The Canadiens had won all of the past four home-ice meetings with the Maple Leafs, but that was about the only positive sign going into Saturday’s tilt against the long-term rivals. The Leafs were third overall and challenging for second, while the Habs were just coming off a 6-2 shellacking by the Florida Panthers.
And it got worse in the afternoon before of the game, as the team announced that Cole Caufield, its leading scorer and rising star, would be undergoing shoulder surgery and missing the remainder of the season. With 11 players now injured, the Habs are not only rebuilding but also decimated.
So, while parts of the game were very much what one might have expected, the final outcome was not. Kudos to the new(ish) arrivals from Laval, and even more so to Samuel Montembeault.
First things first
And then there was that early goal against the Habs again. Is anyone keeping statistics on these?
Less than a minute had elapsed when Auston Matthews and William Nylander rushed into the Montreal zone. Joel Edmundson and Justin Barron ensured they did not get a good look at Montembeault, but Nylander dropped the puck back to a trailing Mark Giordano, entirely not covered by any of the Montreal forwards, and the veteran defender snapped the puck over Montembeault’s shoulder for the early lead, at just 53 seconds in.
The Habs’ third line showed some energy and got some action in the Toronto zone, as Ilya Samsonov was forced to make a sprawling save on Evgenii Dadonov. Frantic poking ensued as both teams tried to gain control of the loose puck next to the prone Samsonov, but one of the referees finally blew the whistle to put an end to it.
Zach Aston-Reese hit one of Montembeault’s posts just 45 seconds later and followed that up with a clear hook on a Montreal defender, but no penalty was called. His chicken came home to roost less than three minutes after that, though, as he was sent off for tripping Justin Barron at 5:26.
Now imagine a usually-inept Montreal power play, and subtract Caufield from that picture. Got that? Yes, that’s what it was like. After the faceoff in the offensive zone, the first power-play unit could not maintain possession. Next attempt, they couldn’t control the zone entry, and then they couldn’t even cross the line without being offside.
The second unit looked somewhat better, with Jesse Ylonen feeding Arber Xhekaj for the best opportunity. However, in the end, neither unit was able to put the puck on the net, let alone beat Samsonov.
By the halfway point of the period, only six shots on goal had been registered, three aside. But this is about when the Maple Leafs started to crank up their play, consistently sustaining pressure in the Montreal zone. The defenders couldn’t get away for a line change, exhaustion only exacerbating the situation.
And at 17:30 that pressure produced results, as Mitch Marner stripped the puck from Jordan Harris and skated past him onto attack on the left wing, with Conor Timmins on his right. Marner sent the puck to Timmins on the right circle, and Timmins spotted Calle Jarnkrok lounging all alone at the far post of the Montreal net. Once he got the puck to Jarnkrok’s stick, the Swedish veteran made no mistake in burying the puck in the wide-open side of the net and doubling the Toronto lead.
With 80 seconds left in the period, Dadonov hooked Alexander Kerfoot, the referee’s arm going up to signal a delayed penalty. Montembeault had to make four quick saves in 25 seconds before the Canadiens were able to reach the puck and trigger the start of the two-minute penalty.
A rough period for the Habs, then, outshot 15-4 by the Habs and, worse, with high-danger scoring chances 15-3 in the Leafs’ favour.
Down two goals, and … ?
Shortly after killing the remaining 40 seconds of the penalty, Nick Suzuki dug out the puck on the boards in the Montreal zone, sending Rem Pitlick ahead at the head of the attack, with Suzuki and Josh Anderson trailing. Pitlick, too, won a board battle, this one now in the Toronto zone, and passed the puck to Suzuki just to the right of the net, and in a decent scoring position. But Suzuki flicked the puck back and to the left, enabling Anderson to quickly snap the puck over Samsonov’s left pad. There was clearly some life left yet in these Habs!
Just before the seven-minute mark, it was Anderson again, powering around the net, back to the front, a quick shot. Samsonov made a shoulder save, giving up a big rebound, but there was no red sweater close enough to grab that rebound.
And then another opportunity as the top line continued to press after Suzuki won the ensuing faceoff. Samsonov made saves on David Savard and Anderson, and then, with Samsonov sprawling, Timmins stopped a soft Suzuki shot at the goal line before Mike Matheson was sent into Samsonov, who was still flat on the ice. The whistle did go before he managed to cover it, though.
Nine minutes into the period, the Leafs finally got their mojo back, hemming the Habs in their own zone and sustaining pressure. The only thing they got out of that stretch, though, was a penalty kill, as Rasmus Sandin bowled over Montembeault. Not a single shot on net in that power play, either, although Ylonen and Christian Dvorak did get some looks in the ensuing 20 or so seconds before the Leafs were able to clear the zone.
