After kicking off their road trip with a win on Thursday, the Habs were in Edmonton to take on the Oilers on Saturday night. Aside from some penalty problems, they played a solid game but that penalty trouble did them in as they fell 5-3.
Montreal made a couple of lineup changes in this one. Rem Pitlick took Chris Wideman’s spot on the fourth line as the Canadiens were able to dress 12 healthy forwards while the defensive rotation continued with Johnathan Kovacevic taking Jordan Harris’ place. The team lined up as follows:
Caufield – Suzuki – Dach
Slafkovsky – Monahan – Anderson
Dadonov – Dvorak – Armia
Pezzetta – Evans – Pitlick
Matheson – Savard
Edmundson – Guhle
Xhekaj – Kovacevic
After struggling defensively against Calgary, the Habs didn’t get off to a great defensive start as 15 seconds in, Zach Hyman was sprung for a breakaway. However, Kaiden Guhle did well to get back and at least prevent Hyman from getting his best shot off and Jake Allen was there to make the stop.
Three minutes later, Kirby Dach stole the puck in front of the Edmonton net. However, his shot went wide. The missed chances continued as just before the eight-minute mark, the Oilers came in on a two-on-one but Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ cross-ice feed was broken up by Arber Xhekaj.
The majority of the period featured plenty of skating but not much in the way of true scoring chances that actually made it through to the net.
Montreal got the first power play of the game with a little under four minutes left when Connor McDavid held Mike Matheson in the offensive zone. Early in the power play, Cole Caufield was set up in the left faceoff dot like usual and had a wide-open net with time to shoot. However, he didn’t get much on the shot and wound up firing it over the net.
Fortunately for the Canadiens, they maintained control of the puck and bailed Caufield out just seconds later. Matheson received a pass from Nick Suzuki and then fed it back to the captain, setting him to curl into one of his preferred shots in the right faceoff circle and it beat Stuart Skinner to open up the scoring.
With just over a minute and a half left, Edmonton had another costly turnover in the slot in their own end, this time to Josh Anderson. Once again, though, his shot went wide.
In the final minute of the frame, Xhekaj tripped McDavid behind Montreal’s net, giving the Oilers a late power play. Edmonton tried a couple of shots but they weren’t able to get anything through before the buzzer. All in all, it was a very strong first period defensively for the Habs (well, at least a strong final 19:45) as they held Edmonton to just four shots on goal, a nice turnaround from a tough night on that front in Calgary. The Canadiens, meanwhile, had eight shots on Skinner.
Edmonton had some pressure early in the second on the carryover power play and it led to more trouble as Joel Edmundson caught Leon Draisaitl with a high stick, setting up a five-on-three advantage. Draisaitl got quick revenge as he sent a hard cross-ice feed to Nugent-Hopkins who lifted it over an outstretched Allen who had no chance on the play. Fortunately, that goal came a little after Xhekaj’s penalty so it was back to even strength. But only briefly.
Just past the five-minute mark, Dach was called for a hold on McDavid, giving Edmonton another power play. Seconds after the faceoff, Edmundson cross-checked Zach Hyman, causing a cut on his head. By definition, a cross-check that causes an injury (and the cut qualifies) carries a five-minute major and a game misconduct and after review, that call was assessed.
Jake Evans did a great job in the early going of a long five-on-three but on the second shift of that advantage, McDavid took a hard shot that went wide but the puck worked its way back to him quickly. He sent a cross-ice pass to Draisaitl who fired a one-timer from the faceoff dot past Allen to make it 2-1.
Now with a long five-on-four advantage, the Oilers started to slow down a bit and the penalty killers did a good job. Unfortunately for the Habs, Suzuki made a key mistake, catching the puck at the defensive blueline and then throwing it down the ice. That’s a penalty for closing his hand on the puck, creating yet another five-on-three.
The Habs actually had a good scoring chance soon after as Matheson and Evans went in on a two-on-one. Matheson opted for the shot but Skinner wasn’t interested in freezing the puck. Instead, Edmonton came back down and about ten seconds later, McDavid squeaked a shot from the faceoff dot past Allen for Edmonton’s third power play goal in the first half of the period.
