After another defensively chaotic effort on Tuesday night, the Habs were back in Columbus on Wednesday night. With the Canadiens struggling defensively lately, and the Blue Jackets being one of the worst defensive teams on the season, one could logically expect a high-scoring contest similar to last week’s 6-4 result. Instead, fans were treated to one of the most boring games in recent memory that the Habs slugged out and won by a 3-1 score.
Without much surprise, coach St. Louis opted for some change following a sloppy effort. Those changes did not occur on the top line as Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Kirby Dach remained in their spots. Evgenii Dadonov was moved to the second unit with Christian Dvorak and Brendan Gallagher, while Joel Armia joined Sean Monahan and Josh Anderson. This meant that Juraj Slafkovsky returned to the fourth line with Jake Evans and Michael Pezzetta to this writer’s disappointment. On the blue line, the top four was shuffled as Joel Edmundson was paired with Kaiden Guhle and Mike Matheson was teamed with David Savard. The bottom pair was also shuffled as Arber Xhekaj and Johnathan Kovacevic along with Samuel Montembeault.
If the scoring was quick to arrive last week, both teams were so defensively sound that it cost them their offence. The shot clock showed a 7-6 advantage for Montreal at the end of the period, and if those numbers sound boring to the reader, then the writer is confirming that this is exactly what this period was.
Both teams had solid defensive efforts which meant little to no scoring chances and absolutely no second chances. With 2:34 to play in the period, the Blue Jackets were guilty of tripping Gallagher deep in their defensive zone that sent the Habs to the power play. Columbus was all over Montreal in this sequence as the Habs went without a shot on their attempt to end the period.
The Canadiens came out for the second and quickly offered more pace which caused Mathieu Olivier to rough up Armia and send the Habs to their second advantage of the night. That sequence was also immediately better as Joonas Korpisalo had to make a great save on Monahan who completed a nice deke to find himself in front of the net for a good scoring chance. Slafkovsky then had a good shift on the second unit as Anderson was not ready for a cross-ice pass and Slafkovsky’s stick exploded on the second chance.
The end of the advantage saw the Habs fall asleep defensively as Olivier and Gustav Nyquist were gifted breakaways within ten seconds of each other as Montembeault made his best saves of the night. Pezzetta then decided to fight Erik Gudbranson and ate some serious knuckles.
Just like that, Columbus had some momentum and the Habs were back on their feet until Kovacevic took a penalty for the first power play for the opposition. The Jackets were successful in moving the Habs’ box as both Savard and Montembeault were completely scrambling but two empty nets were missed as the Habs survived their first kill of the night.
The second half of the game slowed down considerably as it returned to a pace similar to the opening period. One scramble in front of Montembeault had Anderson trying to play goaltender which was followed by the first shift of the night where the Habs’ top line was offensively noticeable.
With four minutes to play in the period, Guhle got caught out of position and took a holding minor that would be matched by Emil Bemstrom’s tripping penalty six seconds later. The 4-on-4 saw Korpisalo commit a brutal giveaway that gave Caufield an empty net on a really bad angle. However, Caufield was not able to find the limited space that was available to him, and the period ended scoreless, once again with a lamentable 16-16 shot clock indication.
A minute into the third period, with the Canadiens in complete control of the puck, Matheson decided that he was absolutely not willing to take a hit to make a play. His soft flip landed on Olivier’s stick who skated in and finally beat Montembeault to open the scoring.
Montreal would get it back at 2:38. Good neutral zone play by Slafkovsky allowed Evans to get in the zone before he sent it back to Xhekaj. Xhekaj’s shot found the back of the net with Pezzetta and Slafkovsky completing some honest work in front of the offensive net.
A minute later, Savard got the Habs their first lead after an excellent zone entry by Caufield who found Dach, who then banked it in off Savard’s skate who was crashing the net.
The game settled down with Montreal noticeably having found a way through the Blue Jackets’ neutral zone trap as they really controlled play. This was until the midway point where Monahan got absolutely robbed by Korpisalo. Unfortunately, that interesting shift didn’t create momentum for either team as the game quickly returned to a snail’s pace with no scoring chances to speak of.
With seven minutes to play, Johnny Gaudreau had his first noticeable shift of the game as he skated in with speed and created a scoring chance for Jenner where Montembeault had to be sharp.
The Habs stayed on top of the Blue Jackets and finally were able to put this one on ice with 1:57 to play when Monahan was able to fire it into the empty net. Anderson took a delay of game penalty soon after but Montreal was able to kill it off to secure the victory.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Kirby Dach
It wasn’t a game where Dach completely dominated, but when the game was on the line in the third period, Dach was the best Hab in this one. He got the pass on the game-winner, and competed hard against the boards, completing a few key defensive plays to keep the Habs in the driver’s seat. What a player he has been since being placed on the wing.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 3 shots, 2 hits, 15:38 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Samuel Montembeault
After a very slow first period, Montembeault had some key moments and stops in the second period and then did he needed to do to preserve the lead once the Habs had it. Some of his better stops in the second were created by his own poor rebound control, but at least he continued to battle and kept the puck out of the net. In a sequence of games where Jake Allen hasn’t lived up to his early season success, the team had to be relieved by Montembeault’s ability to step up and be solid for the team.
Stats: 30 saves, 31 shots, .968 save %, 1.01 G.A.A., 59:37 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Arber Xhekaj
Let me be the first to say that it’s not always pretty with him. What it is, though, is always fun. Xhekaj is always physical, always in the middle of the action, and always finding a way to get the puck to the net. This last quality has made him an option on the team’s second power play unit and makes him a threat on many shifts where the Habs don’t have much going on, see his goal in the third period as a prime example.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 16:05 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Josh Anderson
One of the few Habs that I thought was noticeable in a good way in the first forty minutes. He was unable to capitalize or even generate much if we’re being honest, but he was skating and causing things to happen in favour of his team which is more than we can say for the majority of the roster on this night.
Stats: 4 shots, 1 hit, 18:35 T.O.I.