The Habs were back in action on Thursday night as they hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins after yet another loss on Tuesday. This game came after some strange decisions were taken regarding the roster. Alex Belzile was returned to Laval in favour of Cole Caufield who was called up after only two goals in Laval. Caufield was then immediately inserted on the team’s top line alongside Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli.
On the same night, Ducharme decided that Chris Wideman would be scratched in favour of Mattias Norlinder who made his NHL debut. This idea of overloading the lineup with youth was not done either. Cayden Primeau made his second consecutive start after a rather solid game on Tuesday. The results were surely not what was anticipated by Ducharme as the Habs were nowhere to be found on this night. They dropped yet another decision, this time by a 6-0 score after being completely dominated for most of the first two periods.
Primeau started this game quite well as the Habs came out completely flat and left him to try to save the game by himself. They managed to reach the seven-minute mark without a single shot on net. What is particularly impressive about the feat is that they had a man advantage in those seven minutes of play. The power play was disorganized as the best chance belonged to the Penguins as Primeau had to make a good save to keep the score at 1-0.
The score was 1-0 after a turnover by Jake Evans at the offensive blue line that left all of himself, Jeff Petry, and Brendan Gallagher out of the play. Ben Chiarot was left on his own against three attackers. Chiarot did not play it well either as the Pens were able to pass it around him and he ended up taking out Primeau after the final pass landed on Sidney Crosby’s stick who only had to deposit the puck into the open cage.
The Habs did manage a decent scoring chance before the midway point of the period as Norlinder joined the rush and caused confusion in coverage that ended up with a strong Tristan Jarry save.
The second half of the period started with a high-sticking penalty against Joel Armia. The Penguins went to work until a John Marino point shot missed the net and quickly rebounded in front of the net. Alexander Romanov covered Jason Zucker, but Artturi Lehkonen was not as attentive to Danton Heinen who buried his chance to extend the lead to 2-0.
The Pens’ domination continued as Primeau was completely under siege. They struck a third time in the final minute of the period, once again the result of a bad Petry pinch. The Pens were able to get a 4-on-2, with Jonathan Drouin as one of the defenders. Pittsburgh was able to pass it around and it was compounded by the back-checking players not picking up their assignments which allowed Jake Guentzel to stay open and accept a Bryan Rust pass to beat Primeau.
The second period started with some nice flashes from the kids. Caufield kicked it off with a few good moves that led to two good scoring chances off his stick. The third good scoring chance on the same shift came off the stick of Norlinder who had everyone in the rink thinking he was shooting whereas he was looking for Toffoli the entire time. Toffoli faced the open net and completely missed the puck to keep the Habs off the board. Most of the team followed the lead of the young players as the Habs took control of the period and quickly closed the shot gap created in the first period.
The game’s second half saw most of the play remain in the Penguins zone. Unfortunately, the Penguins only needed one quick rush where Chiarot found himself crossing over to Petry’s side who didn’t read the switch. The result was two Penguins against Primeau and Teddy Blueger made no mistake extending the lead to 4-0. With 3:48 to play, Caufield was guilty of a few defensive lapses that allowed the lead to be extended to 5-0 as Brock McGinn picked up his fourth of the season.
Samuel Montembeault was brought in to start the third period, but it mattered very little as both teams went through the motions with a score already so lopsided. The period was barely watchable, and despite this reality, the Penguins still managed to be the team with the better scoring chances. The Habs didn’t even have enough pride to deliver a solid period to get some good habits going for the next game. The only score of the period came in the final seconds as the Habs allowed Blueger to get a breakaway and score on the shot faced by Montembeault.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Cole Caufield
It was far from a perfect effort from the recent recall. However, the only interesting flashes for the Habs came off his stick, so he gets the nod here. In the case of Caufield, this was the type of performance that was expected from the rookie when the season began.
Stats: -3, 15:21 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Cayden Primeau
No, Primeau was not as solid as Tuesday. Hard to truly judge the kid when he was so completely left to himself to try to make lemonade out of the completely rotten lemons left to him by his teammates. Totally discouraging effort by far too many veterans on the team. I think it could have been playoff Carey Price in goal on this night and the result would have been the same. The fact that a goaltender that got pulled after two periods is even on this list is the perfect summary for the team’s effort in this one.
Stats: 26 saves, 31 shots, .839 save %, 7.50 G.A.A., 40:00 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Mattias Norlinder
An interesting night for a debut. Clearly the type of defenceman the team needs, one not afraid to jump in the rush and take a risk to cause confusion offensively. That type hasn’t been seen since Andrei Markov. However, he has much to learn still. It should be interesting to see what the team decides in his case. How much of his development are they willing to sacrifice for a season that’s dead already? Regardless, as someone who was quite doubtful of this prospect coming into the season, I find his potential quite intriguing if developed properly.
Stats: 17:39 T.O.I.