Once things got back to five-on-five, Montreal got right back into it. With seven and a half minutes left, Joel Armia fired a hard shot and Skinner kicked out a brutal rebound into the slot. That was great for Evgenii Dadonov who hustled in and buried the rebound for his second of the season; Armia’s assist was his first point of the year.
Then it was Edmonton’s turn to get into penalty trouble. McDavid hooked Matheson, sending the Habs back to the man advantage. The Canadiens didn’t generate much in terms of shots on goal although they had good pressure. Darnell Nurse slashed Suzuki’s stick and didn’t get called for what probably should have been a penalty. If you believe in hockey karma, he got it seconds later when his clearing attempt hit a camera, earning him two for delay of game.
With the first unit being out for almost the entire McDavid penalty, the second wave got to start the two-man advantage. They also finished it as just before the McDavid minor expired, Xhekaj skated into a shot from the faceoff circle that got through a screen and beat Skinner to tie the game. Dach had a good rush not long after during the five-on-four but Skinner stopped the backhander.
Just as it looked like Montreal would escape the period tied which would have been a good outcome considering the penalty trouble, Kovacevic’s pass around-the-board attempt failed, resulting in a turnover. Hyman fed Draisaitl and he sent a pass to Nurse who was in all alone in the slot and he beat Allen with 4.2 seconds left to give the Oilers the lead after 40 minutes. Despite Edmonton’s lengthy power play time, it was actually Montreal that outshot them in the period, 13-12.
Edmonton had the first good chance of the third period when Mattias Janmark got a half step on Guhle but Allen made the pad stop. A little over two minutes later, Hyman was stopped on a two-on-one with Allen diving to corral the rebound.
The Habs had a good chance to tie it up just before the five-minute mark as Dadonov made a good drop pass to Armia in the middle of the ice. Armia got off a good shot that beat Skinner but not the crossbar.
Most of the next ten minutes saw Edmonton sitting back as teams often do with a one-goal lead. The Canadiens had some decent zone time but they weren’t able to generate much in the way of scoring chances.
That would prove costly as with a little over five minutes left, Anderson failed to get the puck in deep which was problematic with Montreal’s defence changing. That gave McDavid a clear breakaway and if there’s one player in the NHL you don’t want to give one of those to, it’s McDavid. He sped in and lifted one over Allen to get the insurance marker.
The Habs pulled Allen with two minutes left and the Dadonov line had some pressure soon after but that’s as close as they were able to get. The Oilers hit the post late but it didn’t matter as they skated away with the 5-3 victory. Shots in the final frame were 12-6 for the Habs.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Mike Matheson – He has shown flashes of being the impact defenceman he was at times with Pittsburgh last season but the rust was clearly there, as was his propensity for untimely turnovers. In this game, Matheson looked like the all-around impact blueliner that he’s capable of being. The Habs had the puck a lot when he was on the ice (that’s a good way to defend) and he helped create some good opportunities. This is what Kent Hughes was wanting to see when they acquired him in the summer.
Stats: 1 assist, even rating, 5 shots, 5 hits, 3 takeaways, 26:20 TOI
2nd Star: Arber Xhekaj – This game was a particularly fast-paced one at times and that has given him some trouble thus far. It didn’t in this contest though. The rookie shuffled between his natural and off-sides with Edmundson’s early ejection and it didn’t seem to faze him one bit. He added a key goal in the second period. All in all, that’s the type of performance that will make it difficult to keep him out of the lineup.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 2 PIMS, 1 shot, 3 hits, 17:24 TOI
3rd Star: Evgenii Dadonov – He has rightfully taken his fair share of criticism this season but in recent weeks, he has looked a bit better. He took another step forward in this contest. What was particularly notable to me was that he was more willing to get to the front of the net and he was rewarded for his efforts with the goal. He set up a few chances as well. Dadonov still had a limited role overall but he made the most of his minutes.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 3 shots, 2 hits, 13:23 TOI
Honourable Mention: Kaiden Guhle – It might seem odd picking a third defenceman in a game in which the Habs allowed five goals but I think it’s justified. Guhle was quite effective early on playing in his old stomping grounds (WHL Edmonton shares the arena with the Oilers) and was called on to play more with Edmundson out. Like Xhekaj, there was some shifting between sides as the game went on and he handled that well. He had the type of game you’d expect from a seasoned veteran, not one playing his 24th career NHL game.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 4 shots, 6 hits, 21:38 TOI