The Habs hosted the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night as they tried to string together a third consecutive victory. If they were not to extend the streak, the eternal optimist could say that at least they lost to a team below them in the standings thus helping their own draft positioning. Carey Price got the night off, so it was Charlie Lindgren who faced Corey Crawford who always loves to play in Montreal. No other lineup changes were made by Claude Julien who saw his team fall flat for the most part on this night and finish with a 4-1 loss at the Habs-unfriendly Bell Centre.
The opening of the game was rather slow as the two teams who aren’t too familiar with each other were not immediately engaged. Crawford took a scary spill behind his own net with no one around him that almost allowed Ben Chiarot an open net, but Crawford recovered in time.
With only three minutes expired, Cale Fleury was called for hooking on a play that certainly wouldn’t be called in the playoffs. The Habs only had to kill 80 seconds before the Hawks were called for a penalty that matched Fleury’s in intensity. With the 4-on-4 concluded and the Habs on the power play, Lindgren fell asleep at the wheel behind his net as he held on too long and allowed Drake Caggiula to steal the puck and find Zack Smith in the slot for an early 1-0 lead.
Just before the midway point in the period, the Hawks were able to trap the kids’ line in the defensive zone. They cycled the puck until Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Victor Mete got caught looking at the puck and soft covering the same player. That left Smith alone in the slot to tip home a shot from the blue line for his second of the game.
The Habs appeared to be without an answer to the intense forecheck offered by Chicago as Lindgren was forced to make a couple of really solid stops before the end of the period. However, the last five minutes were completely dominated by the Habs, and this started with an excellent shift from the fourth line that resulted in Mete and Dale Weise missing on some excellent chances before the end of the period.
The Habs came out for the second and quickly made it a game. Only 54 seconds into the period, a cycle down low between Tomas Tatar, Ilya Kovalchuk and Phillip Danault opened the slot and allowed Danault enough time to find the opening on Crawford and cut the lead in half.
Montreal played well in the second, but they were far too content to attack the outside of the offensive zone. With 11 minutes to play, Caggiula caught Kovalchuk with a high stick. The Habs power play was once again horrendous as they could never even gain the offensive zone in two minutes.
At the midway point of the period, Max Domi was absolutely goaded into taking a selfish roughing penalty against Matthew Highmore. The Blackhawks wasted little time in making Montreal pay as Kirby Dach bumped Lindgren while skating through the crease which resulted in Lindgren losing his blocker. Play continued and the puck ended up on Alex DeBrincat’s stick who took advantage of the situation to score on a disadvantaged Lindgren with the entire Habs bench infuriated by the non-call. Lindgren acknowledged after the game that the play wasn’t blown down because Montreal failed to establish control and clear the zone.
Domi was benched which is understandable. What is less understandable was the length of the benching, considering other players (I’ll name Nick Cousins and Jordan Weal) have been benched for less time for the same offence despite having less talent. Domi was benched through a power play after a Smith penalty for high-sticking. The advantage was unsuccessful, but what else can be expected from a top unit of Cousins, Weal and Artturi Lehkonen although they had an opportunity off the draw before things went off the rails. The period ended with the two-goal lead safe for the Hawks.
The Habs tried to push back in the third, but they simply were not willing to attack the centre of the ice and so the shots that did register were weak and inoffensive. With twelve minutes to play, the Habs were called for a ridiculously slow change that resulted in too many men. Jonathan Toews scored eight seconds later, but the goal was clearly kicked into the net, so the goal was called back. On most nights, getting that call would spark the team. On this night, not even that could spark the players that simply lacked a will to win though they were able to kill what was left of the bench minor.
With 8:20 to play, Weal was guilty of a brutal turnover as he was the last man back. Caggiula took the gift and skated in to beat Lindgren top corner. With the game out of reach, the Habs quit and Lindgren was forced to make another series of hard stops. Ryan Poehling was one of the only Habs who continued to work hard and he was rewarded with a scoring chance that he couldn’t capitalize on as the snoozefest mercifully ended with a 4-1 loss.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Phillip Danault
Danault continues to put together an excellent offensive season all the while taking care of silencing the opposition’s best night after night. In this one, his line was often hemmed in its own zone for the first 40 minutes, but when they created some chances, Danault was able to capitalize and keep his team in the game.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 1 hit, 20:13 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Charlie Lindgren
Lindgren was guilty of the boneheaded play that opened the scoring. Despite this, the Habs came out flat and had no legs in the first against the team that had played the night before. Lindgren had to multiply saves to bail out his team that was cheating all over the ice. Nice to see the team be this complacent after two wins considering the eight games prior to those victories. Regardless, Lindgren was the second-best Hab on this night. It’s not that Lindgren was an All-Star, the rest of the team just never bothered to show up.
Stats: 24 saves, 28 shots, .857 save %, 4.00 GAA, 59:47 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Ryan Poehling
The kid continues to play hard despite limited minutes and opportunities to shine. In my mind, he’s playing better hockey than Kotkaniemi and deserves some power play time, though I’d be ready to play anyone at this point just to see Weal and Cousins off of there. Poehling plays hard and uses his big frame to protect the puck, two things that the power play needs more than Weal’s weak wrist shot from the top of the circle with no traffic in front of the goaltender.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 1 shot, 2 hits, 12:00 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – None
It was hard enough to come up with three players that didn’t stink tonight, really no point in underlining a fourth player that was simply not as asleep as the rest of the team. Here’s hoping for a better effort on Thursday.
It appears that Montreal may have one of their forwards back for that contest as following the game, the Habs returned Matthew Peca to Laval and announced that Joel Armia would be making the trip to Philadelphia.