The Habs came into the Bell Centre on Saturday night for a date with the Red Wings with all the wrong indicators, having lost all five of the current season’s games, having scored only four goals, and also having lost the last four games against Detroit.
This time they were able to execute, though, and scored well and often enough to drive Red Wings starter Thomas Greiss out of the net in the second period. In spite of some sloppy play in the third, it was a strong effort and a stronger result for this new-look Canadiens team.
For the First Time …
Nick Suzuki took the opening puck drop, with Mike Hoffman and Brendan Gallagher on his wings, but lost the faceoff. The Red Wings took the game to the Habs immediately, hemming them in their own zone until the first line change.
Josh Anderson took that opportunity to try to set a tone for the game, following a hard-skating charge into the Red Wings’ zone with a bone-crunching hit on Marc Staal as he rounded the Wings’ goal. Tyler Toffoli got a look at Thomas Greiss’ goal but Staal blocked the shot. Artturi Lehkonen followed up with a shot on goal after the next line change with the game’s first shot but was foiled by Greiss.
Ben Chiarot continued his drive for the top of the penalty charts, and was sent to the box for tripping Moritz Seider. The Bell Centre fans didn’t have to put up with the man disadvantage for long, though, as Dylan Larkin beat Jake Evans on the faceoff and quickly fed the puck back to Seider. Seider found the now-free Larkin and fed the puck back to him, Larkin skated in on Allen and had all the time in the world to put the puck in the Habs’ net.
1-0 Red Wings, then, five and a half minutes into the first period. Would this be the sixth one in a row?
The Canadiens got the opportunity to return the favour some three minutes later, as Gustav Lindstrom tripped Jonathan Drouin. However, while the Habs managed to control the puck twice in the offensive zone, albeit for only brief periods, the only shot in those two minutes was Mitchell Stephens’ wrister on Allen.
The Habs did manage to exert pressure towards the end of the man advantage, with both Suzuki and Cole Caufield attempting shots, but both were blocked. Caufield, in particular, appeared to have his first goal of the season in his sights, but Sam Gagner was able to block him.
However, the Habs kept the pressure up even as the penalty expired, forcing the Red Wings’ tired penalty killers to stay on the ice. It paid off handsomely as Caufield fed the puck to Chiarot, who was skating in on the left side. The veteran defender took a second, and then another, before unleashing a wrister in the top corner to even the game and make people forget his penalty.
Only 90 seconds later the Red Wings got tired of the even-strength game, and Danny DeKeyser got his skate into Gallagher’s feet, sending him off on a tripping call.
This time the second power play unit took the start, and while Christian Dvorak lost the initial faceoff, the Habs quickly got the power play set up in the Red Wings zone. As Sami Niku fed the puck to Hoffman, the veteran sniper moved toward the middle of the zone, and appeared to fool Greiss before releasing a quick wrist shot into the top corner for the lead — and the Habs’ first two-goal game of the season.
Filip Zadina followed that power play up with a careless high-stick on Jeff Petry in front of Allen, giving the Canadiens a third consecutive man advantage. While there were some scoring opportunities on this one, the Red Wings were blocking shots effectively and kept the Habs away from doing any further damage.
A Second to Remember
Detroit started off the second period with energy, and DeKeyser put the puck on Allen just 20 seconds in but the play quickly moved into the Red Wings zone. Hoffman had a chance at a second goal just 30 seconds later but could not fool Greiss on that one.
The pressure paid off again, though. As Dvorak passed the puck across the front of the goal to a wide-open Anderson, Marc Staal backed up into the path of the puck, and deflected it into his own net for a 3-1 Habs lead. Not the prettiest of goals, but after all the bad bounces in the first five games of the season, they were happy to accept one in their favour.
It was the Red Wings’ turn to go on the power play next time, as Artturi Lehkonen got his stick up on Michael Rasmussen in front of the Habs’ net. The Wings reeled off three quick shots as they had their power play formation working well, but Allen stood tall and stopped each one. In the dying seconds of the penalty, Jake Evans stole the puck, but as he didn’t have enough speed for a chance on net, he tied up the puck in the offensive-zone boards instead to keep the seconds ticking away.
