanded breakaway but wasn’t able to beat Niemi.  That was their best chance of the period.

Minutes later, Tomas Plekanec was shaken up in a collision with Perry.  While he was down for a couple of minutes, he was able to remain in the game to keep Montreal’s already-weak centre depth intact.

With just under five minutes to go, Hampus Lindholm was called for hooking, sending the Canadiens to another man advantage.  This one was more successful than their opportunity earlier in the period as Petry took a Morrow feed and wristed one past Berra for his second of the night to wrap up the scoring.

Niemi made 43 stops in the win, matching his career high.  While Miller had a rough night in the loss, Berra was decent in relief, turning aside 20 of the 22 shots he faced.  Special teams proved to be very important in this one as the Habs went 3/7 while the Ducks were 1/4.

HW Habs 3 Stars of the Afternoon

1st Star: Jeff Petry – Petry pretty much did it all in this one.  He logged big minutes on both special teams units, was counted on to hedge for attacking forwards on several occasions, and led the way in blocked shots as well.  This was one of those games where he looked like a number one defender.

Stats: 2 goals, +1 rating, 5 shots, 5 blocks, 27:32 TOI

2nd Star: Antti Niemi – He won’t be winning any awards for technical efficiency anytime soon but Niemi was quite effective.  There were several moments where the Habs were running around in their own end and he shut the door to keep the Ducks from really getting back into the game.  It’s hard to ask for much more than that.

Stats: 2 GA on 45 shots, 2.00 GAA, .956 SV%

3rd Star: Joe Morrow – There have been nights where Morrow has not looked like an NHL defender.  This was not one of them.  He was a factor offensively and didn’t make as many glaring mistakes in his own end and Claude Julien seemed to take notice as he logged a ton of ice time (setting a new regular season career high in the process).

Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, -1 rating, 1 shot, 3 blocks, 24:58 TOI

Honourable Mention: Logan Shaw – Shaw had been pretty quiet since joining the Habs but he certainly had his best performance against his former team.  He had the important ice-breaking goal and had a couple of other prime chances while holding his own when he was moved onto the second line with Drouin out.  All in all, a solid game that should buy him a bit of goodwill with the coaches.

Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 3 shots, 3 hits, 2 blocks, 14:52 TOI

Final Thought

There are always some scheduling oddities around the NHL but how is it that Anaheim, a West Coast team, wound up playing in this game?  This was a 10:00 AM local start for them which is just nuts.  I know they’ve been out East for a little bit but that’s still a tough situation to put them in.  There are plenty of Eastern Conference teams and if the Super Bowl weekend tradition of back-to-back afternoon games is to continue, the schedulers should try to ensure that those teams are Montreal’s opponents, not a Pacific team who effectively has to play a morning game.