The Canadiens began yet another busy November week on Monday with their second confrontation to the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. One can easily recall the breathtaking 6-4 win in the first meeting as the teams went toe-to-toe all night before a Max Domi go-ahead goal was followed seconds later with a Joel Armia empty-netter to finally put the game out of reach. This second match promised a bit less offensive flare as Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie were sitting this one out for the team from the American capital. For the Habs, the only change to the lineup saw Mike Reilly draw in for Xavier Ouellet on the blueline. The crease duel featured Carey Price against Braden Holtby’s backup in Pheonix Copley who would not finish the game.
Fans were once again treated to an offensive showcase, and this one included some fireworks as the physical game was present too. In the end, the Habs ran out of steam against the bigger Capitals who were able to escape the Bell Centre with a 5-4 overtime victory in yet another fun and entertaining game for the Canadiens.
On the first shift of the game, David Schlemko was stripped of the puck in the defensive zone and the result was a tipped shot that nailed Noah Juulsen in the visor. The rest of the opening five minutes saw both teams feel each other out as little scoring chances were had.
Finally, just before the midway point in the period, Mike Reilly kept the offensive shift alive by accepting a cross-ice pass from Matthew Peca, skating down and faking a pass across before going short-side on Copley for a 1-0 Montreal lead.
Immediately following the goal, Artturi Lehkonen caught Dmitry Orlov fanning on a pass for a partial break that he would fan on. A few moments later, Juulsen’s face would find the puck again as a shot rose up his stick and hit him in the face. Juulsen made his way to the locker room and was subsequently sent to the hospital for some tests so he would not return.
With a little under seven to play in the period, the fourth line coughed up the puck at the entrance of the Washington zone. A poor read of the situation by Charles Hudon left the defence to fend for themselves. Schlemko and Reilly played the 3-on-2 well, but the result was a point shot by John Carlson that went wide and came back out to a waiting Brett Connolly who had an open cage to tie the game.
A minute and a half later, Andrew Shaw grabbed the puck in the defensive zone and fired a pass to where he was supposed to be. The result was an intercepted pass by Orlov who quickly found Tom Wilson. Wilson waited out the Habs defenders and Jordie Benn looked at the puck instead of Alexander Ovechkin who was left alone and put home the cross-ice pass by Wilson.
In the last five minutes, Kenny Agostino delivered a solid hit on Devante Smith-Pelly that drew the ire of Matt Niskanen and Wilson which finally resulted in two minutes to Agostino and four to Niskanen. The power play wasn’t dangerous as the Capitals were able to retreat to the locker room with their 2-1 lead.
The Habs came out firing to start the second period as Brendan Gallagher opened the festivities only 20 seconds in. A strong play by Phillip Danault at the defensive end led to a breakout and Danault then fired a puck to the front of the Caps net where a hustling Gallagher simply had to tip home the puck as everyone but Gallagher on the ice appeared surprised by the pass.
On the next shift, Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin were flying and the second time Domi was tripped up, Madison Bowey was called for tripping. A bold yet requested move by Claude Julien then happened as he opted to play Jesperi Kotkaniemi on the first unit. The strategy took all of 16 seconds to pay off as Kotkaniemi accepted a pass down low and rushed the net. The play was unsuccessful, but the puck squirted out to a pinching Jeff Petry who beat Copley short side for a 3-2 lead. Noteworthy is that Domi extended his point-scoring streak on the play as he collected the secondary assist.
27 seconds later, a harmless shot by Lehkonen was tipped home by Kenny Agostino for the Habs third goal in 1:35 to start the period and his first in a Montreal uniform. The Habs were ahead 4-2 and Copley was hitting the showers in favour of Holtby.
Washington would respond, but before the five-minute mark in the period, Price shut the door with two solid saves to not allow the Caps back into the game too quickly prompting the Bell Centre to the bring back the now infamous “Carey” chants.
With 13 minutes to play in the period, Lars Eller caught Gallagher with a high stick sending the Habs back to the power play for 4 minutes. In the opening minutes, Shaw pounced on a Domi rebound and beat Holtby, but the chance missed the net. It would be the best chance of the extended advantage.
