The Habs hosted the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday in their final game before the All-Star Game and bye week. In this game, the Canadiens attempted to exact revenge on the Senators for a 5-0 loss on Saturday night. Not only were they trying to avenge defeat, but they were also trying to break a curse, the curse of the reverse-retro jersey as Montreal took to the ice in their powder blue uniforms that have been simply awful in terms on on-ice results thus far. Tuesday night was no exception as the home side played a strong game but still had the result of a highly entertaining contest go against them as they head to the break with a 4-3 loss.
There was not much surprise in the lineup composition as the Habs only had 11 healthy forwards which meant seven defencemen were dressed for the match. Nick Suzuki remained flanked by Rem Pitlick and Josh Anderson, while Kirby Dach remained the second pivot with Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman on his wings. Alex Belzile, Michael Pezzetta, and Rafael Harvey-Pinard formed the fourth line, while Jesse Ylonen and Christian Dvorak were promised a revolving door of linemates on the team’s third unit. The blue line saw Arber Xhekaj paired with David Savard while Mike Matheson was paired with Justin Barron. Jordan Harris, Johnathan Kovacevic, and Chris Wideman were also dressed and sharing the third pairing minutes. Jake Allen got back in the crease for a second game since his recovery.
Jake Allen was once again victimized early as Ottawa dominated the first four minutes and were able to earn themselves a 2-0 lead in the process. The first goal was 2:57 in when a point shot by Nikita Zaitsev hit Claude Giroux’s glove to beat Allen.
The second came 52 seconds later when a strong pinch by Harris in the offensive zone was not properly supported and left Harris scrambling on the backcheck. A blind pass toward the middle by Mathieu Joseph got tangled in Harris’ skates and landed behind Harris, directly onto Tim Stutzle’s stick. The skilled Stutzle took the lucky breakaway and buried top shelf on Allen.
The next second five minutes of action saw the Canadiens get a power play after Gambrell tripped Pezzetta in the Habs’ zone. The advantage was full of action as Ylonen hit the post, Suzuki missed the net on a nifty move, and Joseph was stopped by Allen on a shorthanded breakaway.
Montreal got a second advantage when Suzuki was tripped by Travis Hamonic preventing a Suzuki breakaway. The advantage scored this time as Hoffman made a pass to Suzuki who was in the low slot area. With Suzuki jamming at the goaltender’s pads, it was Dach who found a loose puck behind the goaltender to cut the lead to 2-1. The end of the period belonged to the Sens as they ended the period with a 2-1 lead; 11-4 in shots.
The second period started wide open as both teams exchanged some good scoring chances before Thomas Chabot clipped Dach with his stick 1:25 into the period. Montreal’s latest advantage was once again dangerous as Hoffman rang a one-timer off the post before Pitlick was stopped on a slot chance.
With 14:49 to play, Harvey-Pinard took a tripping penalty on the forecheck. Ottawa’s lethal advantage should have scored, but Stutzle’s gorgeous pass to the one-timer was met with an even better glove save by Allen. The penalty was followed by a great shift by a line centred by Pitlick with Ylonen and Anderson, but Anton Forsberg was as solid as Allen. The Habs really pushed and were helped when Chabot was called for a high stick on Ylonen.
The Habs continued to push as they had a very good power play that just could not finish. This, of course, came back to haunt them as Kovacevic was called for tripping. Ottawa’s power play wasted little time as Stutzle fired a wicked cross-ice pass to Alex DeBrincat who made no mistake going top cheddar to extend the lead.
Strong puck plays in the offensive zone by Suzuki and Harvey-Pinard with 30 seconds to play led to a Jake Sanderson penalty. The Canadiens quickly capitalized as Hoffman, who had many chances prior, accepted a great Matheson pass to fire one home with five seconds remaining.
The third saw the Habs alter their lines somewhat as Harvey-Pinard was moved to the top line with Suzuki and Anderson, while Pitlick was moved to a line with Dvorak and Ylonen. The Dach line remained unchanged. Suzuki got the period’s first chance four minutes in as play was mostly against the boards and very physical to start the period. Montreal really started attacking the middle of the ice and the results were felt in momentum as the Habs had suddenly evened the shot on net at 24 apiece as the final half-period arrived.
That final ten minutes started with the Canadiens finding the equalizer. Some excellent forecheck by Harvey-Pinard and Anderson got the Sens to cough up the puck where Suzuki took it and found Harvey-Pinard in front of the net with a beauty pass that the rookie simply redirected home.
On the next shift, DeBrincat was absolutely dropped by Barron cross-check that would send the Sens back to the advantage. A few seconds later, it was Stutzle again as he used a great screen by Tkachuk to fire home his second of the game through a crowd.
With 5:44 left to play, the Habs simply would not quit. Another strong shift by Harvey-Pinard was rewarded as the rookie scored his fifth goal in seven games. It started with a strong zone exit by Harvey-Pinard before the botched zone entry ended up on his stick. His initial shot was stopped, but with Anderson crashing the net, the puck ended up next to Forsberg where Harvey-Pinard was Gallagher-like getting himself to the dirty areas to pounce on said rebound and once again tie the game.
However, with 1:12 to play, Stutzle found Tkachuk whose shot hit the foot of a sliding Savard to fool a frustrated Allen to regain the lead for the Sens. What an unlucky bounce! The Habs gave a valiant effort and got a few scoring chances in the final minute but were unable to get one to go.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Rafael Harvey-Pinard
I remember being in attendance for many home games when the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies made their runs to titles in the QMJHL and thinking that Noah Dobson in the NHL was a given, that Joel Teasdale had a chance, and that if Harvey-Pinard was given a chance, he could maybe surprise with his absolutely relentless motor. Fast-forward a few years, and within a few weeks of being given that chance, he’s produced five goals in seven games. With Suzuki feeling it on this night, placing him with another player that never stops applying pressure was a smart move by the coach as the two were able to connect as the Habs were able to briefly tie the game on a couple of occasions. What a story this kid has become.
Stats: 2 goals, +2, 5 shots, 2 hits, 18:49 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nick Suzuki
It’s been a long time since Suzuki was featured in a star position, but boy did he deserve it on this night. He was all over the ice all night long. Once placed with Harvey-Pinard, you could tell he just wanted the puck and wanted to drive the net. On top of that, this was his best game in terms of applying pressure when he didn’t have said puck. His best in a long time.
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 5 shots, 22:50 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Mike Hoffman
Hoffman did what Hoffman does best on this night. He was dangerous on the man advantage all night long and was a big reason why the Habs got two, yes TWO power play goals on this night. He allowed that momentum of production to carry him in five-on-five play as well as the Dach line had an excellent third period and looked numerous times like they could have tied the game. I often groan when Hoffman is on the ice in the final minute as the Habs look for the equalizer, I didn’t on this night as I felt it was entirely deserved.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 6 shots, 20:49 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Kirby Dach
While the Dach line was a little less noticeable in this game, they still held their own and this is in large part thanks to the small things Dach does all over the ice. I’m thrilled to have been wrong about this trade and am absolutely excited for what is to come from this player as it’s obvious the confidence is growing in each game. Remember how hard he played in his first games on Suzuki’s wing earlier in the season? Well, now he’s putting forth that effort way more consistently, plus he’s playing to his own strengths by being the driver of play on his line. It’s been a great progression and that he can still get some production on a night where his line isn’t the best is maybe the best news of this entire paragraph.
Stats: 1 goal, 3 shots, 22:17 T.O.I.
Following the game, the Habs sent Jesse Ylonen and Alex Belzile to Laval. They’ll be able to play in Laval’s upcoming games on Friday and Saturday against Toronto.