The Habs, or a rather small portion of the Habs, were back in action on Tuesday night as they travelled to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning. Having a long list of injuries and a long list in COVID protocols meant that the team facing the Lightning was a September-like group. The top line consisted of Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher, and Nick Suzuki. The second unit was Rafael Harvey-Pinard, making his NHL debut, joined by rookies Ryan Poehling and Cole Caufield. The third line was Alex Belzile, Jake Evans, and Jesse Ylonen while the fourth line saw Michael Pezzetta, Cedric Paquette, and Lukas Vejdemo get into the game. The blue line was just as battered as Alexander Romanov played with David Savard as the top pair. This left Brett Kulak with Kale Clague as the second pair and Corey Schueneman, another one making his NHL debut, alongside Sami Niku on the third pair. Samuel Montembeault got the nod between the pipes as both Carey Price and Jake Allen remained sidelined.
The Lightning were also missing some important cogs as both netminders were absent, meaning that Maxime Lagace was the starter for the Lightning. This added to the absence of Jon Cooper behind the bench. The vets that were present may have taken the Habs lightly because the Canadiens were able to bring the Lightning to overtime before losing 5-4 in a game where Montreal played with far more effort than Tampa Bay.
The game started and Savard broke in off an offensive faceoff to earn himself the game’s first scoring chance that Lagace turned aside. Suzuki then took advantage of seeing Steven Stamkos cover for Victor Hedman on the blue line to drive the net and make a pass to Drouin. Drouin missed his shot and Lagace made the stop despite not looking toward the play to keep the score tied.
Brayden Point was the only Lightning player active early as he skated to the slot and barely missed the net. The Habs got a man advantage, but the Lightning spent more time in the Habs zone during that stretch.
The second half of the period kicked off as the power play expired and Pezzetta got through three Lightning players before picking up his own rebound. He outworked Ryan McDonagh and passed it to Vejdemo in the slot who had a wide-open net to open the scoring.
This woke up the Lightning as a few moments later, Kulak was guilty of a bad read in the offensive zone that sent the Lightning on a 2-on-1. Harvey-Pinard completed a strong back-check that was not picked up by Clague who continued to play it as an odd-man rush. This resulted in two players watching the pass and no one covering Point with the puck who scored easily to tie the game.
The Point line got after it again on their next shift as they simply outworked the Suzuki line and really trapped Kulak once again. Alex Killorn finally stole the puck and then completed an isolated two-on-one as Point scored his second against a completely overmatched Montembeault for the lead. The Lightning controlled the rest of the period as the Habs simply had no answer in the final few minutes.
Tampa Bay came out strong in the second and created a few scoring chances. This was stopped by a great shift from the Poehling line and bottom defensive pairing. Schueneman made two strong plays to keep the offensive shift alive until Niku, deep in the offensive zone, made a great pass to Harvey-Pinard who despite being covered still managed to get enough on his shot to even the score.
Gallagher was then called for hooking but the penalty kill was excellent as they had the better scoring chances of the sequence. Gallagher thought he had scored only moments later, but the official called goaltender interference which was quickly and erroneously confirmed via replay. Ducharme challenged the call but should have known that no official was overturning a call for Gallagher. This meant another Lightning power play. Hedman hit a post on an unobstructed shot, but that was all Tampa could muster until the second after the penalty expired when Stamkos found Ross Colton cross-ice for a one-timer to restore the lead.
The second half of the game started with a Canadiens man advantage after an offensive zone penalty for the Lightning following their goal. The power play was abysmal but the following shift saw Harvey-Pinard and Pezzetta create a few scoring chances by being aggressive on the forecheck.
The Habs continued to work hard, and it resulted in another Lightning penalty. This time, the Habs power play looked decent, but the result was the same as they failed to score. Immediately after the advantage, Romanov hit Boris Katchouk dangerously into the boards from behind and it went uncalled before Pezzetta took a four-minute high-sticking penalty on the next shift. After Montreal managed to kill the penalty, they got another man advantage with only eleven seconds to play.
The Habs kicked off the third period with the carryover advantage that was once again terrible. Caufield then picked off a Hedman pass to create a good scoring chance for Harvey-Pinard. This started a good four minutes of play where the Habs were all over the Lightning and testing Lagace.
A strong defensive play by Poehling allowed him to skate with the puck all the way up the ice. His pass to Caufield was quickly returned to Clague while Harvey-Pinard and Poehling headed to the net. With plenty of traffic, Clague delivered an excellent shot that went off the post and in for his first NHL goal.
With just under seven minutes to play, the Evans line had its best shift of the game, and Belzile capped it off with a great forecheck. The result was the opportunity for Savard to step up and intercept a pass. He then made a nice move to get himself free in the high slot where he released a good shot to beat the netminder and get the Habs the lead. The Lightning then were all over the Habs trying to tie the game, but the Canadiens were playing quite well defensively.
The Habs then had a stretch where Harvey-Pinard, Suzuki, and then Evans got scoring chances without being able to extend the lead. The Lightning then pulled their goaltender, hit a post, and finally, Corey Perry took advantage of a Suzuki broken stick to score the game-tying goal with 19 seconds to play. Ducharme opted to start the overtime with Suzuki-Caufield-Clague but removed them too quickly. Evans then won a defensive zone faceoff only to see Kulak (why Kulak?) fumble the puck and tripped up Ondrej Palat which wasn’t called. Evans then got tripped by Stamkos seconds later who then gained control of the puck and found Palat for the game-winner.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Rafael Harvey-Pinard
What a first impression for Harvey-Pinard! I had the pleasure of watching this young man for a few seasons in Rouyn-Noranda and thought the Gallagher comparisons were quite accurate. Many often say that Gallagher is the guy that drags his teammates into battle with him. Well, has Caufield ever won as many puck battles as he did tonight playing next to Harvey-Pinard? Harvey-Pinard was fantastic, much like Gallagher in his rookie season all those years ago.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 shot, 4 hits, 9:28 TOI
Second Star – Ryan Poehling
There is no debate that Suzuki has more skill than Poehling. Having said that, Poehling’s compete level in this lost season has been much more consistent since being placed in an important role on the roster. What’s most encouraging about his consistent play is that despite Kotkaniemi’s departure, the Habs remain a top-two centre away from having a very competitive centre line in the long term. The less encouraging part is that the team likely did not need to sacrifice what they did to acquire Christian Dvorak.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 11:37 TOI
Third Star – David Savard
Savard started the game with a great scoring chance as he showed some hands on the play. He then ended his night with his first for the Habs with the go-ahead goal on a very similar play. It was a nice play to pick off the puck, a nice move to get open, and a nice shot to put it home. The last few games have been much better than the start to his season, so good for Savard for picking it up here recently.
Stats: 1 goal, 4 shots, 4 hits, 25:08 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Kale Clague
I really feel like Clague is playing better with each game with the Habs. This is quickly becoming an interesting project especially long-term as a third pairing power play specialist if he can continue to be this dependable at even strength. This is not to say it’s perfect, but it’s improving. Oddly enough, this is what I was expecting when the Habs picked up Niku, whereas the latter has all the skill, but seemingly refuses to take the low percentage plays out of his game.
Stats: 1 goal, -1, 1 shot, 1 hit, 18:09 T.O.I.