With an abysmal season winding down, Friday’s game was important for many fans as it marked the return of Montreal’s franchise player. Carey Price made his season debut after knee and personal issues were overcome. Price faced Ilya Sorokin who absolutely stole the show despite the fans showing plenty of love to Price throughout the contest. Despite outplaying the Islanders by a wide margin, they dropped this contest 3-0 as Sorokin was unbeatable making 44 stops in the process.
Coach St. Louis opted for a veteran lineup in his veteran netminder’s return to action. Josh Anderson remained on the top line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, while Joel Armia was given yet another chance, this time alongside Rem Pitlick and Jake Evans on the second line. The third line featured Christian Dvorak, Brendan Gallagher, and the struggling Mike Hoffman. The final forward group was Michael Pezzetta, Ryan Poehling, and Paul Byron. The blue line featured Alexander Romanov and David Savard at the top, Joel Edmundson with Jeff Petry, and Corey Schueneman with Chris Wideman on the final pair as Jordan Harris watched this one from the press box.
It was a tentative start to the game for both teams as New York had quite a bit on the line while the Habs were trying to protect Price. Four and a half minutes into the game, a strong shift by Armia was capped off with a partial break that forced the Islanders to slash him and send Montreal to the advantage. The power play was quite good creating chances with Caufield missing a wide-open net as the best chance of the sequence. The Habs continued to be the much better team to start as they led 8-1 in shots after ten minutes.
The second half of the period was much of the same as the Canadiens were the better team and the Islanders’ blue line had little answer for the intense forechecked practiced by the Montreal forwards. New York did push back a little more in the second half of the period as the shots finished 14-7 for the period, but they were mostly shots from the outside that Price handled with ease, getting huge pops from the crowd with each save.
The second period got underway with big hits from Romanov and Matt Martin before an excellent pass by Hoffman provided Dvorak with a great backhand chance that Sorokin turned away. Price then made his best stop up to that point as he had to bail out a bad breakout attempt by Wideman.
The Price save gave the team a spark as it was immediately followed by complete domination by the Canadiens who once again hemmed the Isles in their zone. Montreal extended their shot advantage to 24-11 by the midway point of the game. Sorokin was particularly brilliant versus Armia and Caufield who both has multiple chances to open the scoring during this stretch of play.
The second half of the period was more of the same with the Habs in complete control as they were ahead 4-0 in shots in the second half of the period with three minutes to go in the period. That’s when they were poised to break out on a 2-on-1 but it was negated when Mathew Barzal interfered with Caufield. While the first man advantage was excellent, this second version was bad as the Habs logged no shots as the better chance went the other way.
Right after the advantage, the Canadiens logged two more chances before Pezzetta slashed Sorokin’s hand after the whistle to draw a scrum that would result in offsetting minors to end the period with six seconds at 4-on-4.
The third period started at 4-on-4 and Montreal was hemmed into their defensive zone for the entirety of that sequence. As soon as the teams returned to 5-on-5, the Habs were back to being the better team and play returned to the New York zone. The best chances were once again from the stick of Armia.
After a great chance, Armia found Schueneman in the high slot. Schueneman fanned on the puck and had no one behind him which resulted in a 3-on-0 for the Islanders. Barzal made a last-second pass to Zach Parise who beat a sliding Price to finally open the scoring with 15:35 left to play.
Less than two minutes later, New York would extend the lead as Noah Dobson used Romanov as a screen to beat Price with a far-side shot that surprised Price. This did not discourage the Habs as they forced another three or four excellent stops by Sorokin before the half of the period.
Montreal continued their strong performance in the last ten minutes with one Hoffman shot getting by Sorokin early but trickling wide in the process. After Casey Cizikas clipped Price, Pitlick completed a beautiful deke to get around the defender and Sorokin but he rang his shot off the post.
With six minutes to play, Pitlick lost body position and took a tripping penalty. The Habs killed the penalty as the Islanders played it safely on their advantage, but the Habs were right back on the offensive afterward.
Price would be pulled with 2:38 to play and the Habs called a timeout with 1:56 to play, but Sorokin simply was not to be beaten on this night as Brock Nelson sealed the game with an empty-netter. In a dumb sequence, Martin and Edmundson dropped the mitts with 42 seconds left after Martin went after the defender for no apparent reason.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Joel Armia
When was the last time that this Joel Armia played for the Habs? Armia competed hard, was all over the puck on the forecheck, and was able to create more than a few scoring chances through this excellent play. Now, if St. Louis can figure out a way to see that Armia with more regularity, the Canadiens may not regret that hefty contract as much as they did this season.
Stats: 5 shots, 2 hits, 15:08 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Cole Caufield
Like Armia, Caufield delivered quite a bit of good forecheck on this night that resulted in scoring chances for him, but also much more time with the puck for his linemates. It’s interesting and somewhat ironic that Caufield plays a game like this, misses a long list of chances, and in other games, he appears to be completely out of it but capitalizes on the two chances he gets in the entire game. That’s the life of a sniper, I guess.
Stats: 3 shots, 18:57 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Nick Suzuki
Another intelligent night where Suzuki found the soft spots and created so much offence by exploiting those areas on the ice.
Stats: 2 shots, 20:13 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Carey Price
The return was not flashy for Price, but a quiet Price is what the team wants. Like Allen, he provides so much better rebound control that needs a little fewer highlight-reel stops. More so than Allen, Price provides puck movement and makes difficult saves look easy which in turn makes his defenders look so much better. Not surprisingly, Romanov looked even better than he has of late. Edmundson was more comfortable joining the attack in the offensive zone, and others will get some time to learn how to play with Price such as Schueneman and Wideman. And how about that crowd reaction. What an absolute legend.
Stats: 17 saves, 19 shots, .895 save %, 2.04 G.A.A., 58:49 T.O.I.