The Habs were back in action for a Sunday contest at the BB&T Center in Sunrise as they faced the Panthers. This was a good thing for the Habs as they looked to quickly forget Saturday’s contest against the Lightning. Claude Julien opted to keep his lineup the same for the quick turnaround. This included a return to the net for Carey Price who wanted to be better in this one. He faced Sergei Bobrovsky and both goaltenders were not playing up to their contracts in this contest. With both teams playing some wide-open hockey, both goalies were called upon to save their teams and neither was really up to the task. Unfortunately, the Panthers have a few elite scorers and they were the difference as the Panthers won the game 6-5.
The opening five minutes of play was relatively even as the Habs got some chances but failed to convert. The best chance came from the stick of Brendan Gallagher who beat Bobrovsky but not the post. When the Panthers got their chances, they did convert. The first goal came from Noel Acciari as he had Jesperi Kotkaniemi all over him but still managed to put home a rebound. A minute later, Ryan Poehling was unable to clear the zone due to a broken stick. The result was Aleksander Barkov with the puck all alone in the slot as he made no mistake on Price for a 2-0 lead.
The second half of the period kicked off with a Nate Thompson hold that was matched in legitimacy by a tripping penalty on Aaron Ekblad a few seconds later (both were soft). Both special teams were excellent for the Habs as Poehling and Nick Suzuki worked the penalty and Jeff Petry and Suzuki set up none other than Tomas Tatar to reduce the lead.
With five minutes left in the period, Brendan Gallagher and Kotkaniemi took an offensive zone penalty opening the door for a second Florida power play. The Habs were able to kill the penalty but Kotkaniemi committed the same mistake as he took a tripping minor in the offensive zone with under two minutes to play. The Habs were once again able to kill the penalty to end the period.
The Canadiens started the period by killing the seconds left on the penalty before teams exchanged penalties as the Panthers were caught with too many men on the ice and Gallagher was called for a high stick negating the advantage early in the power play.
The 4-on-4 opened the Petry show as he, Domi and Suzuki created two scoring chances, Petry scoring on the second occasion. 52 seconds later, Brett Kulak joined the rush before finding Domi who was patient before firing one home for a 3-2 Montreal lead. With the teams back at even strength, Huberdeau and Barkov went to work victimizing Kulak and Kotkaniemi to work a give-and-go to even the score still only four minutes into the period.
With only seven minutes expired in the period, the Habs returned to the power play but it would once again be negated as Phillip Danault was called for tripping a minute later.
With 6:30 left in the period, Huberdeau attempted a pass to the slot that bounced off Danault and then Ben Chiarot to find itself in the back of the net as the Panthers regained the lead. 20 seconds later, Shea Weber got caught looking at the puck as Huberdeau was left alone as he skated in and fired one over Price’s shoulder, yet another goal that Price would like to have back as that made five goals allowed on 20 shots.
The Panthers started the third period by extending their lead as a point-shot by Michael Matheson was deflected by Weber (he and Chiarot were now -4!!) through Price only 45 seconds in.
A few minutes later, Frank Vatrano was called for tripping and the Habs were able to cut the lead after the first unit missed on numerous chances; Kotkaniemi did not miss his chance as he collected a rebound and fired one home to make it 6-4 with 15 minutes to play.
For the last 15 minutes, the Habs carried the play and the scoring chances. Bobrovsky made a few good stops; one on Chiarot with seven minutes to play comes to mind. But mostly, they missed on some excellent chances.
Finally, with a little under two minutes to play and Price on the bench for the extra attacker, Petry found Weber for a one-timer that beat Bobrovsky to make it a one-goal game.
They would continue to push for the equalizer in the last minute but came up short once again. In the end, another strong offensive game was wasted by a pathetic defensive effort (by the defence, but also the forwards and Price) as the score ended 6-5.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Nick Suzuki
After a tough game defensively in Tampa, Suzuki continued to show maturity beyond his years as he bounced back with an excellent game that saw him win important puck battles to be the offensive catalyst on both the power play and at 5-on-5.
Stats: 3 assists, +2, 1 shot, 1 hit, 19:52 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Max Domi
As Domi continues to show shades of last season, we are quickly made to forget his month of November that made some fans suggest that his next contract would come at a discount. If he can continue to play like this until the rest of the season, it’s easy to imagine that the biggest chunk of the available cap space in Montreal will be sacrificed in re-signing him. Another productive night sees his recent point streak continue.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 5 shots, 17:03 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jeff Petry
When playing with Chiarot to start the year, there was some Norris talk surrounding Petry. Chiarot has moved on to play with Weber and that’s exactly where the Norris talk has gone to, though likely not on this night. Petry has struggled playing with Mete, Kulak, or taking shifts next to others. Finding Petry a stable partner would allow him to join the rush more often as he did regularly to help the Habs get back to a 2-2 score. The negative side of Petry was also on full display on this one as shown by the very average +/- despite some excellent offensive sequences.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +1, 4 shots, 1 hit, 18:23 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Tomas Tatar
The power play sniper struck again and one has to wonder what exactly the price for Tatar will be if the Habs continue to slip in the standings and end up being sellers at the deadline? He’s been so reliable over 200 feet of ice during his stay in Montreal that it would be tough to see him traded. How could aspiring teams not be interested in such a player?
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, -1, 4 shots, 3 hits, 18:48 T.O.I.