Montreal’s long road trip finally came to an end on Monday night with a stop in Minnesota. They played like a team that had been on the road for a month as they didn’t muster up much in an 8-2 loss.
After falling to Colorado in overtime on Saturday, head coach Dominique Ducharme saw fit to keep his lineup intact from that game so Cayden Primeau got the start once again. Cam Talbot, meanwhile, got the nod for the Wild, his first start in more than three weeks as he returned from an injury.
The Canadiens got off to a positive start as less than a minute in a half in, they got on the board. Rem Pitlick attempted a centring pass that went off a Wild defender and bounced right to Mike Hoffman who one-timed it past Talbot. Jeff Petry got the other assist on the play, his 300th career NHL point.
The lead was short-lived, however. Off a won draw in the offensive zone, they moved the puck back to the point where Alex Goligoski slid it across to Jared Spurgeon who slapped it past Primeau to tie it up just 3:04 in.
Less than a minute later, Petry tried to reverse it around the boards but didn’t hit the correct angle. Instead, the puck bounced in front to Jordan Greenway but he couldn’t stuff it home. Minnesota retained control and Kirill Kaprizov went for a long skate, circling the net twice before setting up Matt Dumba for a one-timer. Ryan Hartman had a strong chance soon after that Primeau got a piece of.
In between all that, Christian Dvorak took an elbow to the head from Spurgeon at the end of a play, ending his night early, leaving the Habs in a spot they’re becoming a little too familiar with as they were short a forward the rest of the way. Ducharme noted after the game he was pulled by a concussion spotter and didn’t pass the baseline tests.
Just past the nine-minute mark, the Wild took the lead. Greenway’s shot from the left faceoff circle was stopped but Primeau couldn’t catch it, instead kicking out the rebound to the slot. Sensing a low shot, Primeau went down early but instead, Marcus Foligno lifted it over him. They nearly had another one on the next shift after a defensive zone giveaway led to a Kaprizov scoring chance where he went between his legs but it missed.
The second half of the frame featured a lot of power play time for both sides. First, David Savard went off for an elbow on Foligno. Primeau had a highlight-reel stop on a Matt Boldy one-timer where he just got across enough to get a piece of it with the glove but that was all Minnesota could muster up.
Near the end of that penalty, Tyler Toffoli got a step on Goligoski, causing the veteran defender to interfere with him although Toffoli still managed to get a decent shot off during the delayed penalty sequence. That advantage was short-lived, however, as Pitlick hooked Dmitry Kulikov halfway through. Minnesota couldn’t muster up anything with their one-minute advantage.
Dumba then was called for roughing on Laurent Dauphin with just over a minute to go with the Montreal forward getting two for embellishment. Dumba clearly wasn’t thrilled with Dauphin and gave him a shot to the head for good measure, earning himself an extra two, allowing the Canadiens to finish up on the power play.
However, it was the Wild that had the best chance as Frederick Gaudreau found himself in alone on Primeau in the dying seconds but Hoffman was able to get back and break it up. The buzzer sounded on what was an eventful opening 20 minutes with Minnesota holding a 21-8 edge in shots.
Montreal had nearly a minute of carryover power play time from the Dumba minor and they did nothing with it. In fact, the best chance again went to the Wild when Foligno went in on a two-on-one with Joel Eriksson Ek but the latter’s shot went wide.
Three minutes later, Connor Dewar picked up the puck at his own blueline and skated into Montreal’s zone uncontested. His shot went through the defenders and past Primeau’s ear to double Minnesota’s lead on a goal Primeau would love to have back. It was Dewar’s first in the NHL after being one of the beneficiaries of the Wild waiving Pitlick earlier this month.
The fourth line stayed on for Minnesota and they struck again. Spurgeon got the puck down low on the right side and sent it towards the slot. The pass caught a piece of Dewar’s stick and went right to Nico Sturm who had a wide-open net for a tap-in. That one certainly wasn’t Primeau’s fault. Ducharme called timeout but it didn’t do much.
Josh Anderson tried to get around Kulikov for a break on the ensuing shift but he instead grabbed the defender, earning himself a holding minor in the process. The Wild had a couple of chances while Montreal showed a bit of life at the end of it when Artturi Lehkonen and Jake Evans went in off the rush but the shot went wide.
Less than a minute after the power play ended, Jordie Benn rang one off the post and a minute and a half after that, Foligno was stopped on a breakaway as Minnesota was basically skating downhill to this point of the period.
The pace picked up in the back half of the period with both teams trading some shots and chances though none were particularly dangerous. There were few whistles over that stretch and with how this one was going, I don’t think either team minded.
