After an ugly end to 2022, the Habs looked to kick off 2023 on a winning note in Nashville on Tuesday. However, they were once again down big early and couldn’t recover, falling 6-3.
Martin St. Louis opted to make two lineup changes for this one. David Savard was activated off injured reserve for this one and took the place of Johnathan Kovacevic. To make room for Savard on the roster, Kaiden Guhle was placed on IR. Meanwhile, Anthony Richard returned in place of Joel Armia who was a healthy scratch. The team lined up as follows:
Caufield – Suzuki – Dach
Richard – Drouin – Anderson
Hoffman – Dvorak – Gallagher
Pezzetta – Evans – Slafkovsky
Harris – Savard
Edmundson – Barron
Xhekaj – Wideman
After some tough outings, it was important that Montreal got off to a good start. It didn’t happen. Instead, Joel Edmundson put one in the crowd two and a half minutes in, giving Nashville an early power play. They didn’t do much for most of it – Josh Anderson had the best chance off a rush play for a while – but with 22 seconds left in the advantage, Mattias Ekholm’s point shot was tipped home by Cody Glass. The play was reviewed for a high stick but the call on the ice stood.
Barely a minute and a half later, Justin Barron turned over the puck in the neutral zone, resulting in a Predators two-on-one. Filip Forsberg sent a pass across to Colton Sissons and he managed to squeeze it past Samuel Montembeault’s outstretched pad and in. So much for the good start.
Two minutes later, Montreal got a two-on-one of their own with Nick Suzuki finding Cole Caufield for a good chance. Juuse Saros made the stop but Caufield drew a tripping call on Glass. However, the power play was short-lived as Brendan Gallagher went off for high-sticking Mark Jankowski. The ensuing four-on-four was largely quiet.
So too was the man advantage. At least, most of it. However, just as Gallagher’s penalty ended, Ekholm’s point shot hit a Montreal defender, got past the screen from Glass, and through Montembeault to make it 3-0.
The Canadiens got some decent looks on Saros following some point shots from the back end. They didn’t go in but it was at least some push back. Wideman and Sissons went off for matching roughing minors but the four-on-four play was uneventful.
It looked as if the Habs would be heading to the room down by three. However, a burst of speed in the neutral zone allowed Caufield to get by Forsberg with a breakaway ensuing. He made a nice backhand move to beat Saros and get Montreal on the board. Shots were 15 apiece in the opening frame.
The Habs has some good pressure early in the second although it took until nearly four minutes in to record their first shot on goal. Moments later, Nino Niederreiter rang a shot off the post off the rush.
Montreal hasn’t had many good breaks but they got one at the 6:40 mark. They came in on an innocent-looking rush with Anderson throwing a wrister towards the goal. Somehow, it eluded Saros’ glove and all of a sudden, it was a one-goal game.
The momentum was short-lived, however. A minute and a half later, Tommy Novak rang a shot off the post and seconds later, he received a pass from Yakov Trenin who was behind the net and was able to fire one past Montembeault to restore the two-goal lead. The Canadiens got in on the goalpost game two minutes later when Kirby Dach fired one that beat Saros but not the iron.
The Habs got another crack at the man advantage with a little more than seven minutes left when Ryan McDonagh was called for holding. After Nashville cleared the puck, a miscommunication resulted in no Montreal player going back for the puck. Trenin was right there and got off a quick wraparound but the shot missed the net. The rest of the power play was just as ugly.
With just over two minutes left, it was Nashville’s turn to get a late goal. Roman Josi skated in from the point to the top of the left faceoff dot and received a cross-ice feed from Novak and the star blueliner picked the corner to make it 5-2.
Less than a minute later, Trenin high-sticked Mike Hoffman, giving the Habs a late man advantage. This time, the puck movement (and skater movement, they weren’t all standing still like usual) was much better, resulting in a couple of chances. The best one came at the buzzer though off McDonagh’s shot as he got in behind Montreal’s coverage, forcing Montembeault to make a good spot before the horn. Shots on goal in the second were 10-8 for the Preds.
Things got interesting just 13 seconds into the third when Ekholm high-sticked Dach, giving the Habs a brief two-man advantage. A quick goal and who knows, maybe they’d get back into it. They had two shots and both missed the net while they couldn’t do anything on the five-on-four. So much for that idea.
Then it was Montreal’s turn to get into penalty trouble. Jordan Harris hooked Forsberg and then after the Canadiens were unsuccessful in arguing for a goalie interference penalty on Ryan Johansen on that advantage, Jake Evans tripped Josi seconds later, giving the Preds a five-on-three. They passed it around quickly and eventually, Josi fed Matt Duchene who one-timed one past Montembeault on a shot he had no chance on.
From there, both teams were largely content to play things out as there was a nearly 11-minute stretch where there was only a single whistle. I suspect neither team minded.
Montreal did get one late to make it a little more respectable. With three minutes to go, Alexandre Carrier lost his stick and tried to pass the puck to the corner with his glove. Instead, it landed on the stick of Hoffman who sent a cross-crease pass to Gallagher with the winger getting his shot through Saros. That’s as close as they got, however, as they mustered up just four shots in the final frame compared to Nashville’s nine.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Cole Caufield – He had some jump in this one, especially early with his breakaway goal at least giving the Habs a little bit of a spark. He missed a couple of shifts in the second but came back without any issues. After a brief slump (four games without a goal), he has scored in two straight now.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 6 shots, 18:57 TOI
2nd Star: Josh Anderson – He’s not here because of his goal as it was just a fluky one. However, at least when the game was close, he stood out defensively with a good chance shorthanded and a strong backcheck to break up a scoring chance. Those are the little things he needs to provide on a more regular basis beyond the speed and the hitting.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 2 shots, 15:18 TOI
3rd Star: Jordan Harris – He has had some tough outings as of late but this was a step in the right direction. He made some good outlet passes and used his speed well in transition. It didn’t result in much of anything offensively but that’s not on him. Defensively, he held his own better than he has lately as well.
Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 1 shot, 20:14 TOI
Honourable Mention: Michael Pezzetta – When he was on the ice, he was either hitting someone or the puck was in Nashville’s zone (sometimes both, even). That’s a good combo for any fourth liner. I understand why that line isn’t playing much as it’s counterproductive to play a line that can’t score when you need a goal but the energy they bring is worthy of a bit more ice time.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 1 shot, 4 hits, 8:55 TOI