Just a minute later the Habs were at it again, though as Mathieu Perreault picked up an errant Detroit pass at the Red Wings blue line and streaked in on the left side. With Gallagher, on the right side, acting as the decoy for Greiss, Perreault held on tight and lifted the puck in over Greiss for a 4-1 lead — with the Canadiens now having matched their goals total of the first five games in less than 28 minutes.
Gallagher had another break a minute later, but could not get a shot off on Greiss. A bit later, Drouin executed a tidy tic-tac play, passing the puck from the right side to David Savard, who tapped it back to Drouin for a quick one-timer. Greiss was hugging the post tightly, though, and there was nowhere for the puck to go.
At the halfway point of the period, Toffoli took a feed from Caufield on the right side of the Detroit net, made a nifty backhand pass to get it to Perreault on the left, and the veteran centre made no mistake in tapping it into the wide-open net for his second goal of the game and the Habs’ fifth. That was the fifth goal on 17 shots for Greiss, and it brought Alex Nedeljkovic in between the pipes for Detroit.
The Bleu-Blanc-et-Rouge got one more scoring opportunity in the period, as Niku fed a pass to Perreault, who was at centre ice but not moving fast. Perreault spotted a speeding Caufield, who carried it into the Detroit zone and passed it to Toffoli. Alas, Toffoli could not get to the net, but it was the type of play the Habs need to be able to execute more often.
Dvorak got called for interference with 33 seconds left in the period. It was another lost faceoff for the Canadiens, and the Wings looked dangerous immediately. They did manage to ring it off the post, but it was Evans’ shorthanded rush that was the highlight at the end of the period, although Lehkonen was unable to hit the net after taking Evans’ pass.
Do We Really Need to Play a Third?
That seemed to be the question the topmost in the Habs’ minds as they stepped onto the ice with a wholly unfamiliar 5-1 lead over their opponent. And while they killed the remainder of Dvorak’s penalty, the lack of urgency showed as there were numerous giveaways and sloppy plays.
It was Allen that held the Detroit total at one as the Habs gave the Wings far more opportunities than they deserved in the final period, making eight saves to Nedeljkovic’s three in the final frame.
In the end, it was the Habs that recorded the only scoring play of the third period after Detroit coach Jeff Blashill pulled Nedeljkovic with seven minutes left in an effort to inject some energy into his team. It backfired quickly as Chiarot took a long shot at the empty Red Wings net and missed, and Perreault outskated the Detroit defence to pick up the puck and avoid an icing call — and then tapped it into the empty net for a hat trick.
6-1 for the Habs, then, in a dramatic turnaround from their early-season form. A harbinger of better days to come, or merely a fluke? We will find out quickly with next week’s road trip.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Mathieu Perreault (3g, 0a, 6 shots, +4, 13:15 TOI) played an outstanding game. Not only did he score three times (yes, yes, one was into an empty net) but he had an impressive eight high-danger chances for on even strength, with only one against. The biggest question is whether he can play this well again, even without this goal count.
Second Star: Sami Niku (0g, 2a, 1 shot, +3, 15:32 TOI) may not have had the toughest defensive assignments, but played well on his Canadiens debut, particularly on the power play, and worked well with defensive pair Brett Kulak, controlling nearly 80% of the high-danger chances while the two were on the ice. Could he be the puck-mover the Habs need on the power play?
Third Star: Jake Allen (27 shots, 26 saves, .963 save percentage) was solid throughout the night and kept the Red Wings at bay even when the Habs’ play was getting sloppy. He was only beaten by a tidy Dylan Larkin play on a Detroit man-advantage.
Honourable Mention: Mike Hoffman (1g, 0a, 4 shots, +1, 15:45 TOI) showed that he still has the shot that Habs’ GM Marc Bergevin signed him for. He looked dangerous whenever he had the puck on a power play, and scored the winning goal in a must-win game.