The Habs kicked off a back-to-back on the West Coast with a visit to Vancouver on Monday night. Before the game even got started, the Habs were dealt two blows as it was announced that Brendan Gallagher would be out for a couple of weeks. Additionally, it was announced that David Savard is now injured.
With injuries starting to pile up and a team that is playing a bit more like what was expected at the start of the season, the Habs took on a team that is far more disappointing than they are in the Canucks. However, the Canucks are doing a little better after a horrendous start to the season. Vancouver came out hard, but a few Samuel Montembeault saves and the Canucks’ inability to get a save quickly turned the tides as the Habs took an early 4-0 lead. The Canucks fought back and managed to tie the game early in the third period before things went a little crazy as the Canucks would eventually win 7-6 in overtime.
The forward lines did not change much as the Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach line remained, as did the second unit of Juraj Slafkovsky, Sean Monahan, and Josh Anderson. The third line consisted of Christian Dvorak with Joel Armia and Evgenii Dadonov. The final line was Michael Pezzetta, Jake Evans, and Rem Pitlick.
The blue line was revamped with the sudden absence of Savard as Joel Edmundson and Kaiden Guhle formed the top pairing. This meant that Mike Matheson was joined by Johnathan Kovacevic on the team’s second pairing. Arber Xhekaj and Jordan Harris formed the final pairing as Chris Wideman watched the game from the stands. Montembeault got the start in net.
The first period was full of action as the Canadiens were dominated but drew first blood which opened the floodgates. After a sloppy defensive shift by Anderson opened the door to the first Canucks’ chances, Montembeault had to multiply the nice saves early after some nice plays by Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser were paired with some terrible positioning by Kovacevic. At one point, the shots were 9-1 in favour of the Canucks.
However, Montreal’s third shot of the contest opened the scoring. A sloppy clearing attempt was intercepted by Harris who skated in and found Caufield for a one-timer to get the Canadiens on the board.
The second half of the period started as Slafkovsky got absolutely rocked by Luke Schenn. Xhekaj took exception and had a short fight with Schenn. The Habs ended up with a power play, though Xhekaj was lucky to not get an instigator. The start of the power play came close on some passes from Dach that went through the crease but bounced off nobody. The sequence was then cut short as Armia was called for hooking.
Right after the Armia penalty, Guhle tried a stretch pass from deep in the defensive zone that found Suzuki who barrelled in and fired one through Spencer Martin who likely wanted that shot back on what was a weak goal.
The following shift saw Boeser take a tripping penalty that would prove costly as Monahan extended the lead. The power play got at least three scoring chances before they committed to over-covering Caufield, so Suzuki went with a shot-pass to Monahan at the goalmouth for a tap-in.
The period wasn’t yet over when Harris joined the rush, and his centring pass went off Tyler Myers right to Pezzetta who buried a fourth goal that chased Martin with 3:43 left in the first period as Collin Delia got his first action in the NHL this season. Slafkovsky did return before the end of the period and the period ended with a 11-9 shot advantage for the Habs as the tables really turned in the second half of the period.
The second period saw both teams settle down with play being mostly in the Vancouver zone. One thing that was strange was seeing the Canucks’ defence running around trying to land big hits. What is so strange about it is that the Habs have big defenders and the Canucks don’t exactly have a big, physical forward group, so if the strategy had worked, it’s easy to suggest that it would then have been applied in the other direction. Regardless, it was a rather quiet start to the frame other than the running around and Caufield missing an empty net thanks to another sublime Suzuki pass.
The second half of the game started with a nice passing play by J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat, but Nils Hoglander was once again stopped, this time by the post in a tap-in situation. The scoring chance woke Montreal up as they fired back with a complete shift in the offensive zone by the fourth line. Evans was sent on a partial breakaway, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson caught up. Evans pulled a move that put the defender in a bad position which ended with a trip. The power play was neither dangerous nor terrible as the period was able to finish without scoring.
With 3:16 left to play, Harris hesitated with the puck in the neutral zone. Harris’ hesitation came back to bite him when Xhekaj blew a tire and Conor Garland was sent in all alone. He deked Montembeault to get the Canucks on the board.
