After a comeback victory over the Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Habs were in tough on Tuesday as they hosted the league-leading Bruins. They put forth a pretty good effort overall but came up short, falling 4-2.
There weren’t any changes to the lineup from the contest against Toronto although, to be fair, it’s not like they have a long list of healthy scratches; it begins and ends with Chris Wideman. Accordingly, the team lined up as follows:
Pitlick – Suzuki – Anderson
Hoffman – Dach – Ylonen
Harvey-Pinard – Dvorak – Dadonov
Pezzetta – Belzile
Matheson – Savard
Edmundson – Barron
Xhekaj – Harris
A little before the three-minute mark, Nick Suzuki’s pass hit Patrice Bergeron, changing direction completely as Jeremy Swayman was forced to make an awkward stop. It wasn’t much of a scoring chance but it was the only shot that the Canadiens had in the opening half of the period.
Seven minutes in, Matt Grzelcyk was open at the bottom of the faceoff dot in the offensive zone (he’s a defenceman, if you were wondering). The puck came to him and Samuel Montembeault was down and out momentarily but he wasn’t able to get the shot off.
A couple of minutes later, the Habs got the first power play of the game when Nick Suzuki was hooked by Brad Marchand. This pitted the best penalty kill in the league against the worst man advantage. Predictably, Boston had the best (and only) chances. First, Pavel Zacha stole the puck away from Mike Matheson and got around Kirby Dach for an in-close chance. Later on, Hampus Lindholm had a shot on a three-on-two. And, as the penalty ended, Marchand got around Arber Xhekaj on a partial breakaway that Montembeault made the stop on.
With five minutes to go, the Bruins had another odd-man rush, this time a two-on-one. A.J. Greer skated in and opted to take the shot but he fired it wide glove-side. A minute later, Suzuki drove the net off the right wing but Swayman was there to make the stop.
Two minutes later, Montembeault made his best stop of the period, going cross-crease to rob Trent Frederic on a one-timer set up from Craig Smith. On the next shift, Alex Belzile caught the post with his shot as he continues to look for his first NHL goal. The Habs were able to get through the opening 20 minutes relatively well although they were outshot 11-7.
Four minutes into the second period, Boston got their first chance on the power play when Josh Anderson tripped Taylor Hall. Their man advantage is much better than Montreal’s and it showed. Early on, David Pastrnak got off a one-timer from the left faceoff dot that Montembeault got across to stop. On the second wave, Johnathan Kovacevic broke up what would have been a breakaway for Nick Foligno while soon after, Zacha was stopped in close. The Canadiens were able to get through it unscathed.
A little before the midway mark of the period, the Habs got their second power play as Derek Forbort was called for interference on Suzuki; he and Michael Pezzetta got matching unsportsmanlike penalties at the whistle. This time, the man advantage was sharper and 30 seconds in, Mike Hoffman sent a shot-pass towards the net that went cross-ice to Dach who had an opening to shoot at and made no mistake, getting the Habs on the board in his 200th NHL game.
However, while Hoffman set up that goal, he hurt the team a few minutes later. After failing to shoot following a nifty feed from Jesse Ylonen, he slashed Brandon Carlo behind the Boston net in frustration, leading to a Bruins power play. Not even 30 seconds into the advantage, David Pastrnak’s shot from the faceoff dot was redirected to Montembeault. He made the initial stop but the rebound was sitting there for Taylor Hall who quickly put it home to tie it up with his first goal in more than a month.
Two minutes later, Charlie McAvoy drove the net and opted to circle around. In doing so, he found Patrice Bergeron briefly uncovered but the captain’s one-timer was stopped. McAvoy later handed the Habs another power play as he was called for interference with 40 seconds left in the period. Suzuki and Dach did a nice quick passing play that set up Evgenii Dadonov in the slot with just three ticks left on the clock but Swayman was square to the shot to keep it tied after 40 minutes. Shots in the second were 12-7 for the visitors.
The carryover power play was short-lived for the Habs as Matheson was called for cross-checking Marchand just 25 seconds in. It was more of a push but Marchand is quite adept at drawing those calls as he has shown over the years. Anderson had a good rush just as McAvoy’s penalty ended but his shot went wide. However, the Habs did quite well on their abbreviated penalty kill to keep it tied.
The teams then traded rush chances. First, Rem Pitlick got a look in close that Swayman got a piece of while two minutes later, Forbort was the trailer on the rush and got a decent shot from distance that Montembeault was ready for.
Boston was able to restore the lead just before the midway mark. While David Krejci and Justin Barron were engaged in a good battle in front of the net, Pastrnak sent a wrister to the middle. Krejci popped out from behind Barron to square up to the shot, tipping it enough to change the direction considerably and Montembeault didn’t have a chance to react quickly enough.
To their credit, the Habs didn’t give up. Less than two minutes later, it was all square again. Barron’s point shot created a rebound that Belzile won the battle for. He sent it left to Dach who tapped it in for his second of the night.
It looked like this one had a good chance of heading for overtime and with how hard Montreal had played, they had earned a point. It didn’t happen that way though. Off a won draw in the Habs’ zone, Pastrnak sent a shot through and the rebound went right to Patrice Bergeron who buried it. There might have been a missed offside prior to the draw which would have put the draw in the neutral zone instead of the defensive zone but it was still a well-executed faceoff play from Boston nonetheless.
Martin St. Louis pulled Montembeault with 2:30 to go and Montreal was able to put up a bit of pressure although they couldn’t get anything through. In the final minute, Pastrnak nailed the empty-netter from centre ice to seal the victory. Shots in the final frame were 8-6 for the Habs.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Kirby Dach – There are nights when Dach is content to hang around the perimeter which limits his effectiveness. This wasn’t one of those. Instead, he drove the net, was active in puck battles, and even won more faceoffs than he lost. These are the types of games where the top-six centre upside really shows.
Stats: 2 goals, -1 rating, 3 shots, 8/13 faceoffs, 23:59 TOI
2nd Star: Samuel Montembeault – This loss certainly isn’t on him. While the Habs were certainly much better defensively, Montembeault still had to make several big saves to keep them in it, especially when they weren’t generating much offensively early in periods. He has had a stretch like this in the past so this isn’t automatically a sign of things to come but his recent play is certainly quite encouraging.
Stats: 25 saves on 28 shots, 3.09 GAA, .893 SV%
3rd Star: Jesse Ylonen – I’ve said this in the past but one thing I’ve wondered with Ylonen is if he’s the type of player that works best with higher-quality linemates who can bring more out of him. We’ve seen that play out since his recall and this game was no exception. He’s much more comfortable in an offensive-minded role and he’s starting to show some offensive creativity more frequently which is good to see.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 2 shots, 15:22 TOI
Honourable Mention: Alex Belzile – He gets the nod here for a couple of reasons. One is the play that led to Dach’s second goal, outworking a defender in the slot is always going to look good for coaches. The other is his faceoff performance; games like this at the dot will buy him a longer leash, especially with things being thinned out down the middle at the moment.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 2 shots, 6/8 faceoffs, 9:35 TOI