The Habs kicked off a trip on the Canadian west coast with a visit to Calgary to take on the Flames on Thursday night. The Canadiens were trying to get back into the win column and stay above .500, while the Flames had the same amount of points as the Habs in the standings but were fresh off a win that snapped a three-game skid. This game marked a return to Calgary for Sean Monahan, but clearly, the veteran pivot would have preferred a better outcome for his return as the Habs coughed up the puck all night long, but they were bailed out by a stellar performance by Jake Allen who made 44 saves in earning a 2-1 win.
The lineup was a bit disjointed after an announcement earlier in the day that Brendan Gallagher would not be playing in the contest. This did not change the top two lines of Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Kirby Dach as well as Juraj Slafkovsky and Josh Anderson with Monahan. The third line suddenly looked vulnerable as Christian Dvorak was paired with Evgenii Dadonov and Joel Armia. While management recalled Rem Pitlick, he could not make it to Calgary on time and so Michael Pezzetta and Jake Evans were playing without a third. The Habs placed Mike Hoffman on IR to make room for Pitlick.
The blue line was slightly more interesting as David Savard and Mike Matheson had the top pair duties, while Kaiden Guhle and Joel Edmundson remained the second pair. The final pair saw coach St. Louis roll with both rookies as Arber Xhekaj was paired with Jordan Harris in what was an intriguing move. Chris Wideman was dressed as the seventh defenceman and Allen got the start in net and delivered his best performance in quite a while.
14 seconds into the game, a savvy pass through the neutral zone by Guhle sent Monahan to the races. Monahan’s play forced Jacob Markstrom out of his net, but Slafkovsky was in position to scoop up the loose puck and open the scoring.
Calgary controlled the puck for a few minutes following the goal, but they often passed it out of the middle of the ice which made Montreal’s job defending much easier. Ultimately, this allowed the Habs to find their legs and play better hockey as the period progressed.
The second half of the period started with a penalty to Harris. The Flames got good zone time but some key blocks by Savard and Edmundson kept them away from Allen. Calgary continued to control the pace of play as the Canadiens were having a hard time dealing with the Flames’ physicality and north-south style of play.
Allen’s best stop came with just over a minute to play as Blake Coleman was stopped on a breakaway. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the only line that was a positive for the Habs were the big bodies of Slafkovsky, Monahan, and Anderson as the Habs got outshot 13-6 in the period.
Matheson started the second period with some speed that forced Calgary to take a penalty a minute into the second period. The advantage was a disaster as the Canadiens could not even enter the offensive zone. The second unit was a bit more interesting as Slafkovsky continued his excellent game in gaining a scoring chance for his unit.
After the advantage, it was once again Calgary controlling the play as Allen had to be sharp to keep them off the board. Much like the first period, the Monahan line appeared to be the only line capable of gaining and sustaining pressure in the offensive zone.
As the second half of the game got underway, play opened a bit as the teams’ exchanged some scoring chances that led to a Xhekaj high stick for a Flames power play. Their advantage was dangerous as a few posts were hit and Allen made a few nice stops. Oddly enough, Calgary did not keep the created momentum after the sequence as the Habs appeared to finally be fighting back and winning a few board battles.
The final two minutes were full of action as Slafkovsky beat a defender in the defensive zone and flew up the ice where he fired a puck off the post. The Flames came back and forced another excellent save by Allen.
The Flames finally tied it with 29 seconds to play. Matheson would be interfered with in an icing race. The result was that he was completely out of position as Jonathan Huberdeau found a streaking Elias Lindholm who scored.
The third period started with the Flames continuing their domination until Harris took a delay of game penalty two minutes into the period. Tyler Toffoli was dangerous on the power play as he hit a post and had two more shots on Allen. The Habs survived the sequence, but the Flames continued to press as shots were 32-14 after five minutes of play in the third period.
Anderson thought he had beat out an icing and took a stick from Markstrom for his effort. The play was icing, and Anderson came back to talk with Markstrom. Andrew Mangiapane came roaring in and took a roughing penalty. The Habs’ second advantage took little time as Suzuki went cross-ice to Caufield who wired one home.
The Canadiens got another advantage to start the final ten minutes of play. The advantage was unsuccessful, and Calgary came out of the box with a 3-on-1 but Allen made a huge save. That chaotic shift ended with a Habs penalty for too many men. The Flames advantage was unsuccessful, but they surely held momentum. They kept it too as the Habs were completely hemmed in their zone.
Anderson got a breakaway but was turned away by Markstrom with two minutes to play. The Flames pulled Markstrom in the final minute as Guhle blocked a shot and looked in considerable pain as he needed help to get off the ice as his team hung on to win the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jake Allen
Allen is at his best when he faces far more rubber than he should. This game was no exception as the Habs were mostly dominated throughout and Allen kept his team in the game with a whopping 44 saves. Good thing the power play finally found its rhythm and scored two in the third to the dismay of Flames fans. Great effort by Allen on this night.
Stats: 45 saves on 46 shots, 1.00 GAA, .978 save %, 60:00 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Juraj Slafkovsky
He’s looked increasingly comfortable as the season has moved along, and now it appears the move to the second line has unlocked the first overall pick. This last sentence is not fair to the kid as it only increases the ridiculous pressure he faces. But this was an awesome game by him as he was noticeable all game long. I want to see him play like this with more regularity starting next season!
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 12:39 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Sean Monahan
An emotional moment for Monahan as he returned to Calgary and if there was money on the board, he’s Slafkovsky and Allen away from having to keep it for himself. Monahan stepped up in a big way as the top line really had an off night. Monahan’s line was the only one that got anything going all night long as he chipped in with two assists.
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 20:08 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Josh Anderson
Anderson had a good night with three shots on net. He was able to use his size to cycle the puck in the offensive zone as he played with two other big boys in Slafkovsky and Monahan. Playing to his strengths made Anderson better on this night so hopefully that line can continue that play for the next few games.
Stats: 3 shots, 15:42 T.O.I.