The Habs tried to find the road to victory during Saturday’s late-night start in Winnipeg after losing their last four games. Newly appointed coach Dominique Ducharme wasted little time in mixing things up as Jake Allen was the goaltender facing Connor Hellebuyck for this one. The blue line kept the same pairings, but what the team diagnosed as a short-term injury to Josh Anderson meant some changes up front. Tyler Toffoli moved up to the top unit beside Nick Suzuki and Jonathan Drouin, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was flanked by Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia, and Jake Evans returned to play alongside Paul Byron and Corey Perry.
These few changes are logical, leaving players to play with others they are comfortable with while learning the strategic changes that the new coach wanted to implement.
The game had great pace for the entire opening period despite the lack of scoring. This was easily the fastest I’ve seen the Habs since the start of this losing streak. Winnipeg had some chances as they are a well-oiled offensive machine, but the Habs played well defensively to limit those chances.
Alexander Romanov fired a shot off the post in the opening minutes with Gallagher in his office looking for a rebound. This energized Romanov who played his best period since the opening night against the Leafs. Another notable positive in the period was the fit of Toffoli on the top unit as they appeared threatening on many shifts in the period that saw the Habs outshoot the Jets 14-7.
Thirty seconds into the second period, Shea Weber got caught on the wrong side of the puck and was forced to take a holding penalty. The story of the penalty kill was Allen got some puck luck as Kyle Connor hit the post before he faced an onslaught and made at least four excellent stops on the sequence.
After Romanov hit his second post of the game, Sami Niku was penalized for hooking. The power play looked interesting but was cut short as Jeff Petry was penalized a minute later for interference. The shortened Winnipeg man advantage that followed was less dangerous than the first. On the next shift, Petry took another penalty. While it was a penalty, I would have liked to see Nikolaj Ehlers get one for embellishment too as he appeared as hurt as a soccer player on the play.
Ironically, it was Ehlers who got the puck and fired home the game’s first goal with a rocket in the top corner late in the power play. The zebra show continued the shift that followed the goal as Pierre-Luc Dubois took a penalty. The power play was far more static than the first but they were at least able to gain the zone.
With 4:47 left to play in the period, Suzuki caught Hellebuyck not sealing against his post properly as his shot from behind the net found the back of the net to even the score. Hellebuyck made up for it with a great save on Gallagher a few moments later to send the game into the third tied while the Habs remained ahead 27-16 on the shot clock.
The third saw both teams continue to work hard and fight for every loose puck. The Habs were able to play most of the sequence in the offensive zone but both teams were disciplined so scoring chances were scarce. The Canadiens really took over in the early portions of the second half of the period but they faced a Winnipeg netminder that was on his game. The Jets were continually coughing up the puck as they looked like Vancouver’s defence from earlier in the season. Unfortunately for the Habs, they were not able to solve Hellebuyck in regulation and the game needed overtime despite a 41-18 shot advantage.
The mind-numbing lack of confidence shown by the coaching staff in this team’s best players when overtime arrived was a flash from the past and absolutely not in a good way. Coach Ducharme started the overtime by playing Phillip Danault and Joel Armia up front, both of whom were fairly invisible all night long. He paired with them Petry, who is the right choice in overtime despite easily being the worse Habs defender on the night. The result was a panic play by Petry after a good Allen save that coughed up the puck and Ehlers put a shot on net with Paul Stastny getting the rebound and the empty net to end the game. A frustrating end to an otherwise well-played game by the Habs.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Nick Suzuki
This was Suzuki’s best game in a long time. He was stealing pucks in the offensive zone, finding his wingers in stride on the breakout, and just appeared to have the game slow-down for him on this night. He was rewarded with the ugly looking goal which was enough to secure the Habs a point.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 3 hits, 21:03 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jake Allen
Allen really wasn’t tested that often but when the Habs got in big penalty trouble in the second period, Allen stood on his head to calm the team down and allow them to get back into the game. Considering the momentum-killing goals that have found their way by Carey Price recently, there is no doubt in my mind that Price will be given the time to figure his game out and Allen will be back in net on Tuesday night. I hope so anyway (and that’s not a Price-bash!)
Stats: 19 saves, 21 shots against, 1.95 GAA, .905 save %, 60:36 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Alexander Romanov
After watching Romanov really struggle in the last few games of Claude Julien’s reign, watching this game where he looked more like the player seen in the first five games of the season was a welcome sight. I would personally love to see him get some extra shifts next to Weber when this happens. Hard to do that in this one as Chiarot was also excellent, but Romanov remains the future on the blue line and it would be nice to see him treated that way when the opportunity presents itself.
Stats: 4 shots, 1 hit, 17:20 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jonathan Drouin
I was very skeptical of Drouin coming into the season and he is absolutely turning me around. He has been, along with Josh Anderson, the Habs most consistently good forward since the start of the season. Over the last two games, I think he’s actually managed to find another gear entirely as he reunites with his junior coach. He’s been engaged in all three zones, he’s actually been physical, and it’s clear that the offensive freedom being preached by the new coach is a breath of fresh air for Drouin who has looked dangerous. Can’t wait for it to start going in for him, he’s deserved it.
Stats: +1, 2 shots, 19:52 T.O.I.