The Habs kicked off the first of several three-in-four stretches on Wednesday night as they were in Toronto to take on the Maple Leafs. They played well in some parts but were chasing the game in others, eventually falling 3-2.
They did so without Brendan Gallagher as it was announced today that he was placed on LTIR with a fractured finger and will be out six weeks which means his regular season has come to an end. Jake Evans was recalled from the taxi squad to take his place while Jesperi Kotkaniemi moved into Gallagher’s spot with Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault. That resulted in Corey Perry being moved up with Nick Suzuki and Josh Anderson. Jake Allen got the start with Cayden Primeau backing him up as he was also promoted from the taxi squad with Carey Price not making the trip. Meanwhile, Toronto was without William Nylander as it was announced not long before the game that he was going into COVID protocols after being a close contact of someone who tested positive for the virus.
The Maple Leafs were active off the opening faceoff and were rewarded for their efforts as just 54 seconds in, Auston Matthews got the puck from Ilya Mikheyev, did a wraparound, and was able to stuff it past Allen on the far side of the post.
Montreal was able to respond quickly as a minute in a half later, Perry received a pass from Suzuki and was in alone on Jack Campbell. He outwaited the Toronto netminder, eventually sliding the puck underneath his pad to tie the game at one. Both teams wound up scoring on their first shot of the game, a rare sight.
Toronto was the much better team in terms of puck possession early on, often establishing themselves in Montreal’s end for extended periods of time. One of those eventually resulted in a too many men call against the Habs as they were scrambling to get a change in and had one too many jump on. To make matters worse, Jake Evans was called for a slash on Mitch Marner midway through the advantage, giving the Leafs a five-on-three advantage. Sheldon Keefe called timeout to put his top unit back out there but while they were buzzing around the zone, they didn’t get much through to the net and the Canadiens were able to kill off both penalties.
Unfortunately for the Habs, they didn’t get much momentum from that as they were still lacking much in the way of energy. Despite that, they were able to escape the period with the score being 1-1; Toronto held a 13-7 shot advantage.
While the Maple Leafs controlled the first period, the second was a complete reversal. This time, the Habs came out buzzing and were able to establish control in Toronto’s zone for significant periods of time. Having said that, the true scoring chances were minimal as Montreal was largely held to the outside. The Leafs had one dangerous potentially chance early on but it was felled by Marner breaking his stick, turning a potential rush with speed into trying to play soccer.
The second half of the frame saw both sides start to pick it up offensively. First, Marner made a cross-ice feed to a streaking Zach Bogosian who was pinching in from the point but he could only shoot short-side with Allen making the stop.
On the ensuing shift, Tatar had a dangerous shot go wide and seconds later, Toronto came back two-on-one. John Tavares was alongside Justin Holl and opted to shoot with Allen making the stop.
With just under five minutes left in the period, the Habs got their first power play of the game when Matthews got his glove up on Perry, earning himself a roughing call. The man advantage did very little as they weren’t able to get set up in the zone for any extended period of time. Toronto loaded up their top line after the power play and had some good zone pressure but the Habs held them at bay.
The final good look of the frame went to Jonathan Drouin as he was sprung on a break on a good defensive zone stretch pass but his scoring woes continued as Campbell made the stop. Montreal held a 17-4 shot advantage in the period but the score remained 1-1.
The start of the third resembled the start of the first as it was the Leafs that put on the pressure early on. 1:45 in, Mikheyev was stopped off the rush while Tavares was denied on the rebound.
However, on the next shift, a poor job defensively in the corner allowed Toronto to retain control. Wayne Simmonds sent the puck to Alexander Barabanov (who was in for Nylander). His shot hit Victor Mete but bounced right into the slot for T.J. Brodie who buried his first of the season.
A minute later, after Danault was denied on a wrister on the rush, Allen made a huge pad save on Matthews who was inexplicably left alone in the slot. On the next shift, Tavares had a dangerous shot that Allen stopped; it was a shooting gallery for the Maple Leafs in the opening minute.
Montreal eventually found their bearings and started to put some pressure on near the 6:45 mark. Danault had a shot stopped, creating a rebound for Kotkaniemi but his shot missed the net. The Canadiens retained possession and the puck eventually worked its way over Joel Edmundson who rang one off the crossbar.
Tavares was once again stopped at the eight-minute mark and suffice it to say, he had a lot of jump in this one, even mixing it up with Danault physically. Two minutes after that, Toronto came in on a three-on-two rush. Matthews’ initial stop was stopped but the rebound went to Zach Hyman who potted it home to double the lead.
With eight minutes to go, the Maple Leafs came in with a four-on-two break but couldn’t get a shot off. That sent Montreal the other way on a two-on-one with Perry and Suzuki. Perry kept the puck and was tripped up by Travis Dermott, sending the Habs to their second man advantage. It was as ineffective as the first, however, as they squandered a key opportunity.
The Habs didn’t give up and Allen was pulled with just over three minutes left with the Canadiens holding possession in the Toronto end. The puck eventually came to Tyler Toffoli whose wrister was stopped but Campbell couldn’t smother the rebound. Perry was right there and while his initial shot was also denied, he kept pushing at the puck and got it over the line to make it a one-goal game again.
Allen was then pulled for a second time with about 1:45 remaining. This time, while Montreal was largely able to keep the puck in the attacking zone, they didn’t do much with it aside from some dangerous-looking shots from the side and were unable to complete the comeback.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Corey Perry – His days of being a true top-line player are over but for one night at least, Perry was able to return to that form. He scored both goals for the Habs and both were tight to the goal. With Gallagher out for a while, it’s helpful that Perry can still be that net-front player to wreak some havoc in the crease.
Stats: 2 goals, +1 rating, 3 shots, 2 takeaways, 18:18 TOI
2nd Star: Jake Allen – Had it not been for Perry’s second goal, he would have been the easy choice for Montreal’s first star. Yes, the first goal was stoppable but he did well to keep the Habs in it at the times where they were really chasing the play. Once again, he didn’t get much goal support; it was the 8th time in 13 games where Montreal scored two or fewer goals with him between the pipes.
Stats: 29 saves on 32 shots, 3.13 GAA, .906 SV%
3rd Star: Phillip Danault – The offensive numbers don’t say much but his line was once again Montreal’s best in terms of possession, no small feat with Gallagher not in the lineup. Danault’s feistiness was also intriguing; while he’s not a soft player by any means, he’s also not one to really get too involved in the other shenanigans. It will be interesting to see if that continues.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 2 shots, 8/15 faceoffs, 16:24 TOI
Honourable Mention: Jesperi Kotkaniemi – There are a couple of other players who may be more deserving of this spot but I do want to talk about him a bit. He didn’t look out of place on the right wing at all, a position he really hasn’t played since his time in Finland. That’s no small feat being able to step in and more than hold his own despite not playing with either Tatar or Danault much. It may not be centre, but if he plays like this, his playing time will go up more than if he was to be down the middle.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 2 shots, 2 hits, 2 blocks, 3/6 faceoffs, 15:50 TOI