The Habs kicked off Christmas week and their longest road trip of the season with a late-night contest in Arizona facing the Coyotes. When the Coyotes last visited the Bell Centre in October, the kids had themselves a night as they routed the Coyotes 6-2. That was almost two months ago, and while both teams remained entrenched at the bottom of the standings, Arizona’s home record is even which is significant. Perhaps other teams don’t exactly appreciate the Junior level accommodations in Arizona? The Habs didn’t mind, likely because it served as a reminder of where most of them were playing just last season. In the end, they played a good game and came out with a solid 3-2 overtime victory on Monday night.
The Habs have been trying different things with their forward lines since the Monahan injury and they opted to keep a similar lineup to Saturday for this one. This meant Josh Anderson remained on the top line with Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. Kirby Dach remained the second line pivot alongside Juraj Slafkovsky and Jonathan Drouin. The third line featured Christian Dvorak flanked by Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman, and the fourth Jake Evans with Joel Armia and freshly recalled Anthony Richard as the AHL’s leading goalscorer got his shot in the NHL.
With Mike Matheson once again injured, Joel Edmundson was paired with Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Johnathan Kovacevic formed the second duo, and Arber Xhekaj was joined by Chris Wideman as the third pairing. Samuel Montembeault was in the blue paint for this one.
The entire first period can be summarized through a few bad habits shared by both teams. Firstly, three penalties were taken, one by the Coyotes, and two for the Canadiens. Anderson was first at 7:22 which was a dumb play in the offensive zone. Jack McBain responded in kind as he also took a bad offensive zone penalty, his for hooking. Finally, it was Slafkovsky at 13:12 as he was slow to react to a rebound and was then fighting for a puck from a physically disadvantaged position. All three advantages had a few chances but ultimately failed to convert.
As for the even-strength play, Montembeault stopped an early 3-on-1. It felt like the Habs were controlling the play but then coughing up important scoring chances. Some plays appeared dangerous as a Suzuki one-timer hit Dvorak in the helmet, and a Xhekaj shot did the same to a Coyote. Both players stayed in the game. In the final minute, Montembeault passed the puck to an opponent, but he quickly scrambled back and bailed himself out of the brutal giveaway. In the end, the period was scoreless despite a 17-5 shot advantage for the Coyotes.
Two goals in ninety seconds kicked off the second period. An offensive zone face-off win by Suzuki got the puck to Guhle who carried it around the offensive zone before finding Anderson in the slot. Anderson was hooked down but was able to find Caufield being him while falling. Caufield skated in and buried one through Karel Vejmelka fifty seconds in.
35 seconds later, Slafkovsky was guilty of a turnover at centre ice as Nick Schmaltz slashed Guhle’s stick out of his hand before getting a pass in the slot and beating Montembeault.
At 4:27, some good play by Dadonov and Dvorak in the offensive zone got the puck to the point as Xhekaj did what he does best as he got a good shot on net. This time, the puck was deflected by Dvorak as the Habs reclaimed the lead.
At 7:28, the Coyotes tied it once again. A stretch pass from Chychrun allowed Matias Maccelli to absolutely burn Dvorak down the ice. Before Kovacevic could react and help his centre, Maccelli was in alone and beating Montembeault five-hole.
The second half of the game got underway with an extended shift where the Coyotes buried the Canadiens in their defensive zone. Montreal bent but essentially protected the middle of the ice to get out of it unscathed.
This was the scene for most of the ten-minute segment, but the Habs did get it back as they spent the final two minutes attacking in the offensive zone as Vejmelka was solid but was also lucky that players such as Wideman and Richard did not shoot when in position to do so. The period ended with shots 16-12 in favour of the Coyotes.
The third period saw the coach blend the lines as Dach returned to the wing on the top line. With Slafkovsky having a bad game and Richard having a good one, the other line involved in the blender was Richard and Anderson with Drouin at centre. The blender worked to start the period as the Habs really controlled the pace early on.
Jakob Chychrun started the final ten minutes by taking a penalty which opened the door wide open for the Habs. As per usual, they squandered yet another advantage as Arizona got the best chance of the sequence.
After a shift where the Canadiens were all over the Coyotes, play went to the other zone where Shayne Gostisbehere fired a shot off the post. Dach then got away with a blatant trip on Nick Bjugstad which opened a lane for him to get a partial break that was stopped by Vejmelka.
With the shots 34-29, the game went to overtime. A minute into the extra frame, a smart change by Montreal gave some momentum to Dach and Hoffman who played catch through the neutral zone to allow Hoffman to find himself in the slot for a shot that beat Vejmelka to win the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Kaiden Guhle
Guhle has been excellent all season long, but he took advantage of room provided by the Coyotes to be noticeable offensively in this game. He created the first goal and continued to be a threat all night long. He even got himself an interesting scoring chance to kick off the overtime.
Stats: 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 23:37 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Arber Xhekaj
As per usual, Xhekaj had a few plays where you wonder what he’s doing defensively. In exchange, the team got a ton of good defensive plays, some solid hits, and some shots through to the net, none more important than the Dvorak deflection on the second goal.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 2 hits, 16:11 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Anthony Richard
It was a nice debut for Richard who was so noticeable through two periods that he replaced Slafkovsky on the second line in the third period. There, he continued to use his speed to create chaos and space for his linemates. It will be interesting to see where he is slotted for the next game because he was far too fast and shifty to stay on Evans’ wing.
Stats: 2 shots, 3 hits, 10:58 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Samuel Montembeault
I really wanted to feature Drouin as I think he’s played quite well since his return but it’s impossible to ignore a 37-save performance. Montembeault didn’t have to make a large series of highlight reel stops, but the Coyotes were the better team and he made the saves he needed to make to keep his team in the game through the first 40 minutes.
Stats: 37 saves, 39 shots, 1.97 GAA, .949 save %, 61:03 T.O.I.