Ilya Mikheyev would further close the gap with 1:32 left in the period. With Suzuki covering Pettersson, Edmundson decided he did not need to cover anyone. Pettersson found Mikheyev who beat Montembeault to make it 4-2.
The third period got underway with Vancouver attacking and the Canadiens protecting the middle of the ice. Two minutes in, Boeser received a long pass from his defensive zone which forced Montembeault to make a nice save. Four minutes in, Dach was soft on the puck in the defensive zone. The result was a point shot by Riley Stillman with a rebound that came to Horvat who buried to make it 4-3.
Montreal answered here as a strong shift by Slafkovsky and Guhle opened a slot shot for Anderson, but Delia made a nice glove save. This was followed by a strong shift by Dadonov that also failed to yield a result.
After an icing by Xhekaj, Pettersson was patient and allowed his linemates to get open as he zipped a pass to Mikheyev who tied the game.
With 11:11 to play, Montembeault came out to play the puck and took way too long. He coughed up the puck to Jack Studnicka who made no mistakes in burying the goal for Vancouver’s first lead of the night.
Montreal’s effort to get back into the game was obvious, but at this point, Vancouver had their legs and confidence and the Habs simply were not able to generate much in terms of dangerous chances.
The Canadiens simply would not die on this night though. With 4:33 to play, Dvorak won a faceoff, got help from Armia to secure the puck, and Dadonov’s shot was stopped by Delia. A big, juicy rebound was available, and Dvorak was all over the rebound as the Habs tied it back up.
With 3:00 to play, a brilliant breakout pass from Guhle sent Anderson and Evans on a 2-on-1. Anderson opted for the shot and the rebound hit two Canucks defenders before it bounced passed Delia as Montreal regained the lead.
The Canucks were all over the Canadiens as they tried to tie the game. With the net empty and 1:32 to play, Kovacevic was guilty of a trip as the Canucks got a 6-on-4. The Habs lost the faceoff, and the puck was immediately sent to the net where Andrei Kuzmenko redirected it home to tie the game with 1:25 to play.
Overtime lasted all of 13 seconds as Matheson appeared to be tripped by Pettersson in the Habs zone. The play went uncalled and Pettersson skated in and buried the game-winner on Montembeault. Game. Set. Match.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Nick Suzuki
Suzuki’s passing was sublime on this night as he could have easily scored far more than the two points he did put on the board. For a power play that has been far too predictable for years with Shea Weber and that was quickly becoming predictable with their passes to Caufield, it was nice to see them have new set plays ready to roll to be dangerous, but also to open up Caufield. Suzuki is at the heart of almost all of those plays, one of which saw Monahan put home his 17th point on the season.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 0 (+/-), 2 shots, 22:05 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jordan Harris
He was confident in a pinch to stop a Canucks breakout and then completed a nifty pass to Caufield to open the scoring. He later joined the rush and got a little lucky in earning his second assist. It was a very nice first period for Harris who was then quiet the rest of the night as he committed to his usual intelligent style of play that told him to play it safe. Nothing wrong with that as an honest effort from the youngster.
Stats: 2 assists, 0 (+/-), 1 shot, 15:05 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Cole Caufield
Caufield missed a list of chances on this night as he could have easily scored a hat-trick with all the passes he was getting from Suzuki. However, I want to focus on the positives. With the Habs getting completely caved in early, it was Caufield who made the right read when Harris pinched and found himself in the perfect position to put one home and cool off the Canucks. The ice then tilted in the direction of the Habs for nearly half of the game, all thanks to a strong read by Caufield in the offensive zone.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 1 shot, 18:46 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Samuel Montembeault
Gotta feel for him. This wasn’t a night where he was tested with 40+ shots, but he was under siege for the first ten minutes, and he stood tall and allowed the Habs to find their legs and get going. One thing is for sure, the Canucks sure would have liked a few of the saves he made early because they were all over the Canadiens but lost all momentum when they couldn’t get a save. The Canucks did come back to win, but Montembeault was the only reason it wasn’t done after ten minutes, even if he wasn’t particularly strong in the second half of that game.
Stats: 25 saves, 32 shots, .781 save %, 7.00 GAA, 60:13 T.O.I.