The Habs went into Saturday night hoping that they could get some revenge on Winnipeg after losing in overtime on Thursday. Mission accomplished as the offence sprung to life, putting up seven goals in a 7-1 victory.
Josh Anderson made his return to the lineup for this one with Artturi Lehkonen being the healthy scratch. More notably, there was some line juggling with Anderson playing with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Tyler Toffoli and Joel Armia being alongside Nick Suzuki and Jonathan Drouin. Carey Price was in net as the goalie rotation continued.
Thursday’s game was a high-tempo affair but the start of this one was anything but. Forget about scoring chances, shots on goal were few and far between as the two teams managed only eight combined in the first half of the first period. At the end of that stretch was a Montreal power play that had some good puck control and successfully worked the puck down low but they weren’t able to open up the scoring.
As it turns out, Montreal’s best chance came not long after that as Brendan Gallagher sprung Drouin on a breakaway but Connor Hellebuyck got a piece of that. While they didn’t know it at the time, it was a sign of things to come with good chances getting denied and lesser ones going in.
The first of that latter category came about a minute and a half after Drouin’s opportunity. Kotkaniemi tried to dump the puck in the corner but it took a bounce and went right into the slot. Hellebuyck, expecting the puck to go around the boards, went behind his net which left a vacant cage for Anderson to pot one of his easier goals of the season.
The Jets found their skating legs after that and carried the play for the final few minutes but were unable to beat Price. Montreal held the 1-0 lead after 20 minutes and carried a narrow shot edge, 11-9.
The one line out of the top three that remained intact was dangerous in the second period with Tomas Tatar getting a chance on their opening shift that was denied. Their efforts would eventually be rewarded later on, however.
Before that happened, Tyler Toffoli’s home scoring streak continued. Tucker Poolman tried to clear the puck but Shea Weber pinched quite aggressively, narrowly beating Paul Stastny to it. Weber poked the puck ahead to Toffoli who was open in the slot who went bar down on Hellebuyck.
Now let’s go back to the Tatar line. His linemates quickly went to work. Off another odd bounce on a dump-in, the puck found its way to Phillip Danault. He quickly fired a pass to Brendan Gallagher who had about two-thirds of a vacant net to shoot at. He missed that but snuck it under Hellebuyck to make it 3-0.
That line did it again on their next shift. Danault’s first pass attempt didn’t get through but he quickly got it back, spun a no-look pass to Gallagher who was somehow left all alone in the slot and he quickly lifted it past Hellebuyck, ending the netminder’s night in the process.
In came Laurent Brossoit and his start couldn’t have been any worse. On the first shot he faced, Armia took a feed from Drouin at the blue line, skated in, and fired a weak wrister that had no business beating Brossoit but it did, making it 5-0 and basically putting the final nail in the coffin right then and there. Winnipeg didn’t muster up the late push like they did in the first and the period ended with Montreal holding the 10-8 advantage in shots.
The game of bad bounces continued for Winnipeg in the third. After Adam Lowry was banged up on an accidental shot block in the offensive zone, Trevor Lewis then took one off the hand, leaving him slow to get up. Montreal chipped it down the ice right to Brossoit who somehow couldn’t corral it with the puck bouncing to a rushing Paul Byron. He left off a weak wrister that again had no business going in but somehow went in to make it 6-0.
Four minutes later, the Habs were trying to force-feed the puck to Gallagher to give him a shot at the hat trick but couldn’t get the puck to him. It did, however, find its way to Jeff Petry whose seeing-eye shot from the point beat Brossoit who didn’t even flinch at it let alone try to stop it. (Having said that, there was a decent screen in front of him, at least.) The Habs were up a converted touchdown with all of two goals being of the somewhat-decent variety. Given their recent offensive struggles though, I don’t think they cared.
Alexander Romanov, who was battling Brett Kulak for the team lead in ice time in this one (more on that shortly) then was called for tripping Mathieu Perreault. Perreault then made the most of the power play opportunity, collecting a rebound and sliding it past a sprawled out Price to end his shutout bid. That didn’t exactly fire up the visitors as both teams were content to play it out with the Habs executing a late penalty kill when Phillip Danault was called for tripping Nikolaj Ehlers.
Despite the late kills, the ice time for Montreal’s defencemen was about as even as it could get. Kulak was the only Hab to reach 20 minutes on the night and he narrowly got there at 20:07 with Romanov next at 19:48. In fact, only Shea Weber failed to play 19 minutes as he ‘only’ played 18:07. Sure, a blowout affords these types of opportunities but I don’t expect the six blueliners to be that tight in ice time from first to last anytime soon.
Price wasn’t tested a lot but had a solid first game following the goalie coach change, stopping all but one of Winnipeg’s 29 shots. Hellebuyck stopped 15 of 19 while Brossoit allowed three goals on just nine Montreal shots, none of them particularly dangerous. Special teams were the one area that Winnipeg won, going 1/2 with the man advantage while the Habs didn’t score with their lone opportunity.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Brendan Gallagher – There have been nights this season where he has looked quieter than usual, lacking the buzz that he usually has even when he’s not scoring. This was not one of those. He was right in the slot for both of his goals and was the catalyst of the line that did the most damage.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +3 rating, 3 shots, 14:23 TOI
2nd Star: Tyler Toffoli – In the first half of the game (before it became a bit of a rout), Toffoli was one of Montreal’s better scoring threats and showed no ill effects from transitioning back from his natural position to his off wing. His shot for the eventual game-winner was nice but it also once again demonstrated how quietly effective he is at getting to an open area. Some of his teammates should take some notes as being open makes anyone much more dangerous.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating, 1 shot, 13:39 TOI
3rd Star: Phillip Danault – He has been skewered for his lack of production this season and rightfully so. But let’s give credit where credit is due. He made two terrific passes to Gallagher on the goals that drastically flipped the script in the game and, quite frankly, played with a lot more confidence than we’ve seen lately. I’m not saying that this is leading to his drought coming to an end but he’s a big part of the effectiveness of that line and a night like this could go a long way towards getting him back on track.
Stats: 2 assists, +3 rating, 2 PIMS, 7/12 faceoffs, 15:12 TOI
Honourable Mention: Jesperi Kotkaniemi – I could very easily go with Tatar here just for helping that line have the night it did. But I’ll go with Kotkaniemi who looked comfortable with Josh Anderson early on when that line was going early on. He also gets the nod for a surprisingly strong game at the faceoff dot, something we haven’t seen much of from him. You can debate the merits of how important faceoffs are but if he can show some steady improvement in that regard, he’ll start getting more ice time.
Stats: 1 assist, +2 rating, 1 shot, 2 hits, 13/15 faceoffs, 13:59 TOI