Moments after the penalty, Ovechkin hit Nicolas Deslauriers solidly. With both Deslauriers and Hudon seeking revenge and puck tracking instead of playing their system, they both lost coverage on Nicklas Backstrom who was gifted a rebound and made no mistake in cutting the lead in half.
The last five minutes of the period essentially settled into the Capitals looking by any means necessary to get physical with the smaller Habs. Domi finally had enough and dropped the gloves with Orlov. Danault would then be called for slashing as a final event to this entertaining period.
The third started with the Habs killing the first minute of the man advantage. Unfortunately, that would end when Benn’s stick got stuck in Backstrom’s skate. 20 seconds of 5-on-3 was all the Caps needed as Ovechkin was teed up from his spot at the top of the circle to tie the score a minute into the period.
The Habs killed the second penalty, but not without Price making two highlight-reel stops to get the Habs out of it. Despite these saves, the opening of the period left the Habs on their heels and Washington with all the momentum.
As the period reached the midway point, the Habs started to find their legs and creating some chances in the Washington zone. With eight minutes to play, Price once again flashed some leather as he robbed Ovechkin on a one-timer. Overall, it was a period filled with two very cautious teams as neither wanted to commit the error that would cost their team the minimum of a point in the standings as the Caps did last time these teams met.
This cautious play almost cost the Habs as a penalty against Wilson was missed and then followed by a soft play by Benn. With one second left on the clock, Price dove across to absolutely rob Ovechkin again, this time with a blocker save. Ovechkin’s reaction was to skate over and give Price a tap for the numerous huge saves on the night, gaining a point for the Habs in the standings in the process.
The Habs held the puck for the first minute of overtime before Schlemko was stopped in tight and the Capitals finally touched the puck. By the end of the second minute, a borderline play by Orlov against Kotkaniemi gave the Caps their first scoring chance that was turned away and gave Kotkaniemi a good look in the offensive zone. A savvy play by Danault then gave Gallagher a golden chance to end the game and this time it was Holtby making a spectacular save to keep the game alive for Washington. With a minute and a half to play, the Capitals would streak down as Jakub Vrana found Lars Eller who quickly ripped a shot that surprised Price to win the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Carey Price
It’s pretty strange to find a goaltender give up five goals and still find himself in this section. Still, the number of important saves made by Price kept the Habs in this game in every period. His saves in the third alone were worthy of this nomination. A look at the scoreboard would lead some fans to question which Price was present tonight, but anyone watching the game will easily decipher that the Price that ended the Western Canadian road trip was the same one guarding the Montreal net. Ovechkin’s reaction as regulation expired told the story on this night, and the story was Carey Price.
Stats: 29 saves, 34 shots, .853 SV %, 4.76 G.A.A, 63:34 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Kotkaniemi picked up two points, placing him on pace for a 50-point season as an 18-year old rookie. If that’s not impressive enough, he scored on his first shift on the top power play unit after standing nose-to-nose with Tom Wilson and not backing down an inch as the Capitals were the latest team to attempt to fail in their intimidation tactics against the young Finnish pivot.
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 1 shot, 16:41 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jeff Petry
Petry often gets criticized when his defensive play lacks, including by myself, but is it always fair? Senators and Sharks fans have long lived with defensive shortcomings of their star defenders (Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns) in the name of offensive defencemen. Petry’s defensive coverage has been more than adequate since being paired with Jordie Benn, and he is now in the top-10 for offence amongst defenders. I’m not saying he gets a free pass for his defensive lapses but simply that maybe we need to take the bad with the good in his case and see the whole picture for a defender who is playing over 25 minutes per game while getting paid second pairing money.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, -1, 3 shots, 4 hits, 33:51 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Phillip Danault
The scoreboard would suggest that Max Domi could earn this spot with his assist leading to a 10-game scoring streak and the fight to stick up for his teammates when Washington was taking some physical liberties. However, in the context of this game, the number of big faceoff wins, and stellar defensive plays lead me to select Danault for this spot. Danault night after night takes on the best offensive players from the opposition and his importance was on full display in this one, somewhat fittingly as some social media gurus were busy suggesting giving his spot to Kotkaniemi before this one started. This last idea would be a mistake in my humble opinion. Danault has been an underrated soldier thus far this season.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 2 hits, 22:21 T.O.I.