The Habs were back in action on Thursday as they faced a preseason Stanley Cup favourite in the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs played on Wednesday but they also got thumped 8-3 by the Maple Leafs, so motivation was likely to be high for them.
The Canadiens made a series of strange decisions after Gallagher and Niku were lost to COVID protocol on Thursday morning. The first and third units were kept together after Monday’s game, but this meant that Jake Evans was moved to the wing of the second line, next to Nick Suzuki and Artturi Lehkonen. It also meant that the fourth line saw Cole Caufield line up next to Mathieu Perreault and Michael Pezzetta.
Even stranger on the blueline was the reunion of David Savard with Ben Chiarot. Jeff Petry was paired with Brett Kulak, which meant that the best defender over the last few weeks was relegated to the third pairing as Alexander Romanov was paired with Chris Wideman. The netminder matchup featured Jake Allen facing Jonas Johansson who was the same goaltender who was shelled the night prior. Johansson wasn’t tested enough and got out of this game with a win as the Avalanche won 4-1 and continued to drive the Habs toward a high draft pick.
After a shotless opening three minutes was controlled by the Avs, Joel Armia’s hard work led to an Alex Newhook penalty that sent the Habs on the game’s first man-advantage. The Habs have bad special teams and the game’s first power play lived up to its ranking as they came nowhere near Johansson’s net. The first good shift for Montreal came eight minutes into the period as Armia was once again excellent in puck pursuit which led to a nice pass from Ryan Poehling to Jonathan Drouin but the shot was blocked heading to the net.
The second half of the period started with a scoring chance for Josh Anderson who crashed the net and forced Johansson to make a nice stop. This was followed by three minutes of complete domination by the Avalanche but Allen withstood the attack. Finally, Perreault had a strong shift, creating a golden chance for Caufield who whiffed. Romanov then lined up Cale Makar who entered the Habs zone with his head down. He missed Makar and got cut by Poehling’s helmet. Nicolas Aube-Kubel took exception to the missed big hit to go after a bleeding Romanov and ended up with the only penalty on the play. Romanov broke his nose on the play but did return to the game with a full cage.
The Habs fumbled through another man advantage where Colorado got the best scoring chance. With three minutes to play, it was Kulak who was called for tripping as the officials managed the game. The Habs were also able to kill their penalty as the first period ended scoreless despite a 13-4 shot advantage for the Avs.
The Habs kicked off the second attacking as Drouin found Poehling flying down the wing, but he missed the backhand so it was an easy save. The intensity of the fourth line then hemmed the Avs into their zone until Tyson Jost was called for a high stick. Unfortunately, the power play was so bad that once again, it was the Avs with scoring chances. Wideman coughed up the puck and allowed Logan O’Connor to find Valeri Nichushkin in the slot for the game’s first goal, shorthanded. Allen then had to make a sliding stop against Devon Toews to keep Colorado from scoring a second time on the same penalty.
Logically, the Avalanche figured it was okay to return to the penalty box as they delivered two dangerous checks from behind sending both Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli to the dressing room, the second of which was called against Gabriel Landeskog. The latest opportunity on the man advantage saw the Habs finally get set up before Chiarot shot from the point and beat Johansson to tie the game with 13:09 to play.
Keeping the penalties as close to even as possible, it was then Poehling who was called for tripping, but the team was able to get out of the jam. Toffoli returned from the dressing room, but the Avalanche were all over the Habs until a Makar point shot fooled Allen with 4:10 to play in the period. The Habs pushed back for the rest of the period, but it ended with a 2-1 score and 21-13 shot advantage for the Avalanche.
The Habs came out firing on all cylinders in the third after finding out that Anderson was done for the night. Johansson made a few good saves, but as is usually the case, the Habs were always one and done. No sustained pressure meant spending much of their energy gaining the zone instead of creating scoring chances.
Two and a half minutes in, the Avs came up the ice and overloaded the front of the Habs net until Andre Burakovsky was able to find a loose puck and beat Allen to extend the lead.
The Habs continued to work hard as Romanov delivered another big hit and got a scoring chance. Five minutes after Colorado’s goal, Savard was called for interference but was helped by Allen who stood on his head during their advantage thus allowing the Habs to remain within striking distance. As the Avalanche went into a bit of a defensive shell to close out the game in the final ten minutes, the Habs appeared to lower their efforts and accept defeat.
The final segment was as boring as can be as there was little to no creativity by the Canadiens to even attempt to get back in the game. It was as though they themselves didn’t really believe that they had the capability to score two goals within a ten-minute time span. What a sad state of affairs.
Even the officials took pity by giving the Habs another power play that they squandered despite some decent play by Chiarot. The Habs sent Allen to the bench with 3:30 to play, but it did not take long as Landeskog scored into the empty net 40 seconds later.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Ryan Poehling
By far the most interesting player on the ice for the Habs on this night, he must be thanking the hockey gods that he was returned to Laval to start the season instead of starting in this disaster that is the Canadiens. Hopefully, he can continue to play well and provide a slight silver lining to Montreal fans everywhere.
Stats: -2, 3 shots, 15:36 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jake Allen
Once again largely left to himself to try to be the difference instead of trying to simply make a difference. Allen made some key stops, but it wasn’t enough as his team couldn’t muster more than a goal against a goaltender that would not be close to the NHL if the Avs had a healthy crease situation. At some point, Allen will get some help… right?
Stats: 30 saves, 33 shots, .909 save %, 3.05 G.A.A., 59:03 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Ben Chiarot
Physical and rarely noticeable at even strength, Chiarot has rebounded quite nicely after a tough start to the season. Recently, the team has started to use him on the power play and frankly, he’s been a calmer presence than Petry. He’s been completing smarter plays on the man advantage and actually hitting the net when he does decide to take a shot. He’s now tied for second on the team in goals with five, possibly being the team’s top scorer heading into next game if Anderson’s injury is one that requires him to miss some time.
Stats: 1 goal, -1, 2 shots, 25:39 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Mathieu Perreault
Perreault remains a player that I like in the team’s bottom-six. He has jam and often creates momentum. I like him even more when playing next to Pezzetta as an energy pair that can go out and play fast while bruising the opposition’s defenseman a little bit. Perreault missed some time with an eye injury but was still his same intense self as his line was an effective one that gave Caufield some time with the puck on his stick which in turn created scoring chances and once again momentum for the team. Nice to see him back which allowed the team to send Cedric Paquette to the press box. Win-win.
Stats: 1 shot, 2 hits, 14:00 T.O.I.