Less than 24 hours after Claude Julien and Kirk Muller were relieved of their duties, Dominique Ducharme’s new era as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens began at the Bell MTS Centre in Winnipeg against the Jets.
A couple of lineup changes were made prior to the game with Tomas Tatar being reunited on the top line with Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher while Artturi Lehkonen returned to the lineup with Jake Evans becoming now the healthy scratch. That meant that Paul Byron moved over to play centre on that unit, a position he hasn’t played much of since joining Montreal.
For the first 14 minutes of the game, this was a tight battle between two teams going at getting great chances to open the scoring but both goaltenders were making sharp saves.
With six minutes left in the first period, Alexander Romanov found Joel Armia with a stellar long pass that sprung Armia on a breakaway and he beat Connor Hellebuyck five-hole to open the scoring.
Four minutes later, off a turnover in the neutral zone, Jeff Petry fed it up Jonathan Drouin to start a two-on-one. He passed it to an open area where Armia got to it and tipped in his second goal of the game to make it 2-0 for the Canadiens.
Carey Price came up huge in the dying seconds of the first period making a big save to keep Winnipeg off the board and the teams entered the first intermission with the Habs comfortably in front.
It wasn’t all good news for the Canadiens though. Josh Anderson was the victim of a slew foot by Dylan DeMelo with just under five minutes left in the first period and wasn’t on the bench for the beginning of the second period; it was confirmed early in the period that he would not return. That resulted in Armia getting a promotion onto Nick Suzuki’s line.
Surprisingly enough, both teams were even in shots at 8-8 despite the Canadiens leading by two. Five minutes into the second period, Shea Weber took an undisciplined penalty when he batted a puck in the air over the glass and out and was called for delay of game. Winnipeg’s man advantage didn’t last long as the Jets got on the scoresheet when Kyle Connor found a loose puck and tapped it into the back of the net 35 seconds in to cut Montreal’s lead to 2-1.
38 seconds later, the Canadiens got their first power play of the game when Neal Pionk was called for high sticking and almost like the Jets, less than a minute into the man advantage Jesperi Kotkaniemi found Tatar who beat Hellebuyck to make it 3-1. While they struggled with their zone entries leading up to the goal, Kotkaniemi was able to get around the defender and effectively created a two-on-none for Tatar.
However, four minutes later Connor was at it again finishing a great passing play with Paul Stastny and Nikolaj Ehlers, beating Price to make it 3-2 with a superb shot that went high blocker side.
The momentum and the game were starting to turn in Winnipeg’s favour and three minutes later, Blake Wheeler tied the game when he beat Price who was screened in front and managed to beat him low glove side. To make things worse, Corey Perry was caught with a high stick when Montreal had the puck in the offensive zone. No call was made and Perry was slow getting to the bench which gave Winnipeg more room to work with in transition.
Montreal took another penalty on the last play of the second period as Jeff Petry hit Andrew Copp with a shoulder to the head and the Canadiens would start the third period shorthanded.
They were able to kill that off but the penalty troubles continued for Montreal as Ben Chiarot was called for high sticking. The Jets were able to put on immense pressure looking for their first lead of the game but the Habs managed to kill the penalty.
Despite not being able to score on the man advantage, Winnipeg kept pushing and a minute later Nate Thompson managed to beat Price five-hole to give Winnipeg a 4-3 lead that really pushed the momentum in their favour.
A couple of minutes later, Montreal had another chance on the man advantage when Blake Wheeler was called for hooking. The Jets also did a good job of killing the penalty and negated any opportunity that Montreal came up with.
The Canadiens kept shooting themselves in the foot and three minutes after Winnipeg took the lead, Joel Edmundson got called for slashing. Despite not being able to score once again on the power play, Pierre-Luc Dubois extended the Jets lead to making it 5-3 just as the penalty expired as he received a great pass and had a wide gaping net to put the puck in.
Corey Perry, sensing his team needed a boost, dropped the gloves shortly after with Nikolaj Ehlers and it was a pretty good one with both players getting some good shots in.
Mark Scheifele added an empty netter to make it 6-3 to seal the comeback win and these two teams will be back at it Saturday night where Montreal will look to put together a more complete effort.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Joel Armia
Armia played one of the best games of his season so far scoring two early goals and unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. He started the game on the fourth line and made his way to the second line after Anderson left the game due to injury and played a pretty solid game. If Anderson’s injury is serious I don’t see why he can’t play on that line as he compliments it quite well.
Stats: 2 goals, +2, 2 shots, 16:38 TOI
2nd Star – Tomas Tatar
Tatar was clear he wasn’t happy being scratched and being reunited on that first line with Danault and Gallagher certainly helped his game as he scored a goal and was a threat on offence every time he was on the ice. He will need to pick things up and get things going especially in a contract year.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 shots, 16:21 TOI
3rd Star – Jonathan Drouin
He didn’t score but he did finish the game with an assist and continues to be almost a point per game player and has improved immensely after having subpar seasons in the past. Things are looking up for young Drouin who continues to be a serious offensive threat.
Stats: 1 assist, -2, 2 shots, 17:54 TOI
Honourable Mention – Nick Suzuki
Didn’t have his best game of the season but he was all over the ice and continues to improve with every game. He did relatively well on that second line with Drouin and Anderson, even when Anderson left and was replaced by Armia.
Stats: -1, 1 shots, 19:09 TOI