After a few days filled with off-ice news, many interviews for new GM Kent Hughes, and a rare win in Dallas on Tuesday, the Habs returned to the home of their opponent in their Clarence Campbell victory last Spring to play the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. With the team slowly returning to health and coming off a win, coach Ducharme was able to retain the same lineup for consecutive matches, a first in quite a while.
Samuel Montembeault was back between the pipes after a masterful performance on Tuesday as he faced Robin Lehner. Also consecutively, the Habs played an entertaining game and one that was worth staying up to watch. They surely weren’t the best team on the ice, but still managed to skate away with the loser point as they dropped a 4-3 overtime decision, thanks in large part to another 49 save performance from Montembeault.
The first shifts saw the Habs skate well and apply some pressure on the Knights, but only 3:40 into the contest, Ben Chiarot followed his own dump-in to the offensive zone but failed to retrieve the puck. As play came the other way, Artturi Lehkonen and Ryan Poehling failed to communicate on coverage and the outcome was that they both came back deep into their zone. This resulted in the trailer, Chandler Stephenson, being left wide open as he accepted a pass from Dadonov and was all alone in the slot to score the game’s opening goal. This created hesitancy and doubt for the Canadiens as Vegas really controlled the next five minutes and Montembeault’s poor rebound control really didn’t help the Habs settle down the game.
The line that was on the ice for the goal then stepped up and played a hard shift as Michael Pezzetta, Lehkonen, and Poehling created some offence with twelve minutes to play to settle down their team. With the Habs gaining a bit of momentum, a blatant trip of Nick Suzuki by Michael Amadio went uncalled, but Suzuki lacked discipline as he got up and blatantly tripped Nolan Patrick for the game’s first penalty. The penalty kill was excellent as the Knights didn’t really get a good look, but a slow change after the penalty led to a Keegan Kolesar partial break for a big save that really got Montembeault to settle down.
With Vegas all over the Habs and 4:32 to play in the period, Lehkonen won a defensive zone battle that got the puck up the ice. Pezzetta then won his battle in the neutral zone before Lehkonen won a puck race and then got to the front of the net. His initial shot was stopped by Lehner, but Pezzetta was there to bury the rebound and even the score. The good vibes were almost short lived as Montembeault misplayed his angle in the last minute and the Knights rang a harmless looking shot off the post.
If Montembeault was a little shaky in the first period, he came out strong in the second, as did the Golden Knights. Montembeault made three excellent saves to kick off the period and they were absolutely needed.
Four minutes in, Suzuki got a make up call for the several missed ones in the first as he went down rather easily and Jonathan Marchessault was sent off for tripping. Montreal’s man advantage did not really create scoring chances but they played in the Vegas zone. However, the second it was over, play was back in the Habs zone and the Knights continued their dominance of this period with Montembeault being the hero in keeping the game tied.
The second half of the game started with a David Savard hold that would prove costly. After a rather solid PK, William Karlsson and Marchessault worked an isolated 2-on-1 on Alexander Romanov who was left in defensive no-man’s land by Lehkonen. The puck finally got to Karlsson in the middle and he snuck a rather weak backhand by Montembeault who was not impressed with himself on the goal. He made up for it quickly though as Vegas continued to pile on the pressure and the netminder continued to keep the Habs in the game.
With 6:25 to play, Nicolas Roy committed a rather useless holding minor on the forechecking Poehling to send the Canadiens to their second man advantage. The power play almost didn’t happen though as Pezzetta came in and started a scrum after the play, a facet to his game that I like but that he definitely needs to learn when to deploy.
The man advantage was on point as the Habs knew the Vegas pressure was coming and used it to get defenders out of position. After a dangerous first wave, the second created all sorts of havoc in front of Lehner. Finally, with everyone scrambling to the right of Lehner, Suzuki made a real smart play to get the puck out of the crowd and found Tyler Toffoli with a behind the net pass. Toffoli brought the puck to the vacated left side of the net and tucked home the equalizer. The rest of the period was Vegas pushing Montreal around as the period ended with a 33-19 shot advantage for the Golden Knights.
