After a disappointing loss to the Bruins on Sunday, the Habs were back in action on Tuesday in New York to face the Rangers. Once again, their performance was strong at some points and poor at others and the end result was another close loss as they fell 3-2.
Dominique Ducharme opted for a pair of lineup changes. Cayden Primeau got his first NHL start of the season giving Samuel Montembeault the night off while Jonathan Drouin returned from his upper-body injury. He took the place of Adam Brooks who was placed on waivers earlier in the day.
The game got off to a rather tentative start for both sides with most of the shots coming from the perimeter. Considering it was Primeau’s first NHL appearance since some shaky outings last season, I don’t think he minded one bit.
New York had a couple of chances just past the seven-minute mark. Artemi Panarin missed just wide at the side of the net off a pass from Ryan Strome and 30 seconds later, Kaapo Kakko was stopped on a wraparound.
Less than a minute later, Montreal got the first power play of the game when Barclay Goodrow was called for a cross-check on David Savard. The man advantage was short-lived, however, as an interference call on Chris Wideman for a neutral zone pick on Kevin Rooney 20 seconds later put an end to that. The Rangers had the best chance in the four-on-four sequence as Adam Fox skated into Montreal’s zone and drew multiple defenders before finding Chris Kreider open in the slot but Primeau made the stop.
That basically opened the floodgates for quality New York chances as the shots weren’t coming from the outside anymore. The fourth line had a shift to forget with under six minutes to go; a turnover in the slot led to two good chances in tight for Filip Chytil and before their shift was done, another brutal turnover – this time from Alex Belzile – provided a strong scoring chance for Alexis Lafreniere that Primeau got a piece of.
However, he couldn’t get them all. Less than a minute after that sequence, Panarin took a shot from the side that was blocked by Wideman. The puck bounced back to Panarin near the goal line and with Nick Suzuki and Alexander Romanov both puck-watching, Panarin was able to find Kakko all alone for a tap-in.
Montreal’s best chance of the first came in the dying seconds of the period. A weak backhand from Artturi Lehkonen somehow yielded a juicy rebound from Igor Shesterkin. It bounced to Jake Evans who missed his attempt and then Lehkonen did the same just after that. They were that close to tying it in a period where they barely showed up for but in the end, they went to the dressing room down by one with New York holding the 17-12 shot advantage.
The Habs were able to strike early in the second as some good board work by Brendan Gallagher behind the New York net allowed him to send a quick pass to Christian Dvorak who was able to stuff it past Shesterkin just past the two-minute mark.
That seemed to open things up as both teams had two-on-ones within a minute of the goal. Romanov made a nice defensive play to stop Lafreniere for the Rangers while Shesterkin turned aside Drouin at the other end.
Ryan Reaves then threw a hit on Pezzetta. Nothing dirty but a hard hit from a physical player. Pezzetta decided this was a good time to pick a fight with the heavyweight. It was not a good decision from a team standpoint and it certainly wasn’t from a personal standpoint. Pezzetta stood in there – I’ll give him that – but it was not his finest showing.
Just after the Habs were starting to finally play with some pace again, this set that back. Less than 30 seconds later, Kreider got behind Petry in coverage and Mika Zibanejad found him with a perfect cross-ice pass that he tapped in to restore New York’s lead. I’m not going to sit here and claim there’s a correlation between the momentum-shifting fight and that goal but the optics aren’t good either way.
Three minutes later, after the Habs narrowly avoided what would have been a dangerous rush the other way, Jake Evans got a half step on K’Andre Miller and drove the net, causing the defender to trip him, sending the Canadiens to the power play. Suzuki caught the outside of the post on the first wave while just as the penalty was expiring, Drouin set up a good look on a cross-ice feed but the shot didn’t get through.
With seven minutes to go, Petry made up for the cross-up in coverage on Kreider’s goal when he covered Kakko on a backdoor play that was somewhat similar to that tally. Montreal responded with good shifts from the fourth line followed by the first line to actually have a bit of sustained pressure in the attacking zone.
Three minutes later, Drouin caught a piece of the post from the side of the goal, Montreal’s second of the period. Coming back the other way, the Rangers had a three-on-two and Strome was set up perfectly in the slot but Primeau made a highlight-reel glove stop to keep the deficit at one which is where it remained after 40 minutes. Shots on goal were nine apiece.
The Canadiens had a chance to tie it again early in the third period but Tyler Toffoli fired high and wide on a two-on-one.
Less than a minute later, Suzuki turned the puck over in the slot to Julien Gauthier (reminiscent of the turnovers in the first period in brutal spots) and the winger was able to beat Primeau despite being hooked by Suzuki to double New York’s lead.
To Montreal’s credit, they got that one back quickly as on the next shift, Dvorak’s shot from the outside yielded a juicy rebound that Josh Anderson was able to bury.
Things settled down after that for several minutes but just before the nine-minute mark, Chytil got around the defenders and was in clear on Primeau. He got the young netminder to be down and out but his shot caught the crossbar. Two minutes later, Kreider was stopped on a two-on-one with Zibanejad with another backdoor feed; Primeau also got a piece of Goodrow’s shot on the rebound to keep it a one-goal game.
The Rangers then got another chance with the man advantage when Wideman tripped up Kevin Rooney on a rush. New York had plenty of zone time on the power play but couldn’t get anything past Primeau.
Toffoli had two more quality chances in the back half of the frame. He had a rush broken up by Chytil soon after the penalty kill and then with less than two minutes to go, he was stopped off the rush on a two-on-two with Gallagher.
The Habs attempted to pull Primeau but Ducharme rightly waited until they had control of the puck. Unfortunately, Dvorak lost some key draws, the second of which killed their chances as Gallagher took a selfish and completely unnecessary penalty with a punch to Goodrow’s head with 28 seconds to go, putting the Habs shorthanded the rest of the way. Anderson and Dvorak were able to get a rush late but that’s as close as they got with Anderson and Jacob Trouba dropping the gloves after the buzzer.
Shesterkin made 31 stops for the victory while Primeau had a strong first game of the season, also kicking away 31 shots. Neither team scored on the power play with the Habs going 0/2 and the Rangers 0/3.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Cayden Primeau – The final numbers are somewhat pedestrian but they don’t highlight how strong of a game he had. New York had plenty of high percentage looks while Montreal’s defence was spotty at times and non-existent at others. He kept them in it throughout all of the issues in front of him and seemed to get stronger as the game went along.
Stats: 31 saves on 34 shots, 3.02 GAA, .912 SV%
2nd Star: Christian Dvorak – The lost faceoffs at the end notwithstanding, this was Dvorak’s best game in a while. He was much more noticeable offensively while being steady in his own end. The line from the start of the season (Drouin-Dvorak-Anderson) was reunited and the chemistry they had early on in the year was back for this one.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating, 2 shots, 7/20 faceoffs, 17:53 TOI
3rd Star: Josh Anderson – Not surprisingly, the other scorer came from this line. Anderson wasn’t as noticeable as he has been at times where he was getting chances but not scoring. This time, the chances weren’t as plentiful but it went in. I’ll take that trade off.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 5 PIMS, 2 shots, 2 hits, 19:03 TOI
Honourable Mention: Tyler Toffoli – For two periods, Toffoli didn’t do much. In the third period, he was Montreal’s most dangerous player by a considerable margin. I’m going on the optimistic side here but if he plays like that on Thursday against Pittsburgh for a full 60 minutes, he’ll find himself on the scoresheet at some point.
Stats: 0 points, -2 rating, 4 shots, 2 hits, 18:17 TOI