The Habs kicked off a busy week with a Monday night rematch against the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers opted to replace some struggling defenders while the Habs kept their lineup the same with one major exception. Carey Price got a rest as Jake Allen made his Montreal debut facing Mikko Koskinen who hoped for a more stable outing than Saturday’s.
I have to admit that I questioned this decision when they announced it. I understand the logic of wanting to get Allen a game as soon as possible, and that this start allowed the team to respect the plan of playing Allen way more than we’ve seen other backups in recent memory. My questioning was dead wrong as Allen was the best player on the ice on this night as the Habs took way too many penalties but still managed to leave Edmonton with a two-game sweep after a 3-1 victory.
As expected, the Oilers came out flying and the Habs had to weather the storm. Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jake Evans came up with big defensive early shifts in the game as coach Dave Tippett opted to play some matchup games to get Connor McDavid away from the Phillip Danault line. Brendan Gallagher was the most offensively engaged Hab in the period as he got two good scoring chances early but was unable to beat Koskinen. Koskinen did look shaky on both plays though, so I’m sure that message was quickly spread across the Montreal bench.
Just before the midway point of the period, Evans won an offensive zone face-off and Brett Kulak completed an intelligent play as he quickly got the puck to Alexander Romanov who fired a weak wrist shot from the blue line that beat Koskinen for a 1-0 lead to give him his first career NHL goal.
The second half of the period was the Jake Allen show as the Habs spent way too much time in the penalty box. Danault started the parade with a clear interference penalty as he fell behind his coverage on the back-check with 6:30 to play. Allen made an awesome save on McDavid to start the PK, but a dumb needless play by Joel Armia who held on to the puck carrier made it an extended 5-on-3 for the Oilers. Ben Chiarot played some big physical minutes down low to help his goaltender and the Habs thought they escaped danger. As the penalties ended, Chiarot cleared the puck over the glass extending Edmonton’s advantage. Once again, Allen was simply spectacular in keeping the Oilers off the board as the Habs were lucky to retreat with a lead after the first.
It was a quiet second period but it started off with Gallagher missing an empty net to extend the lead. Tyler Toffoli missed a good scoring chance on the next shift, and then the Oilers got another power play as Romanov was called on a retaliatory cross-check in front of Allen. The penalty kill was led by Allen who was once again stellar as Edmonton could not score. A little over two minutes later, it was Phillip Danault drawing the Habs first man advantage of the night. It was a power play that looked like last season as the Habs were simply unable to gain the offensive zone.
With 6:50 left, it was Nick Suzuki who drew a penalty and the power play got good movement this time, but they were still unable to cash it in. With only three minutes to play, Gallagher committed an absolutely boneheaded check on Nurse that was an easy call for the officials as they could have called it a few different penalties (interference, cross-check, hit from behind). Luckily for Gallagher, Allen made another few big stops before McDavid took a penalty negating their man advantage.
With 14 seconds left in the period, Shea Weber banked a shot off Koskinen’s back to score. The goal was initially waved off due to goalie interference, but a challenge overturned the terrible call to extend the lead. Alex Chiasson hit the post in the few seconds that were left, but the Habs were headed to the third up 2-0.
The Habs came out with the mission to put everyone to sleep in the third period. It worked for the first five minutes until Weber cross-checked Draisaitl to send Edmonton to the man advantage. Another PK hero emerged as this time it was Jake Evans with the big shift to keep Edmonton out of the offensive zone.
Evans then drew a penalty to send the Habs to the advantage. They too would not score but came close late as there was a pile-up around Koskinen that resulted in Tomas Tatar putting a puck in the net after the whistle.
The second half of the period started with Suzuki taking a weak tripping minor. His teammates were quick to defend him though as Danault and Artturi Lehkonen were able to out-hustle the Oilers and earn themselves a 2-on-1. Lehkonen opted for the shot and it was the right decision as it fooled Koskinen for a 3-0 lead with only seven minutes to play.
Joakim Nygard took a penalty with three minutes left, but this time it was the Oilers with the shorthanded marker as Suzuki and Jonathan Drouin played soft on the breakout and Devin Shore picked their pocket and spoiled Allen’s shutout bid. It was too little too late though as the Habs big-bodied defence withstood the late pressure without giving up many chances to the Oilers for the win.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jake Allen
The Habs played with fire on this night as their barrage of penalties could have cost them some points in the standings. The best backup in the league was up to the task though and secured two points for his new squad with some stellar saves all night long. As good as Price was on Saturday, Allen was likely better on this night. What a night for him in his Habs debut!
Stats: 26 shots, 25 saves, .962 save %, 1.01 GAA, 59:38 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher didn’t get the bounces to get on the scoreboard, but boy did he seem to be finding the puck in the right spots all night long. After two strong shifts to open the game for Edmonton, it was Gallagher’s strong play that got the Habs to settle down and compete. He then proceeded to be his usual self, showing for the second game in a row that the Danault line was still one that meant business even if it’s not the shiny new toy on the team. Something is to be said for consistency when it comes to Gallagher.
Stats: 5 shots, 14:58 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Alexander Romanov
Another big night for the young Russian as he saw the ice plenty, played physical, played intelligently on the power play, and even got his first career goal. It maybe wasn’t as flashy as his debut, but he’s quickly becoming efficient while still showing some offensive flare. How impressive considering he’s three games into his NHL career.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 3 shots, 4 hits, 17:43 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Special Teams
What a difference a new season makes. The league-leading power play in Edmonton from last season just went 0 for 10 in two games against this Habs penalty kill. The Habs even managed to score some SHGs in each game. For their part, the Habs went 2 for 7 despite also surrendering a SHG. A season ago, the script gets flipped on that, and frankly, the results may have followed. Could have fooled me if you would have told me the Habs were winning two in a row in Edmonton on the back of their special teams play.