And then it was Rocket time, as former and recent AHLers Alex Belzile, Michael Pezzetta, and Rafael Harvey-Pinard broke into the Leafs’ zone. Belzile, on the left-side boards, found Pezzetta driving for the net. While Samsonov made the save on Pezzetta’s backhand, he gave up a solid rebound, and Harvey-Pinard was there to poke it through Samsonov’s five-hole and tie the game up at two apiece.
After scoring his second NHL goal, Harvey-Pinard had a chance for another soon enough, on a rebound from a Matheson shot, with Samsonov sprawling again, but this time he could not beat the Toronto goaltender.
Finally, to match the late Montreal penalty in the first period, Anderson drew an interference call on Giordano at a nearly identical time in the second. Mike Hoffman had the best chance yet of all the Montreal power plays, with the puck glancing off Samsonov’s mask.
In the second frame, the Habs roughly reversed the shots from the first period, outshooting the Maple Leafs 18-8 and outdoing them 11-1 on the high-danger chances.
The third will tell all
The momentum had shifted again, and the Maple Leafs were back on the prowl, pressing the Canadiens and peppering shots in Montembeault’s direction.
Disaster looked to have struck around the nine-minute mark in what was initially an innocuous-looking play. Montembeault came out of the net to clear a puck that was shot in along the boards, but the puck appeared to slow down more than expected, and Bobby McMann, battling for the puck with Jordan Harris, trapped Montembeault momentarily on the wrong side of the net.
McMann was able to grab the puck and feed it to David Kampf, who was set up in front of the net, but Montembeault was able to stretch his right pad across in time to block Kampf’s shot.
By the halfway mark of the period, the Leafs were outshooting the Habs by a rather wide 9-1 margin, but Montembeault was making the stops to keep the bleu, blanc et rouge in the game.
With three and a half minutes in, Kirby Dach broke in and had a backhand chance as he curled across the front of the net, but Samsonov, too, was sharp and kept the puck out.
Jarnkrok was called for interference on Matheson at 16:53, but apparently, the latter did not concede gently enough, as he was called for a coincidental roughing penalty. A minute into the four-on-four play, Nylander got his stick up and into Savard’s face, drawing a penalty, but arguably Savard could have been sent off for interference as well.
Nevertheless, the Habs found themselves with a minute of four-on-three man advantage, but zone entry seemed just as difficult as before, in spite of the reduced crowding on the ice. On the second attempt, though, Suzuki’s individual work succeeded, and he was able to break through, and into the front of the net. It was yet another backhander, and yet another Samsonov save on a backhand shot.
Suzuki got the puck over to Dach, though, and the young centre followed up with a hard shot targeting the top-left corner, but it glanced off harmlessly from the top portion of the post. In spite of these late chances, the Canadiens could count themselves lucky to have survived the third and to be going into overtime.
The shot advantage reversed again, this time 14-6 for the Leafs, and a 7-2 edge in high-danger scoring chances.
Toronto essentially controlled the puck for the first minute and a half, but could only show a single shot by Matthews for that, and Montembeault turned that away easily.
After Josh Anderson had yet another chance on Samsonov, Dach stole the puck in the Habs’ own zone and skated in, side-stepping the defender and curling to the front of the net. Samsonov made a save on Dach’s backhand, but the Canadiens never lost control of the puck after that. After they retreated to the neutral zone to regroup and make a line change, Hoffman led the charge back into the fray in the Toronto end of the rink. It didn’t take long, as he made a clean pass to Pitlick, who lifted it over Samsonov for the overtime winner.
And so, in every period in this game, the team at the same end of the ice was dominant. In overtime, it was a 3-1 shot edge for the Canadiens, and 1-0 in high-danger scoring chances, that being the Anderson rush.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Samuel Montembeault (38 shots, 36 saves, 0.947) was a rock once past the initial Leaf onslaught. The 23 blocked shots helped, no doubt, but he had 13 high-danger shots and plenty of weaving and bobbing by the Leafs’ top forwards to deal with. With an xGA of nearly five, Montembeault showed mental fortitude in coming back from the shelling by the Panthers earlier in the week.
Second Star: Rem Pitlick (1g, 1a, 1 shot, 15:28 TOI) is starting to show that he can do again what he did for the Habs last year after being claimed on waivers, and his first career overtime goal was certainly worthy of a star.
Third Star: Rafael Harvey-Pinard (1g, 0a, 2 shots, 13:48 TOI) deserves a star for his first goal of the season in only his third game with the Habs this year. While the Rocket line didn’t usually play against the top opposition, they showed high energy and created five high-danger scoring chances, culminating in this one.
Honourable Mentions: Josh Anderson (1g, 0a, 4 shots, 18:19 TOI) and Kirby Dach (0g, 0a, 4 shots, 22:49 TOI) both shone, both creating multiple good scoring opportunities beyond the goal that Anderson potted in the second period.