The Canadiens were back in action on Thursday as they tried to make up for Tuesday’s collective dropping of the ball in New York. As they attempted to once again avoid losing a second game in a row for the first time this season, they were hosting a team with a very similar record to their own in the Buffalo Sabres.
Carey Price returned to the net after a frustrating third period for him at Madison Square Garden, a night that prompted the quick return of the white pads and gloves for the Habs netminder. The equipment change helped very little, for what it’s worth. Andrew Shaw was moved up to the second line to provide some defensive cushioning for Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin. Charles Hudon was moved to the fourth line with Matthew Peca and Nicolas Deslauriers after a three-game disappearing act. Kenny Agostino, fresh from his recall, was inserted next to Artturi Lehkonen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi for the injured Joel Armia. The final change to the roster was Karl Alzner drawing in for Noah Juulsen who appeared on Tuesday like a rest was without a doubt in order.
For the Sabres, Linus Ullmark was the starting goaltender. Ullmark was benched in favour of Carter Hutton for the third period, and this would prove to be a wise decision by the Sabres as they skated away with a 6-5 overtime victory.
The game started with both teams exchanging scoring chances as a bad pinch by Xavier Ouellet left Victor Mete alone to defend a 2-on-1 that Price handled. After the whistle, some strong board play by Jordie Benn and Brendan Gallagher resulted in a Tomas Tatar partial breakaway that was thwarted by a hook from Jeff Skinner who received a penalty on the play.
The power play would get some help when Drouin got a stick in the face. Despite extended zone time, the 5-on-3 did not get a good look on Ullmark.
With both penalties expired, a second bad pinch by Ouellet created yet another 2-on-1 that Mete defended poorly. The result was a cross-ice pass for Vladimir Sobotka who finished for a 1-0 lead.
The lead would be short-lived as Shaw completed a solid defensive play that sent Domi and Drouin off to the races. Domi threaded the needle and found Drouin with an awesome pass to tie the game with eleven minutes to play.
A flurry of goals over a four-minute span marked the second half of the period. This started when Price juggled an easy shot from the corner, creating a rebound for Sobotka to tap home. The goal would be contested by Julien for goaltender interference, but the goal inexplicably counted despite Nathan Beaulieu impeding Price’s pad with his stick.
The Habs would bounce back in ten seconds when Hudon found Peca who faked the wrap-around before cutting behind Ullmark and scoring a rather weak goal by banking it off of his pad for his first as a Hab.
A minute later, another faceoff lost by Danault ended up behind Price when the puck found itself behind the net and Casey Mittelstadt found Conor Sheary in the slot for a one-timer.
Montreal once again answered as 34 seconds later, Domi beat two Sabres for the puck high in the offensive zone before firing toward the net. Drouin deflected the puck through Ullmark, and Shaw pounced on the loose puck to tie the game.
Before the intermission, Hudon was hit in the face with a stick for another Habs power play that would lead to nowhere to keep the score 3-3 after one period.
The second period started with the Sabres showing the same weak defensive play as they did in the first as a strong shift by Danault-Lehkonen-Shaw created numerous chances in the opening two minutes.
With the Habs in complete control of the period and the crowd buzzing after a magical deke by Kotkaniemi, Domi attempted a fancy play inside his blue line instead of clearing the puck. His pass was intercepted forcing Domi to commit a foul. With a delayed penalty against Domi, Jack Eichel rang a shot off the post before Skinner pounced on the rebound for yet another one-goal lead.
A minute later, Deslauriers completed a strong defensive play before tripping a Sabres defender in the offensive zone for a totally unnecessary penalty. The Habs completed a strong penalty thanks in large part to strong play by Jeff Petry and Shaw.
A few minutes after this, strong defensive zone play by Mete and a good breakout pass sent Domi and Tatar on a 2-on-1 and this time Domi saucered a pass to Tatar who promptly tied the game once again.
Play would settle considerably as both teams would understandably begin to look afraid of making a mistake. With four minutes left in the period, Alzner ran interference to send the Sabres to their second power play in the period. With the man advantage almost over, yet another Buffalo turnover created by Peca quickly became a breakout pass to Deslauriers who skated in and beat Ullmark five-hole for the Habs first lead of the night.
On the next shift, Ouellet was called for a tripping penalty as his rough night continued. Luckily for him, the Buffalo power play was horrendous and the Habs escaped to the intermission with a 5-4 lead.
Carter Hutton started the third period for the Sabres and was promptly tested by Lehkonen immediately despite the 50-second carryover power play that remained. The Sabres saw their advantage expire but remained in the Montreal zone. A third Danault faceoff loss ended up in the Montreal net when Eichel beat Danault, reached the puck and passed to Skinner who had a completely empty net to tie the game minutes into the third period.
At the five-minute mark of the period, Jake McCabe clipped Petry at the knee to send Montreal to the man advantage. For the second time in the game, the Sabres took a penalty while shorthanded as Rasmus Ristolainen hit Shaw from behind. The second 5-on-3 was as dangerous as the first (which means not at all); the remaining power play did create some good chances for Domi and Drouin, but Hutton was making Phil Housley look smart.
Both teams exchanged long sequences of play where they controlled the play in the opposition zone and created scoring chances. Despite these long stretches, neither team could capitalize, and the game would require overtime.
The overtime was at the image of the game as the Canadiens made a rare good defensive play which led to a 2-on-1. On the sequence, Lehkonen missed the net and the Sabres exited their zone. Strong backchecks by Lehkonen and Peca should have negated any scoring chance, but a slap shot by Ristolainen somehow handcuffed Price to give Buffalo the desired second point.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Max Domi
Absolutely everything that Domi is touching right now is ending up in the opposition’s net. With a seventh consecutive game with at least a point, Domi is quickly becoming a fan favourite as the forward not only scores like Alexei Kovalev, he also works as hard as Gallagher and plays on the edge like Shaw. Here’s hoping the small sample size is sustainable for Domi because what a move by Bergevin if it is.
Stats: 3 assists, +2, 1 shot, 19:15 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Matthew Peca
Peca enjoyed the return of Hudon on his line to look dangerous all night long. He used his speed and forechecked hard and intelligently. His pass to Deslauriers on the latter’s goal was a nice effort also. Peca may never be able to make a two-point effort the norm so it’s important to highlight the games where he shines like he did tonight.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 13:54 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jonathan Drouin
Drouin has been stuck in a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde pattern of late and that trend continued. After a horrendous effort on Tuesday, Drouin was skating hard and making strong defensive plays all night long. Oh yeah, two points don’t hurt either. If only he could keep it going for more than one game at a time.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 4 shots, 2 hits, 18:24 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Nicolas Deslauriers
Now, there may be players not mentioned above that played better than Deslauriers. Having said this, Deslauriers easily played his best game of the season, looking like the 2017-18 version. With the injuries quickly piling up (Joel Armia’s knee injury will cost him 6-8 weeks), Deslauriers finding his game is a depth acquisition at best, but it remains important to this team at this moment.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2, 4 shots, 2 hits, 12:24 T.O.I.