The Habs finally returned to action on Monday night after an extended break that included their bye week and the All-Star festivities over the weekend. Their first game back was at the Bell Centre as they hosted the Alex Ovechkin-less Washington Capitals. They started the night on the right foot with a video tribute to Kobe Bryant that was extremely well done.
The goaltending matchup featured the expected Carey Price and Braden Holtby. With none of Jonathan Drouin, Paul Byron or Brenden Gallagher ready to return, the forwards line remained unchanged from the last game. On the blue line, Marco Scandella was a late insertion into the lineup which meant that Cale Fleury sat out.
The Habs played an overall good game. They went toe-to-toe with one of the better teams around the lead and they lost 4-2 after an empty net and some terrible puck luck. This game could have gone either way, but another loss improves the chances that the Habs will be sellers very soon.
In what was an eventful start to the game, the Habs opened the scoring just 1:55 into the contest. Tomas Tatar stopped in the high slot and had everyone in the building thinking he was looking at a streaking Ilya Kovalchuk. Instead, he slid a quick pass to Jeff Petry who was passing in front of the net. Petry quickly slipped the puck between Holtby’s pads for the early lead.
The lead was almost extended on the next shift when Jesperi Kotkaniemi found an open Nick Cousins in the slot who fired into Holtby’s chest protector. Then Victor Mete was called for holding but the Habs held up against a still dangerous power play. They were quickly rewarded with their own man advantage that was also squandered.
The second half of the period slowed down considerably as both teams appeared to be a little tired. After such a lengthy absence, the lack of stamina to get through the period isn’t so surprising.
The experience of the Capitals came into play as time ran on as their ability to manage the fatigue with more wisdom than the Habs. With 2:32 to play in the period, Evgeny Kuznetsov got free on a partial break that Price stopped but led to a Max Domi slashing call. This second power play attempt for Washington evened the score when a scramble behind the net allowed Tom Wilson to get open in the slot for a Jakub Vrana pass that was one-timed home.
The period finished with a 1-1 score but not before Kovalchuk created a great chance for Tatar that was stopped before Phillip Danault retaliated after a hit as time expired.
The Danault high stick meant the Habs started the second on the penalty kill. The Capitals created momentum for the period on said power play as they capitalized in the final moments. A scramble in front of the net resulted in the puck slowly hitting Petry’s skate before trickling past the goal line with the goal being credited to Travis Boyd.
Nick Suzuki played like a veteran on his next shift as he lured Wilson into taking a completely selfish penalty and Wilson obliged. Unfortunately for Suzuki, the effort was for nought as the power play was far from qualifying as a good one. The Habs got a second chance after T.J. Oshie tripped Kotkaniemi, but the result was the same.
The second half of the period started with the puck skipping over Brett Kulak’s stick sending the Caps in all alone. Price made two excellent stops to keep the game within reach. The saves were paired with a big hit by Dale Weise to spark the Habs as they gained momentum. The Capitals were completely under siege, so it was strange to see them flip the puck out of the zone with one or two players cheating offensively.
Nevertheless, the Habs lost all that momentum with five minutes to play when the puck skipped over Shea Weber’s stick. Kuznetsov was immediately present to pounce on the loose and sent it to the front of the net where Vrana beat Price five-hole to make it 3-1. The Caps controlled the entirety of the time left as Price made several saves to keep the score as it was heading to the third period.
The Habs came out with a clear objective to attack the Capitals in the third. They did, but the chances created just weren’t very convincing in the opening five minutes. Joel Armia hit the post for the best chance as Holtby was able to catch the puck after the strike on the post but it was ruled to have stayed out.
The Armia chance did motivate the team to attack the middle of the ice as Artturi Lehkonen got a great chance on the very next shift. A few moments later, Weise and Cousins completed some solid forecheck work. This led to Suzuki getting the puck at the blue line and skillfully finding Weise in front of the net who waited out Holtby before sliding it home to make it 3-2.
With eight minutes to play, Weise and Thompson missed what appeared to be a wide-open net to tie the game. Holtby had to multiply the important stops in the final five minutes as the Habs really pressed for the equalizer. This all started with a shift from the Danault line that saw Tatar and Kovalchuk miss some great chances. With two minutes left, Price was sent to the bench. The Habs attacked but were content by staying on the periphery and they finally lost a boards battle which resulted in Nicklas Backstrom finding the empty net and ending the game by a 4-2 score.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Tomas Tatar
This has to be the quietest 70-point campaign I’ve ever witnessed. Tatar is on pace to reach that milestone and yet so many from the fan base want to see him traded. I just don’t get it. Unless Marc Bergevin receives an offer that blows him away, I’m not only keeping Tatar into next season, I’m inquiring as to the price that will be required to extend such a steady and productive winger. Tonight, he made quiet, savvy plays all night long, the nicest of which allowed the Habs to get on the board first.
Stats: 1 assist, -1, 2 shots, 18:32 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Dale Weise
Weise was responsible for creating a momentum shift in the second period with some hard-nosed play. In the third, he was rewarded for his play as he brought the team to within a goal. For a player that spent most of the season in Laval and is said to be washed up, he’s been performing admirably over the last few weeks for Claude Julien.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 1 shot, 5 hits, 9:27 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Nick Suzuki
I thought Suzuki was completely asleep for most of the first period. Thankfully, Wilson woke up the rookie with a hit. Suzuki hit back and the smile he had on his face after luring Wilson to take the penalty signalled that he had arrived in this game. He created many chances after this play and one of those plays counted for a goal as Weise was able to cash in where Armia and Domi once too many on this night.
Stats: 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 2 shots, 1 hit, 16:34 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Carey Price
Price made some excellent saves to keep his team in the game, notably in the second period where the Habs were outplayed by the Caps. He’s likely to answer that he would have enjoyed just one more save on this night, but it seems to be a strange year like this for the star netminder. He allows some goals, gets some crappy luck, makes some great saves, but the total of it all never seems to be enough for the win.
Stats: 36 saves, 39 shots, .923 save %, 3.07 GAA, 58:35 TOI.