The Habs were looking to rebound from a tough outing on Friday in a rematch with the Flames on Saturday night. They started off well but struggled as the game went on, ultimately falling 5-2.
The lineup decision was down to the wire with some of the uncertainty surrounding the health of Jonathan Drouin. He wound up not playing while Paul Byron (lower-body injury) also didn’t suit up. That resulted in Jake Evans being recalled on an emergency basis and the Habs going with seven defencemen again. Corey Perry moved up to Nick Suzuki’s line to start the game with Joel Armia rejoining the all-Finnish line but with the 11 forwards, the combos were juggled throughout. Cayden Primeau made his first start of the season while Jacob Markstrom got the nod once again for Calgary.
Montreal had a couple of good chances in the first four minutes. Jon Merrill had a dangerous-looking opportunity from the slot but just missed and 45 seconds later, a Perry dump-in took an odd bounce and pinballed towards the net where Suzuki had a chance but couldn’t do much with it. Seconds later, Noah Hanifin collided with Perry, injuring the blueliner in the process. He did not return.
Two minutes later, the Flames had their first good chance. Sean Monahan received a pass from Andrew Mangiapane off the rush and just missed the net as he had Primeau sliding in the opposite direction. Calgary got their first power play opportunity not long after when Artturi Lehkonen took an unnecessary penalty in the offensive zone with a hold on Juuso Valimaki. The Flames controlled the puck throughout the advantage but Montreal did well, keeping the chances to the outside.
Less than a minute after the penalty expired, the Canadiens came back offensively with a jumbled offensive trio but it didn’t matter. Erik Gustafsson got a point shot through traffic which Markstrom stopped but kicked a rebound to Evans. Evans’ attempt was stopped but the puck then bounced to Suzuki. The Calgary netminder stopped his first shot but not his second as Suzuki lifted one past him to open up the scoring.
With just under four minutes left, Tyler Toffoli attempted an off-angle shot and caught a piece of the post. He got the puck back, went for a long skate, and wound up getting a slot shot off but couldn’t double the lead.
The Canadiens continued to pressure in the final few minutes and Alexander Romanov had a strong shot in the last minute. However, they couldn’t retain possession and Calgary was off in transition. Matthew Tkachuk found Johnny Gaudreau off the rush and he sniped one high glove past Primeau to tie it up with just 31 seconds left, sending the two teams to the room tied up; Montreal held a 14-11 shot advantage in what was one of their better periods in recent memory against Calgary.
Lehkonen had a good chance just after the one-minute mark of the second off a Calgary turnover but his shot caught iron instead of the back of the goal. That would prove costly. Derek Ryan had a chance on the next shift as the puck was centred in front of Primeau but he couldn’t catch up to it.
However, seconds later, Ryan won an offensive zone faceoff clean and the puck came to Milan Lucic who beat a screened Primeau to give the Flames the lead. The goal was similar to Joel Armia’s on Friday in that it was a quick shot right off the draw.
A minute after, each team had a good chance. Eric Staal made a perfect feed to Josh Anderson but his shot went wide. Coming back the other way, Monahan rang one off the post.
Unfortunately for Montreal, they were the creators of their own disaster two minutes after that. Suzuki had the puck in the neutral zone but chose to play it back to Jeff Petry in his own end to set up a breakout. On its own, that’s not a bad idea. However, Petry couldn’t handle the pass and the puck went to the boards. Mangiapane came up with it and found Gaudreau who was untouched and he put it past a sprawling Primeau to make it 3-1.
The Habs then got some opportunities with the power play. Dillon Dube was called for goalie interference but Montreal did nothing with the man advantage; their best chance came at the end but Suzuki’s pass to the slot was tipped away.
They got a second opportunity with 6:29 left when Mangiapane was called for a retaliatory trip on Joel Edmundson after the Canadiens blueliner got away with a trip of his own. They were a little better this time but couldn’t get much going despite Staal causing some chaos in front of the net.
Less than a minute after that one expired, Edmundson drew another retaliatory penalty, this time on Mikael Backlund for roughing. For the majority of the power play, nothing happened. Then, off a faceoff in the Calgary end, Monahan got the puck and attacked with speed, creating a good chance but he couldn’t capitalize. That gave Montreal a bit of room to come back with speed of their own. Gustafsson put a pass to Perry down low who had a perfect one-touch to Toffoli and the birthday boy potted his 24th of the season to make it a one-goal game after 40 minutes. Shots on goal were 9-9.
