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After falling to the Islanders on Saturday, the Habs looked to get the split in New York as they faced off against the Rangers on Sunday afternoon.  They put forth one of their better efforts in recent weeks and were able to pick up the 2-1 victory.

Martin St. Louis opted to make a pair of lineup changes for this one, one by choice and one by force.  Jake Evans was unable to play after being injured against the Islanders on Saturday while the team opted to go back to a traditional 12-6 alignment which meant Chris Wideman was a healthy scratch.  That allowed Mike Hoffman and Michael Pezzetta to return to the lineup while the lines were all mixed up with Kirby Dach needing to move back to the middle.  The team lined up as follows:

Caufield – Suzuki – Armia
Pezzetta – Dvorak – Slafkovsky
Hoffman – Dach – Anderson
Dadonov – Drouin – Ylonen

Edmundson – Barron
Harris – Savard
Xhekaj – Kovacevic

The Habs got the first good chance of the game less than a minute in.  Cole Caufield made a slick move to get around Adam Fox on his off-wing and drove the net.  Unfortunately, he ran out of room and wasn’t able to get enough of a good angle to be able to lift his shot over Igor Shesterkin’s outstretched pad.  A little more than five minutes later, Christian Dvorak showed some speed, allowing him to get behind the defence on a partial break but was also stopped.

Then it was New York’s turn.  Not long after Samuel Montembeault made a big pad stop, the puck worked its way back to Ryan Lindgren at the point.  His shot hit a couple of players and landed at the left post.  The net was open but Alexis Lafreniere wasn’t able to bury it.

The Rangers had several good chances in this stretch before the midway mark of the period.  Another one came from Jake Leschyshyn who got around Arber Xhekaj to create a two-on-one but was stopped.  The Canadiens came back the other way 20 seconds later with Dvorak setting up Juraj Slafkovsky who got a lot on the shot but Shesterkin got just enough of it to keep it out.

A couple of shifts later, it was Jesse Ylonen’s turn to set up some chances.  First, he made a nice play at the New York blueline to get a pass to Evgenii Dadonov, springing the winger in Shesterkin.  However, Dadonov really didn’t get much of a shot off as he rushed it.  Seconds later, Ylonen got the puck back and set up Joel Edmundson for a good one-timer that was also kicked aside.

With a little less than four and a half minutes left, Vincent Trocheck made a good move to split past Joel Armia and Johnathan Kovacevic to create a two-on-one.  Armia put the hook in to break up the play, earning himself a penalty for his efforts.  However, the Rangers couldn’t get much of anything going with the man advantage.

Then, in the final minute, Nick Suzuki got around Lindgren, forcing the defender to hook him and give Montreal their first man advantage.  They really didn’t do much with the opening stretch; New York had the best chance with an odd-man rush with ten seconds left.  The period ended the way it started with a goalless draw with the Rangers holding a 14-10 shot advantage.

Despite having the carryover advantage, the Canadiens couldn’t do anything with it in what was a relatively slow start to the second.

They got another chance on the power play when Fox went off for a hold on Caufield.  Once again, it was New York with an odd-man rush with Jacob Trouba firing on a two-on-one but Montembeault made the stop.  That sent the Habs the other way on a three-on-two.  Dvorak sent a cross-ice feed for Kirby Dach who went high-glove on Shesterkin to open up the scoring.  Caufield also got an assist on the play, his first since November 23rd.  Dach nearly scored seconds later at even strength off a nice setup from Hoffman but he couldn’t bury it.

After that stretch, both teams went several minutes without generating much of anything offensively.  Both teams were still skating quickly but it just wasn’t leading to much.

With a little under seven minutes left, Slafkovsky was called for holding on Jimmy Vesey.  New York had much more pressure this time around and Montembeault had to make a few stops but all in all, it was a decent penalty kill.

On the next shift, the Rangers hemmed the Canadiens in deep, eventually forcing a delayed penalty.  They didn’t wait to get to the man advantage, however, as they kept up the pressure.  Eventually, Artemi Panarin got the puck on the side wall and skated out to the top of the faceoff dot, setting up the right angle for him to fire one through a screen past Montembeault to tie it up.

The Rangers kept pushing after the equalizer with Montembeault being sharp to keep it tied up.  With 20 seconds left in the period, Jonathan Drouin had two good looks in close but Shesterkin was able to stop them both, sending the teams back to the room tied once more.  Shots in the second were 13-12 for New York.

Just past the four-minute mark of the third, Shesterkin gave the puck away as Suzuki was able to knock the puck down at the point.  He sent a quick feed to Caufield who fired it to Armia for a one-timer but Shesterkin was square to the shot.  Four minutes later, Caufield went in with Armia on a two-on-one.  Caufield opted to keep it but fired wide.

However, on that same shift, he made up for the miss.  K’Andre Miller turned it over behind his next right to Suzuki who sent a quick feed in front for Caufield.  Caufield went high-glove on Shesterkin to restore the lead.

Three minutes later, Dvorak forced a turnover and then sent a drop pass to Pezzetta who had some room but Shesterkin was right there to make the stop.  A few shifts later, it looked as if Suzuki was going to be in on a breakaway but Miller hustled back to break it up.

In the final five minutes, the Rangers picked up the pressure with several good shots.  Panarin had a good look from the side of the goal but Montembeault got across to get it.  Shesterkin was pulled with just under two minutes left and while New York had plenty of zone time, they couldn’t get the tying goal and their seven-game point streak came to an end with the Canadiens holding on for the 2-1 victory.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Samuel Montembeault – With Jake Allen unavailable and Cayden Primeau not having a great year, the Habs opted to have a goalie play both ends of a back-to-back for the first time this season.  That proved to be the right call.  Montembeault had arguably his best start of the year, stymieing several good chances, especially early on.  Even when Allen is able to come back (which should be soon), Montembeault has made a case for a few extra starts.

Stats: 38 shots on 39 shots, 1.00 GAA, .974 SV%

2nd Star: Cole Caufield – He had a strong chance on his first shift of the game and it set the tone for him.  He had multiple good looks throughout the game, drew a penalty, earned a rare assist, and eventually scored the winner.  That’s a strong night at the office for the young sniper.

Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1 rating, 6 shots, 16:40 TOI

3rd Star: Kirby Dach – There are games where Dach can fade into the background.  He’ll do the little things but won’t stand out otherwise.  This wasn’t one of those.  In his first full game down the middle in a while, he showed why the Habs opted to trade for him in the first place, showing some offensive creativity and adding a power play goal on top of doing the little things.

Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 4 shots, 3 blocks, 2/6 faceoffs, 16:32 TOI

Honourable Mention: Christian Dvorak – Similar to Dach, there are games where he is very quiet and then all of a sudden, he’ll get a lot more involved offensively.  That happened in this one as he was responsible for several strong scoring chances while making the nice cross-ice feed to set up the power play marker.  It’s games like this that show the top-six skill is there, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to play like that consistently.

Stats: 1 assist, -1 rating, 1 shot, 3 blocks, 5/12 faceoffs, 16:45 TOI