As the Canadiens arrived at the Air Canada Centre for their third tilt against the Maple Leafs this season, the home team had just been reinforced by the arrival of Ryan O’Reilly and Noel Acciari from the St Louis Blues. The Habs? Well, Corey Schueneman took the short drive from Belleville where the Rocket are playing to join the team. Not quite the same, was it?
And while the Canadiens most definitely did not mail it in, in the end, they were no match for the Leafs, who were already fourth overall in the League before the arrival of O’Reilly and Acciari. The opening of the second period gave some hope to the many Habs fans in the stands, but it really was false hope more than anything else. In the end, it was a clear Toronto win, and another loss to improve Montreal’s chances of a top draft pick this year.
The first … shift!
O’Reilly was clearly pumped as he took the opening faceoff, centring Mitch Marner and John Tavares. He won the faceoff, and the line was all over the Canadiens as O’Reilly and Mark Giordano both forced Jake Allen to make solid saves in the first minute of the game.
The Jonathan Drouin-Christian Dvorak-Joel Armia line was positive early, playing strongly against the Leafs’ third line, and exerting sustained pressure at times, although any shots from that pressure were foiled by Joseph Woll, playing only his second NHL game of the year – and only the fourth of his career.
Drouin had his first breakaway into the Toronto zone before there were eight minutes on the clock, and then another chance just in front of the blue ice as the Habs’ third line was applying pressure at around the 11:30 mark.
Only 30 seconds later, though, William Nylander was leading a three-on-two break in the Montreal zone. He got a clear wrist shot, and then another chance from the rebound after Allen made a pad save, but the veteran goaltender gloved that second shot to stop play before any real damage was done.
That led to another stretch of Toronto pressure, including a flurry of shots by Acciari, Alexander Kerfoot, and Zach Aston-Reese, but Allen stoned all comers in the first frame.
The shots were 16-14 in the Leafs’ favour, and the edge in high-danger chance was more dramatic yet, 11-4 for the home team.
A second chance at a first goal
It took only 42 seconds in the second period for the Canadiens to get on the board, as the top line had an excellent, high-energy shift after the opening faceoff. With Nick Suzuki and Josh Anderson creating havoc and reducing visibility in front of the Toronto net, Mike Matheson took a low shot from the blue line, and Anderson deflected it past Woll to open the scoring and give the Habs a 1-0 lead.
There wasn’t much of a momentum change from that goal, though, as the Habs were soon hemmed in their own zone once again, and at the four-minute mark that led to a penalty. Matheson was trying to chase Marner around the back of the net, fell down, and got his stick into Marner’s skates, drawing an immediate call from the referees.
There is no question that the power play is a big part of the difference between the Canadiens and the league’s top teams, and Toronto demonstrated that again. Clean zone entries and quick, unpredictable passes inside the zone. And yet it wasn’t the power play formation that made the difference this time, but the zone entry.
Rasmus Sandin dumped the puck in along the right-side boards, and Auston Matthews picked it up on the opposite side and quickly fed it to Michael Bunting, who was driving for the net from the right-side circle. Bunting wristed it into the top right side of the net at 5:32 as Allen could not move over in time. Tie game and the Leafs were looking dangerous.
Tavares was sent to the box some two and a half minutes later for hooking Johnathan Kovacevic, but the power play looked rather less effective, even if the Habs were able to largely control the play. Two shots on net were the result, but neither looked dangerous.
Mike Hoffman had a chance to take Montreal back in front at 11:40 as he and Alex Belzile broke in on a two-on-one chance. A nice back-and-forth passing play gave Hoffman a solid chance but Woll had his pad out and the play fizzled there.
And then it was the Leafs: Kovacevic made a pass from behind the Habs’ goal line, but Pierre Engvall picked that off and beat Allen with a quick wrist shot to give the Leafs a second goal and move them into the lead for the first time.
Less than a minute later it looked as if it was all falling apart, with the Canadiens rushing around like headless chickens (can headless chickens skate?) in their own zone. Allen ended up sprawled on the ice on the right side of the net, facing the corner and with just one pad.
Acciari and Kerfoot were trying to get the puck out to the front of the net, but with Allen blocking the ice level and Suzuki policing the front of the net, the Habs were able to escape this with little more than a scare.
Hoffman and Belzile both had scoring chances around the 15-minute mark, just 20 seconds apart, but Woll was making stonking saves when he needed to.
Matthews responded with a three-on-one break, with Nylander in tow. His shot went over the net, though, and David Savard blocked Nylander’s follow-up.
Savard was sent to the sin bin shortly after for slashing Matthews, at 16:11, and the Leafs set out on another demonstration of how to run a power play. Allen had to make a stonking save on Marner, who drove for the net on zone entry, but the scoresheet showed no goals for this man advantage.
Not officially, that is. Because the play continued even as Savard returned, with the exhausted Habs still on the back foot. O’Reilly made a controlled zone entry on the left side, passed to Calle Jarnkrok between the circles, and the latter quickly fed the puck to Bunting, who one-timed the puck over Allen’s left pad and past his trapper onto the post, and from there into the net. 3-1 Toronto, then, exactly five minutes after the go-ahead marker.
The shots in the second frame were 15-9 for the blueshirts, who also led the high-danger chances at 5-3.
And a more painful third
After a few good shifts at the start of the third period, it was back to Toronto pressure again, with the Habs hanging on for dear life.
And at 3:47 the inevitable came to be again, as Matthews out-battled Kovacevic on the end boards to the left of Allen. Puck on the stick, he took a couple of strides to get past the red line, and beat Jordan Harris with a pass to Nylander, on the other side of the net. Nylander had neither a Habs defender nor a forward marking him, and he quickly wristed the puck past Allen to make it a three-goal lead.
Rem Pitlick had a great chance at the edge of the goal just before nine minutes, but Woll was there again and deflected the puck over the goal.
Rafael Harvey-Pinard was called for high-sticking Bunting at 10:34, but this time the power play was remarkably ineffectual, and the Habs killed the two minutes without difficulty.
David Kampf sealed the result with a fifth Toronto goal at 14:53, as Allen made a pad save on a Pierre Engvall shot from the blue line. The rebound bounced out to the other side of the goal, and Kampf was ready for it, tapping it into the net for a 5-1 final score.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Jonathan Drouin (0g, 0a, 7 shots, 13:55 TOI) played yet another strong game, although this time there was nothing to show on the stat sheet. He continues to work well with Joel Armia and Christian Dvorak, and on another night the effort might have resulted in a goal or two for the line.
Second Star: Josh Anderson (1g, 0a, 3 shots, 17:43 TOI) scored the singular goal for the Habs, and spent time on both the power play and penalty kill. Not a spectacular result, but he, Suzuki, and Harvey-Pinard had the toughest opposition as well.
Third Star: Mike Matheson (0g, 1a, 0 shots, 23:55 TOI) played nearly 24 minutes and created the scoring chance for Anderson’s goal. The Petry-Matheson trade is looking better and better for the Canadiens.
Honourable Mention: Justin Barron (0g, 0a, 1 shot, 16:12) didn’t score, didn’t assist, and didn’t play the most minutes. But he also didn’t make mistakes and played consistently well. He was the only Habs player that was on the ice for more high-danger chances for than against.