The Habs had a couple of dangerous looks in the first two minutes of the third that didn’t materialize into anything. Suzuki made a nice play off the rush to keep possession, went around the net, and then missed Petry by a wide margin with a pass that cleared the zone. Jesperi Kotkaniemi then attacked with speed and lost the puck in the process.
Calgary got their second opportunity with the man advantage when Ben Chiarot went off for holding Buddy Robinson’s stick. 1:20 into the kill, the Habs had control but failed to clear and on the ensuing counter-attack, Romanov was shaken up as he dove to break up the play and got bumped hard in the process.
The Canadiens were able to kill the penalty but they couldn’t get any momentum off it. Instead, Merrill was tripped by Brett Ritchie on a clearing attempt. He got the puck to centre but the Flames were able to attack with speed. That led to a two-on-one with Ritchie tapping home the pass from Ryan, putting the game out of reach. Primeau made a big stop on a two-on-one seconds later, stopping Elias Lindholm on a feed from Matthew Tkachuk after Gustafsson couldn’t hold the puck in the offensive end.
Romanov and Lindholm were sent off for roughing three minutes later, creating a four-on-four situation. The Flames had the best opportunity but Backlund missed the net outright with Primeau well past the crease and out of position.
Montreal had a good chance to cut the deficit in half with 6:10 left as Gustafsson set up Anderson from the corner but his shot missed.
Primeau got the hook with 3:15 left and the Canadiens had a good chance soon after as Suzuki’s cross-ice feed made its way to Toffoli. Unfortunately, Toffoli had to settle it down which allowed Markstrom enough time to get across to make the stop. Seconds later, Rasmus Andersson was able to fire it from his defensive zone faceoff dot into the yawning cage.
Edmundson drew a third penalty with a little over a minute to go as Juuso Valimaki caught him with a high stick. Though the game was out of hand, this way Montreal’s best effort with the man advantage. Joakim Nordstrom blocked a shot from Staal with Markstrom out of a position to save a sure goal following a good setup from Kotkaniemi while Weber was stopped in tight seconds later. The final few seconds played out after that with Calgary skating away with the 5-2 victory.
Markstrom was sharp between the pipes for the Flames, turning aside 30 of 32 Montreal shots. Primeau, meanwhile, kicked aside 29 of 33 shots and while he didn’t make any momentum-shifting stops, he did pretty well considering it was his first appearance in 22 days. The Habs won the special teams battle going 1/4 while Calgary went 0/2 but that was their only victory in this one.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Nick Suzuki – There have been a lot of games lately where he has largely been invisible but this was not one of those. He was one of Montreal’s more energetic forwards and was dangerous around the net. The faceoffs were still an issue but otherwise, this was one of his better games in a while. They need more of those if the offence is going to get back on track.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 4 shots, 5/14 faceoffs, 18:23 TOI
2nd Star: Erik Gustafsson – Gustafsson was brought in to try to give the offence a lift when he’s in the lineup and he did that in this one. He picked up an assist on both goals and was able to get a few shots through from the point, a notable element considering the frequency in which Montreal’s point shots are blocked. His defensive play is definitely nerve-wracking but in limited does, he can be useful and he showed that in this one.
Stats: 2 assists, +1 rating, 5 shots, 12:13 TOI
3rd Star: Tyler Toffoli – This wasn’t his best night but in the end, he wound up with a goal, a couple of other good looks, and Montreal’s second-best possession numbers on the night (Phillip Danault was first). That’s still a good showing for a ‘quiet game’.
Stats: 1 goal, -2 rating, 3 shots, 18:23 TOI
Honourable Mention: Joel Edmundson – Defencemen don’t typically draw a lot of penalties, especially ones that are more of a stay-at-home player like he is. To draw three in a game, yielding 75% of Montreal’s power play opportunities, is impressive in itself and is worth the extra mention here.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 1 shot, 16:39 TOI
Tomas Tatar left the game midway through the third period. Head coach Dominique Ducharme indicated after the contest that the winger wasn’t 100% heading into this one and is dealing with a lower-body injury. He’s listed as day-to-day.