The Habs attempted to avoid the three-game sweep at the hands of the Calgary Flames on Monday night as they wanted to stay in control of their postseason hopes in the process. The game was highly anticipated as Cole Caufield made his Canadiens’ debut playing with Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault on the team’s top unit. The rest of the forwards remained mostly unchanged.
This meant that some roster moves needed to be made. Alexander Romanov was sent to the taxi squad, but his scratch was somewhat expected as Erik Gustafsson had earned a regular shift after Saturday night’s game and the team never makes its veterans accountable. Montreal also had to free up the cap space to recall Romanov and with him and Paul Byron being the only players eligible to be sent down and Byron injured, Romanov was the only option. Gustafsson played with Jon Merrill on the third pair as the top four remained the same. Jake Allen was the starter as he once again faced Jacob Markstrom. This was another game that wasn’t high on the entertainment scale as both teams really clogged the middle of the ice. The only difference is that this time the Habs held the lead and were able to leave with a 2-1 win.
The first period was all about the power play for both teams. The Habs started the game with Caufield on the ice and they controlled the better part of the opening period. Caufield got the first shot attempt of the game but fired it high and wide. The lad then showed his play away from the puck as he came back to stop a Calgary scoring chance. The Habs were controlling the play and Ben Chiarot was able to get a good chance.
Since the Flames were chasing the play, they were also guilty of the first infraction nine minutes in as Derek Ryan was called for tripping. The power play appeared as listless as usual when Nick Suzuki made a move on Giordano attempting to enter the Calgary zone. The move surprised the Flames captain who reacted by tripping Suzuki sending the Habs to a 5-on-3.
The double advantage wasted little time as a nice passing play between Jeff Petry and Tatar opened a passing lane to Shea Weber who was in the middle and much lower than the blue line to blast home the game’s first tally.
With the Habs still on the man advantage, Corey Perry got his stick up and it was Calgary’s turn on the power play after the final seven seconds of Giordano’s penalty ticked off. Their man advantage would not last long as Weber failed to intercept a soft pass up the boards and that’s all it took for Montreal to be scrambling defensively and Elias Lindholm to find himself alone near the faceoff dot where he buried his scoring chance to tie the game.
The rest of the frame was played with Calgary in control but both teams were extremely stingy as the shot totals ended at 6-5 in favour of the Flames for the entire period.
The Flames came out stronger in the second as they hemmed the Habs in their defensive zone for the first six minutes of the period. Allen was guilty of some poor rebound control which really placed his team in some unfortunate positions early on. He made the saves to get himself out of trouble, but it was trouble that he created. As the Canadiens struggled to even get out of their zone, they appeared in a constant state of panic as they iced the puck many times in the sequence.
The second half of the game got underway and what was painfully obvious was that the Habs were unable of anything more than one and done offence. This is partly because of the ridiculous amount of interference that was allowed but also because too many Montrealforwards appeared unwilling to win the physical battles to earn the puck or the space to make plays.
In the final five minutes of the period, the Habs finally gained Calgary’s zone with regularity and they were rewarded for the effort. Suzuki was tripped as he entered the zone but still got the shot off that surprised the Flames and sent them scrambling. Armia was all over the rebound as he found Toffoli. This shot was stopped by Markstrom before Armia grabbed a second rebound and found Toffoli again who this time made it count, putting the Habs ahead with 1:55 to play in the period. The Flames fired back immediately and while the Habs hung on, Chiarot was called for holding with 44 seconds to play in the period but didn’t score in the early going on the man advantage.
The third period got underway with a gigantic kill of the rest of the Chiarot penalty for the Habs as Weber, Armia, and Jake Evans were particularly excellent. After the sequence, Suzuki was once again hard on the puck which created a scoring chance but overall, the play remained quite stingy, a fine way to play considering the Habs held the lead.
A strong Caufield forecheck in the offensive zone created a good scoring chance for Tatar who saw Markstrom make his best save of the night. For all the criticism Ducharme has endured in his short tenure, I thought him playing Caufield well into the third period was something I really liked as it showed an effort to go for the kill instead of trying to protect the lead. With 12 minutes to play, another rush by Petry caused more chaos as a bad rebound was allowed and Giordano was forced to take a penalty.
The final ten minutes started after the missed power play for the Habs but at least it was dangerous as Caufield and Gustafsson were quite noticeable in creating some interesting scoring chances.
Petry coughed up the puck on an innocent dump-in which resulted in a point shot deflecting off his stick and hitting the post before Toffoli got called for tripping. On the back of big efforts by Lehkonen, Evans, Armia, and Danault, the Habs bailed out both Toffoli and Petry and killed the penalty.
The Habs were quite excellent in the minutes that followed as they got some offensive zone shifts before the Flames pulled Markstrom with two minutes to play. The Habs missed about four shots at the empty net but played quite well defensively to hold on for the critical 2-1 win.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jake Evans
He was the most consistent Hab player by a wide margin. He was in the face of Calgary’s defenders all night long and he played some huge minutes on the penalty kill quite effectively. The Flames often handcuffed the Habs defence throughout this game and the season series but it was Evans who got the ball rolling in getting the buy-in in the second part of the game for the Habs to use their speed to handcuff the Flames defenders. About time!
Stats: 1 shot, 3/7 faceoffs, 13:34 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Tyler Toffoli
Toffoli is often not all that remarkable and then he gets a chance or two and makes the opposition pay. It’s been the same quiet story all season long leading to Toffoli’s 25 goals in 47 games. What’s great about Toffoli and is often not mentioned is that he is also quite responsible so the team can continue to play him even with a one-goal lead late in a game which makes him even more lethal.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 15:33 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jeff Petry
Petry played his best game in a long, long time in a very quiet fashion. He was excellent in choosing his spots to join rushes which more than once stopped sequences of Flames attacking the Habs zone with ease. He was also responsible for the power play goal in my opinion as his decision to leave the point to push back the Calgary defender opened up the lane for Weber to get lower to release his cannon of a clapper.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 1 hit, 21:56 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Cole Caufield
It would seem cruel to not include the youngster in his first game. Caufield had a quiet four shots while seeming absolutely in his place on this team. He made a few defensive plays to gain the confidence of his coaches which can be seen by the fact he continued to take a regular shift until Evans replaced him in the final few minutes of the game on the line. He won some puck battles deep, obviously doing it with finesse instead of physical play, but this is an important aspect of the game for him and he was able to do it against a large Flames team. He also created a few interesting chances as he sometimes shot with the intention of creating instead of scoring. Overall a passing grade for a young player. I would personally get him more games to include him come playoff time, but I guess time will tell.
Stats: 4 shots, 15:40 T.O.I.