The Habs were back in action on Thursday night trying to extend their winning ways after two wins against the Islanders and Jets. On their path on this night was the disappointing Panthers, just about the only team Habs fans want to see lose more than, well, the Habs. Unfortunately, the Panthers were coming in a little hot as well as they had won two in a row prior to their Tuesday overtime loss to the Leafs, passing the Buffalo Sabres in the process. The Habs were also trying to buck the reverse-retro curse, but the curse was far too strong on this night as third-string netminder Alex Lyon came in and made huge stops to allow Florida to find their game en route to demolishing the Habs by a 6-2 final score.
Coach St. Louis continued his 11-forward adventures with the infirmary being quite full for the Habs. Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield were joined by Jesse Ylonen on the top line. The second line saw Kirby Dach flanked by Mike Hoffman and Josh Anderson. The third line was Christian Dvorak with Evgenii Dadonov and Michael Pezzetta and the fourth line duo was Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Rem Pitlick.
The seven-man blue line featured Jordan Harris with David Savard, Joel Edmundson with Justin Barron, Mike Matheson with Johnathan Kovacevic while Arber Xhekaj was the seventh dressed defenceman. Samuel Montembeault was back in the crease though he didn’t finish the game.
It was an action-packed first five minutes as Anderson hit the post before Montembeault made a few solid saves on Tkachuk. Anderson then dumped Tkachuk before Eetu Luostarinen was called for a high stick on Pezzetta. The power play was delayed as Sergei Bobrovsky retreated to the dressing room in favour of Lyon after suffering a lower-body injury.
A Matheson giveaway sent Anton Lundell on a breakaway to start the power play, but Montembeault’s excellent save was followed Lyon’s own as he came cross-crease to stop a Caufield one-timer. The Habs kept coming as Dadonov then found Dvorak who rang a shot off the post. The Habs lost their momentum on a Pitlick shift as he overhandled the puck in the defensive zone, then lost it and took a hooking penalty to try to get it back.
Florida’s advantage wasn’t really threatening so the Habs escaped unscathed as the period settled down a little bit after the penalty. The period ended as it started as Nick Cousins took a slashing penalty after a shift where the Panthers totally dominated.
The Canadiens’ second advantage kicked off with another Dvorak chance as he tipped a point shot. The rest of the advantage was atrocious and in the final minute of the period, Matheson delivered a reverse hit that rocked Eric Staal who left the game and did not return. Edmundson took a holding penalty with 1:07 to play but the ensuing advantage wasn’t dangerous to end the period.
It was a much quieter start to the second period until Radko Gudas lined up Dadonov. The result was that half the Habs were hesitant while the other half were concerned with trying to avenge the hit. Dach then took a hooking penalty in the offensive zone.
Harvey-Pinard got the first best chance of Florida’s power play after a bad giveaway by Lyon. A minute into the advantage, Montembeault made a beautiful cross-ice save on Aaron Ekblad to keep it scoreless. He couldn’t do it forever as a rebound eventually found Sam Reinhart who had an empty net to finally open the scoring. However, Tkachuk was in Montembeault’s kitchen on the play, so the Habs challenged. The goal withstood the challenge who knows how, and so the Panthers were back on a power play.
The second advantage was dangerous and once again struck in the final seconds. It was Sam Bennett this time as he tipped home a point shot from Gustav Forsling to make it 2-0.
Xhekaj delivered another booming hit to start the second half of the game and it really sent the Panthers spiralling as they were running around trying to hit players and the Canadiens took advantage by creating a few good scoring chances that Lyon was able to turn away. Finally, Caufield was elbowed high, and Givani Smith was sent to the box for a third Habs advantage.
The first minute of the advantage was all Lyon as Suzuki found Dvorak down low for a tip that was stopped, and then Suzuki went cross-ice to Caufield and Lyon dove across the net to keep it out. After another great save on Anderson by Lyon, the big tough Gudas flopped on the ice like he was Tim Stutzle and Anderson was called for cross-checking. The third power play goal for the Panthers in the period came when a Brandon Montour shot from the blue line left a huge rebound for Tkachuk to put home.
And then the wheels completely fell off for the Habs. Smith scored on a rebound as the Habs lost the puck and Montembeault overplayed his angle.
Then the Habs took a too many men penalty, and then another while killing the initial one. Luckily, the 5-on-3 was only a few seconds, but the Panthers did convert on the second power play as Tkachuk caught Montembeault cheating across for the fourth power play goal of the period.
Then Xhekaj was cross-checked in the numbers by Grigori Denisenko and the play went uncalled and the officials lost control of the game. The period ended with a big scrum as Forsling was called for a cross-check, while Xhekaj and Smith both took misconducts to end the period.
Unsurprisingly, Cayden Primeau was out to start the third. Montreal’s man advantage to start the period didn’t do much, but immediately after, Pitlick took a bad angle shot that fooled everyone who thought he was going around the net to get the Habs on the board.
The Habs then got heavy on the forecheck starting with a big hit by Suzuki on Gudas. It ended with Savard and Smith swinging and each taking a penalty for roughing. Savard said something on his way to the penalty box and was given a misconduct after slamming the door. The Panthers then took a kneeing penalty and as this was happening, Tkachuk went after Matheson as they fought as the Panthers were after Matheson since the hit on Staal.
The result was a Habs 4-on-3 and then 5-on-4 and the Panthers were still far more concerned with hitting than defending. It wasn’t a power play goal, but Pitlick found Anderson as the penalty was expiring and the Habs made it 5-2.
A few moments later, the puck was fired to the front of the net by the Panthers and Ryan Lomberg tipped it passed Primeau to make it 6-2. The final ten minutes started with a scoring chance for Dadonov that missed last minute. With seven minutes to play, Smith went after Xhekaj again and the rookie absolutely dropped him with rights in a decisive win.
Dach then knocked Marc Staal down hard which sent Staal completely out of position hunting for revenge which opened a great scoring chance for Anderson. Pezzetta and Lomberg then fought in a bout that saw some haymakers land on both sides; this was after a late hit by Pezzetta which resulted with the Habs on the penalty kill. In a 6-2 game, the Panthers once again sent out their top advantage.
In the final moments, Dach delivered a big hit on Gudas who then tried to retaliate and got a visit from Anderson, but nothing came of it as the game ended.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star – Arber Xhekaj
In a game where the wheels fell off a little bit, the classless coaching from Paul Maurice was accompanied by officials who lost control. Xhekaj had to be the sheriff and he was as things got questionable and overly physical. It’s nice to have that presence on the team, so on a night when everything else went wrong, we’ll celebrate that aspect of Xhekaj’s game.
Stats: 15 PIMs, 5 hits, 10:36 TOI
Second Star – Kirby Dach
Dach kept playing hard and even delivered some big hits when the game got chippy at the end. It’s been a really good segment of games for him, and he was noticeable in this game also, even if the scoresheet says otherwise.
Stats: 1 shot, 1 hit (there were two big ones in the third alone, not sure how they count this one), 17:51 TOI
Third Star – Rem Pitlick
Pitlick didn’t do much of anything until the game was out of reach, but he skates away with a two-point effort regardless. In a season that hasn’t been good for Pitlick, this type of night might be a good one to get him back on track as it seems evident that he’s in Montreal for the rest of the season, so the Habs might need a few better efforts from him.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 11:08 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Christian Dvorak
Dvorak was all over the Florida net early on. He wasn’t able to capitalize and get the Habs the advantage, but he was dangerous.
Stats: 69% on faceoffs, 18:33 T.O.I.