The Habs weren’t able to get out of the period being ‘only’ down three, however. Mats Zuccarello skated in on the right wing with minimal defensive pressure once again and got to the bottom of the faceoff dot. From there, he put a perfectly placed shot between Primeau’s head and the post to make it 5-1. It was a nice shot but another one that Primeau absolutely had to have. The shots were closer to even in the second at 11-7 for the Wild but the home side held the 3-0 goal advantage in the frame.
Both teams made goaltending changes to start the third which is something you don’t see every day in a regular season game. Michael McNiven replaced Primeau to make his NHL debut while Kaapo Kahkonen came in for the Wild, a sign that Talbot wasn’t fully healthy after all.
Just before the three-minute mark, Toffoli rang one off the post and Minnesota came back the other way with Kaprizov getting a breakaway. It looked like McNiven got a piece of it but it wasn’t credited as a shot. Either way, that’s a memorable ‘Welcome to the NHL’ moment.
Montreal then got one past Kahkonen a little over a minute later. Evans forced a turnover behind the Minnesota net and the puck went to Cedric Paquette. He sent it out front and Pitlick was there to score against his former team. The comeback was…still not going to happen.
Paquette stayed out for the next shift and took an interference penalty for his trouble, sending with the Wild to the power play. Kaprizov turned it over in his own end, giving Suzuki a good look that Kahkonen got a piece of. The Wild came back and got set up quickly. Kaprizov took the puck, faked the shot which pulled McNiven out of position, and then found Boldy who fired it past McNiven.
McNiven’s rough first NHL action continued as a brutal line change from the Habs while the puck was in the defensive zone led to another one. Brandon Duhaime fed Sturm who dropped it for Benn who had plenty of time and space and he made no mistake, scoring his first in a Montreal uniform.
Chris Wideman was called for interference with eight minutes to go and while the Canadiens killed it off, by that point, Minnesota had taken their foot off the gas.
They did get one more goal, however. Gaudreau drove the net with the puck, forcing McNiven to make a nice sprawling save with his pad. However, the rebound bounced to the side of the goal where Kevin Fiala was uncovered and he tapped it in.
It looked as if the game was going to end without much fanfare with the Wild basically running out the clock behind the net with 35 seconds left. They eventually moved it and Michael Pezzetta for some reason decided to line up Dumba with a hard hit instead of letting the final few seconds play out. It wasn’t a dirty hit by any means but in a six-goal game where both teams were content to just get to the buzzer and go home, it was a completely unnecessary one.
That led to a huge scrum with Dumba and Foligno both throwing punches at Pezzetta. Being double-teamed with punches is never right but Pezzetta made a mistake in taking the pointless run at Dumba. A small scrum ensued off the following faceoff as tempers were hot as a result of the previous incident and it simply didn’t need to come to that. Pezzetta’s decision-making has been an issue for him in the past going back to his time in the minors and this was another example of how it’s still a work in progress. There’s a time and a place for a hard hit to try to get the team going. Doing it with 15 seconds left in a game when you’re down by six simply isn’t it.
The buzzer eventually sounded with a familiar result as the Canadiens have struggled mightily in Minnesota. Their last win came back on March 20, 2011. The decade-long losing streak was extended in an ugly fashion on Monday.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Mike Hoffman – He scored early on off a nice shot and I was impressed with the play that broke up Gaudreau’s chance at the end of the first back when the game was remotely competitive. That’s good enough for the top spot in a game like this one.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 2 shots, 17:03 TOI
2nd Star: Rem Pitlick – I didn’t think he was great by any stretch but there weren’t any questions with regards to his effort and he potted Montreal’s other marker. A decent showing in his ‘revenge game’ despite the lopsided final score.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 17:07 TOI
3rd Star: Cayden Primeau – He battled and made some good saves to keep the Habs in it when their defence once again failed to show up early on. That’s why he’s on here despite the ugly numbers. But the third goal was a back-breaker. He’s had a few of those in the minors and that’s one of the elements he’ll need to clean up if he wants to become a consistent NHL goalie as he has the upside to be.
Stats: 27 saves on 32 shots, 7.50 GAA, .844 SV%
Honourable Mention: Jake Evans – Evans managed to play nearly 19 minutes in a game where Montreal got lit up and managed to have an even plus/minus rating for the game. Actually, even in terms of possession, he rated as one of Montreal’s better players in this one.
Stats: 1 assist, even rating, 2 PIMS, 7/19 faceoffs, 18:56 TOI