The third period started much like the other two as Vegas got a few quick scoring chances, but this time their momentum was killed early as Alex Pietrangelo was called for delay of game after clearing a puck in the stands only two minutes into the period. The Habs got some good looks on the advantage, but ultimately came up empty.
6:15 into the period, an excellent forecheck by Christian Dvorak and Laurent Dauphin led to a giveaway by the Vegas defender. Dvorak took advantage and found Mike Hoffman at the faceoff dot who wired home a one-timer short side for Montreal’s first and only lead of the game.
Vegas responded by opening the game up, but that didn’t really work as it created openings for the Habs to keep pucks in dead areas and keep the Knights out of the offensive zone. This is rather unfortunate because Vegas was essentially begging for the Canadiens to attack those dead zones and go up by two, but the Habs were already focused on defending the lead.
The final ten minutes of regulation saw the Golden Knights return to what they had been doing well before they tried to open up the game and it immediately worked as they found the offensive zone and only couldn’t get through Montembeault who made multiple big stops. One puck eventually did get through, however, as Karlsson got a break and rang a shot off the post.
With 8:28 to play, Josh Anderson was called for hooking and Vegas scored seven seconds later. The faceoff win resulted in a cross-ice pass as Marchessault used Chiarot as a screen to beat Montembeault to tie the game. Montembeault had to stand tall for the last six minutes as the Habs were completely hemmed in their defensive zone, though they did manage to make it to overtime.
In overtime, Suzuki and Toffoli came out strong and got two good looks to end it early. After a rather uneventful shift for Hoffman, Anderson and Kale Clague, Karlsson jumped on the tired trio to get another breakaway, this time stopped by Montembeault. The next shift saw Dvorak win a faceoff in the defensive zone only to see Chiarot (boy, did he have a rough game) lose a puck battle, have his forwards bail him out, only to then bobble the puck. The bobble was the straw that broke the camel’s back as Shea Theodore jumped on the occasion and buried the winner over Montembeault’s shoulder. I would love to get the rationale behind using Chiarot in overtime when both Wideman and Romanov were stapled to the bench, both being +2 on the night and Chiarot having not his best game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Samuel Montembeault
Another performance where Montembeault kept his team in the game for long stretches. His play wasn’t as sound as Tuesday’s, but he battles and makes saves, so in a season where the third string goaltender will now be the starter for the next two months with Jake Allen out for that long, his effort is absolutely a positive even if it’s not always pretty.
Stats: 49 saves, 53 shots, .925 save %, 3.88 G.A.A., 61:50 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Tyler Toffoli
Not mentioned often above, his play was solid all night long. His was the one line that was regularly able to get out of the defensive zone. He scored the go-ahead goal in the third, and his return to the lineup has been attributed by players and coaching staff as the spark that has brought up the inspired play of the last two games. No, it’s not always pretty, but there’s a noticeable lack of quit in the team that wasn’t there just three games ago. His recent comments about wanting to stay and the recent power play surge help this nomination also.
Stats: 1 goal, 3 shots, 18 :23 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Michael Pezzetta
He managed to score with his stick in this game, but his second goal in two games in limited ice time is worth highlighting. While many would prefer a kid in his spot, I think he’s a player who brings energy and who I don’t mind seeing with a low T.O.I. to give more to the team’s offensive players. With recent suggestions of a possible Nicolas Deslauriers reunion, I think I prefer Pezzetta who can skate and be involved in the play more than the fighter.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 shots, 3 hits, 7:23 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Josh Anderson
Pitlick and Drouin were completely invisible in this more physical contest and so Anderson had a few flashes but mostly had to do it alone on this night. His effort and ability to drive the centre of the ice is always admired by this writer. I think setting Poehling with Anderson and Drouin might get Poehling to attack the middle more and isolate Drouin’s unwillingness to play in traffic would be countered by his two linemates, but hey, I’m not the coach and Poehling absolutely has some learning to do on the defensive side of the game.
Stats: 7 hits, 17:47 T.O.I.