The Habs were back in preseason action on Tuesday as they once again faced the Maple Leafs. The Habs dressed a strange-looking lineup as the lines were mixed both up front and on the blue line and the result was as expected as they looked disorganized against a much more talented Toronto team. Samuel Montembeault, recently claimed on waivers from the Florida Panthers, made his Habs debut and showed a much better effort than the rest of his team as he faced Petr Mrazek. The Leafs completely dominated this contest from start to finish as they outshot the Habs 43-22 and outscored them 6-2 as the Habs are running of time to give certain players chances to make the team, notably Chris Wideman and Ryan Poehling who once again failed to make a lasting impression.
The game started with the Leafs showing much more energy and forcing Montembeault into action early. A few minutes into the game, Toronto scored, but Brett Seney was inside the net when the puck went in. The call on the ice was incidental contact and it was absolutely the correct call.
A few moments later, Ben Chiarot took a shot from the outside hashmark. The puck committed to its best Plinko-chip impersonation as it hit Joel Armia, then Mac Hollowell before finally hitting the other defender and entering the cage.
The opening goal froze the Maple Leafs as the Habs took control. The Leafs didn’t help their cause when they momentarily fell into the same trap as in the playoffs and tried to get physical against an inferior-skilled opponent. William Nylander took an elbowing penalty, but the Habs were unable to create even a scoring chance on the occasion. The Leafs evened the score just before the midway point in the period as Gianni Fairbrother got completely lost in coverage which allowed Nick Ritchie to be alone and bury one by Montembeault.
The offensive festival continued in the second half of the period as Kaiden Guhle took a slashing penalty and the highly skilled Maple Leafs went to work and eventually saw Ritchie score his second as the penalty unit spent the better part of the two minutes chasing only to see Montembeault bail them out.
The Leafs were all over the Habs, but Montembeault continued his solid play, though it is worth noting that he was not particularly great with his rebound control which allowed the onslaught to continue and somewhat set him up to make more big saves.
Ilya Mikheyev was then called for cross-checking and Alex Belzile evened the score as he took advantage of a great screen by Mathieu Perreault.
The even score did not last as the Leafs were right back on top of the Habs as Mikheyev made up for the penalty by using Belzile and Wideman as screens to score and end the period up 3-2, up 22-7 in shots after one period.
The second period got started with the Habs skating much better, notably the Poehling line that looked dangerous early but saw their scoring chances end up on Artturi Lehkonen’s stick, so the net was missed. Three minutes into the period, Michael Pezzetta took a hooking penalty and the Leafs never looked back. The Habs killed the penalty but were then completely dominated afterwards. Seconds before the ten-minute mark, Armia completed an excellent forecheck but was rightfully called for cross-checking on the play that sent the Leafs back to the power play.
The second half of the game started with the Leafs extending their lead after an absolutely brutal play by Ben Chiarot who chased a puck but lost the race. This left Rafael Harvey-Pinard and David Savard on an island as the Leafs passed it around until Brennan Menell was all alone to bury a one-timer by Montembeault.
The Leafs continued to completely destroy the Habs in the shot department. The Habs were always second on the puck and always chasing the play. The exception was probably Harvey-Pinard who was able to win races and battles and get his team the puck. After a great shift by the Jake Evans line that saw the Leafs block a series of shots in front of Mrazek, the puck came down to the Habs zone and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev got the better of Montembeault on a rather weak goal up high.
The Habs got an early man advantage in the third as Perreault’s effort trapped a back-checking forward. The Leafs showed no respect to the Habs as they pressured the puck all the time and the Habs were never able to get anywhere near Mrazek on the power play. As the advantage ended, Belzile froze with the puck. The Leafs were all over him, stole the puck and Brett Seney, who had just come out of the box, roofed one over Monteambeault’s shoulder to make it 6-2.
With 12:50 to go, Pezzetta was penalized for an Evans borderline hit, but the result was the same, the Leafs got two minutes to further widen the shot gap as Montembeault continued to be left to himself.
Ritchie kicked off the final ten minutes by taking a penalty. This allowed for the Habs power play to display its full ineptness for yet another two minutes. This was followed by another penalty, which had pretty much the same result as the Leafs were content to let the Habs fool themselves with over passing and never enough traffic in front of Mrazek to be dangerous. Both teams went through the motions to end the game in an eventless fashion.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Samuel Montembeault
Montembeault had a decent game despite allowing six goals. In his first game for the team, he reminded me quite a bit of Jose Theodore in that he delivered rebounds to the right areas to set himself up to make big saves, but made his blue line look worse than they already were in doing so. He got tired and misplayed the few goals, but if he’s the third-string goaltender, he remains a fine option for spot starts.
Stats: 38 saves, 44 shots, 6.05 GAA, .864 save %, 59:32 TOI
2nd Star – Raphael Harvey-Pinard
On a night when your team gets outshot 44-22, just winning battles to create some puck possession for your team might be enough to get you noticed. So was the case for Harvey-Pinard who did little once in possession of the puck to be a difference-maker. However, he battled hard enough to gain the puck for the Habs, more than many others can say on this night.
Stats: 1 shot, 2 hits, 13:34 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jake Evans
This was far from Evans’ best game, but he was able to create a few scoring chances and he wasn’t consistently beaten to and for pucks so on a night where the rest of the team was MIA, it’s enough to gain some praise, however little it may be deserved.
Stats: 1 shot, 3 hits, 15:38 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Brett Kulak
Kulak wasn’t even playing in this game yet is likely the biggest winner on the night for the Habs. If anyone watched this game and believes that Chris Wideman should be anywhere near this lineup over Kulak, I’d love to hear the logic to that argument. Wideman had multiple chances to make something happen on the power play, nothing. He was incapable of winning a battle to get the pucks out of the zone, which is saying something as he finally faced an NHL-calibre roster. He is, at best, a seventh defender to be deployed only when injuries create those opportunities.