The Canadiens returned from their four-game road trip to host the Golden Knights at the Bell Centre, giving them likely their toughest opposition of the still-young season. Jake Allen would take the start and Chris Wideman was back in for Johnathan Kovacevic, but the roster was largely the same one that took the Jets to overtime.
On this night, in spite of Allen’s goaltending heroics, it would not be enough, though, as the Habs were badly outplayed for the majority of the game, falling 6-4 to Vegas.
At first, things looked good
The game started off fairly sedately, with the Habs holding an early edge in shots, with seemingly good possession in the Vegas zone, but those shots were from well outside and caused little trouble for Adin Hill, who turned them away without breaking a sweat.
Notably, Christian Dvorak, who had blocked two early Vegas shots, was accidentally hit in the head with a dump-in pass that was lobbed high. He left for the dressing room but the concussion protocol must have come up negative as he rejoined the play before the end of the period.
The scoring finally opened two-thirds of the way through the period. Joel Edmundson picked up the puck behind Allen’s net, not under heavy pressure, and sent out a clearing pass. Unfortunately, he delivered it on a platter to Nicolas Hague, who had to take just a couple of strides from the blue line, and his one-timer slap shot beat Allen cleanly to give Vegas the early lead at 13:25. Allen likely had visibility on the shot but the net-front traffic would have surely been a distraction.
Edmundson redeemed himself less than a minute later, as he fed Kirby Dach the puck, and Dach broke into the Vegas zone on the left side. Dach spotted Cole Caufield on the right side and sent off a nicely-calibrated pass to the young sniper, who made no mistake in snapping the puck into the Vegas net, tying the game at one apiece.
Keegan Kolesar tried to pick a fight with Arber Xhekaj near the end of the period, unhappy with the shove from Xhekaj after Kolesar’s run at Allen. No actual fight ensued but both were sent off for two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The shots were 14-12 in the Habs’ favour, as were the high-danger chances at 5-3.
Could we get a second shot, please?
The second period was barely underway when William Karlsson and Reilly Smith broke out from the Vegas zone. Edmundson was caught out of position on the play, leaving Jordan Harris alone to defend the two-on-one. Harris made a sliding block to prevent the pass to Smith, but the puck made its way across, and Smith tapped it into the open side of the net to re-establish the Knights’ lead.
Slafkovsky, too, got into the blocking game and stopped a hard Shea Theodore shot, apparently on a less-well-shielded part of his calf. He couldn’t get up immediately, but dragged himself to the bench and was helped out to the dressing room for treatment. He would return to the period, though.
Brett Howden looked to have Allen beat just after the five-minute mark, but his shot glanced safely off the crossbar.
It would not be until the 12-minute mark that Dvorak recorded the Canadiens’ first shot of the period. By this time the Golden Knights had already tabulated fifteen of them, though.
The Habs somehow found new energy after this remarkable event, and they began to apply some pressure again. However, Hill was sharp, and there were few real scoring threats that the Habs could come up with.
This was reflected in the high-danger scoring stats: while the shots were 16-8 in the Knights’ favour, their edge in high-danger shots was a much uglier 12-2.
The third is the wildest period
If Smith’s goal in the second had been a quick one, the Habs’ opening of the third period took only a blink of an eye. Chandler Stephenson lost an edge in the Montreal zone, sliding into the boards just as the Canadiens were breaking out. Kaiden Guhle fed Nick Suzuki, and Dach (centre) and Caufield joined him on a three-on-one break.
With the Knights watching for Caufield’s deadly one-timer, the Habs’ kid line took a different approach, with a quick Suzuki-Dach-Suzuki sequence, followed by a quick wrist shot past Hill to tie the game back at two with just 0:56 on the clock in the third period.
The pressure was back on the Canadiens, though, and three minutes into the period, Harris took a holding call, giving the Vegas a chance to exercise their big guns on a man advantage. Jack Eichel, on the first power play unit, elbowed Joel Armia in the face but did not get called for this. Armia got his own back a few shifts later, laying a solid hit on Eichel that sent his helmet flying.
Back to the power play, though: Phil Kessel took a shot from the left side of the net, and Allen’s pad save left a loose puck in front of the net. Smith jumped on, with Guhle unable to stop the play, and tapped the puck into the net, his second goal of the game in much the same manner as the first. Vegas in front by one, then, again.
Kolesar made it a two-goal lead at 8:14, deflecting a harmless-looking wrist shot from the point with the butt-end of his stick, the late change of direction making a save a tall order for Allen.
And then it was five, as Zach Whitecloud stripped the puck from Suzuki in the Vegas zone, and sent Kolesar, William Carrier, and Nicolas Roy on a rush into the Montreal zone. Kolesar got the puck to Roy, who snapped it behind Allen to put the game seemingly out of reach at 5-2.
The frustration seemed to be getting to some of the Montreal players, and at 10:08 Josh Anderson was called for boarding Alex Pietrangelo, reasonably meriting a five-minute major. However, Pietrangelo and Alec Martinez jumped on Anderson, pummelling him with their fists from both sides, and apparently, that was only roughing, not fighting.
The end result of these odd penalty choices was a two-minute four-on-three power play for the Habs, their first of the night. Only 13 minutes in, Suzuki cashed that chip, and one-timed a pretty goal past Hill, bringing the Canadiens back to within two goals with nearly ten minutes still remaining.
Once Vegas got their part of the power play, though, it looked like it was all over bar the shouting. Jack Eichel spotted Jonathan Marchessault at the top of the left circle, and Marchessault made no mistake in one-timing Eichel’s pass into the back of the net for a 6-3 lead.
The Habs have not been folding like a cheap tent under adversity this year, though, and the team’s rookies gave it one more chance yet, as Guhle, breaking in along the left-side boards, made a beautiful cross-ice pass to Slafkovsky, who one-timed it into the top corner at 15:21, not giving Hill any chance to react.
Martin St-Louis pulled Allen with two minutes to go, but the Habs were not able to make an impression on the six-on-five man advantage. Marchesseault nearly scored with a minute to go, but David Savard was able to poke the puck away and keep the game alive – but only just.
A 6-4 final, then, after a frenetic third period where the Canadiens were outshot 14-9 and also trailed in high-danger chances by 4-3.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Nick Suzuki (2g, 0a, 2 shots, 22:01 TOI) was everywhere: 5-on-5, power play, and penalty kill. Only two shots, neither one counted as high danger but he made both of them matter. Eight goals and 15 points in 12 games, and he is still getting better.
Second Star: Kirby Dach (0g, 3a, 0 shots, 16:49 TOI) is proving the doubters of the Romanov trade wrong. He may or may not end up at centre in the future, but he is demonstrating what he can do when playing with skilled linemates.
Third Star: Kaiden Guhle (0g, 2a, 1 shot, 4 blocked shots, 22:34 TOI) is playing superb, mature hockey, both skilled and committed to the team. If he is not in the mix for a Calder nomination at this rate, at least this writer will be surprised.
Honourable Mention: Jake Allen (42 shots, 36 saves, 0.857) wasn’t able to steal this game for the Habs but especially his work in the second period kept Montreal in the game while the Golden Knights were throwing everything they had at him. The final score could have been much uglier yet.