The Habs kicked off what should be a difficult four-game road trip that will see them travel to New Jersey, Toronto, and Thursday night’s visit to Raleigh to take on the Hurricanes. The Canes are second in the Eastern Conference with only Boston ahead of them, and this is mostly due to a dominant home record which did not bode well for the Canadiens. However, the Habs were playing quite well themselves coming into this contest as they had yet to lose since the All-Star break. Against a much better opponent, the winning streak was snapped as Montreal was defeated by a 6-2 score despite an excellent defensive effort in the first two periods.
The roster had a surprising big change as Kirby Dach was a last-minute scratch due to illness. This did not change the top line as Rafael Harvey-Pinard remained shotgun with Nick Suzuki and Josh Anderson. The second line featured Alex Belzile replacing Dach as he centred the second line next to veterans Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman. The veteran third line featured Jonathan Drouin, Joel Armia, and Christian Dvorak. This left the inserted Rem Pitlick anchoring the fourth line with Michael Pezzetta and Jesse Ylonen. The blue line saw Mike Matheson and Justin Barron form the top duo as Jordan Harris and David Savard completed the top four. Johnathan Kovacevic and Chris Wideman rounded out the group. Montembeault was the starter in the net.
The first period started with the Habs playing mostly in the defensive zone, but they defended well and were able to find their legs. Montreal was able to open the scoring 3:24 into the period when a strong defensive play by Ylonen sent Pitlick and Pezzetta on the rush. Pitlick slowed down the defenders before feathering a pass across. Pezzetta’s initial shot was stopped but Pezzetta stayed on it and batted home his own rebound.
The Hurricanes responded quickly by burying the Canadiens in their defensive zone for the few shifts that followed, but the Habs came back with a sweet pass by Suzuki to Anderson that forced Antti Raanta’s best save of the period.
Montembeault could not keep Carolina at bay all night and he was finally solved 12:14 into the period when Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored. A defensive play similar to Ylonen’s was made by Martin Necas which sent Kotkaniemi on a 2-on-1. Wideman covered the pass as Belzile closed in on Kotkaniemi, but the former Hab gave a late surge to cut across and beat Montembeault.
2:34 later, Seth Jarvis gave Carolina the lead when the puck found itself on Sebastian Aho’s stick in the corner and Kovacevic was alone to defend. For some reason, Kovacevic chased behind the net leaving Jarvis wide open for a quick one-timer. The final five minutes of the period were dominated by the Canes, helped by a ridiculous hooking call against Pezzetta that the Habs managed to kill ending the period behind 17-8 in shots.
The second period started with the Canadiens once again hemmed into their zone, but they did an excellent job of protecting the slot and letting the home side play around the perimeter. After the first five minutes, Montreal woke up with scoring chances for Anderson and Savard with the former missing the nice Suzuki pass and the latter going to the backhand that was stopped by Raanta.
With 13:17 to play, Kotkaniemi threw Dadonov to the ice and was called for an obvious penalty. The advantage got some looks but had a hard time hitting the net and went scoreless.
The second half of the game started with Montreal getting their first sequence where they controlled the play. Then, Andrei Svechnikov shoved Barron into the boards from behind which sent the Habs to a second power play.
This time they scored as Harvey-Pinard continued his incredible streak. It was a bit of a broken play as pucks were bobbled all over the Carolina zone by both teams. Finally, Armia settled it down, went down low to Hoffman who came back up to the bumper where Harvey-Pinard put it home to tie the game. The final five minutes saw Carolina regain their composure and really bottle the Habs in their zone finishing the period with a 28-16 shot advantage.
The third period started with a flurry from the Canes and this time the Habs did not defend it well. It started two minutes in when some soft play defensively by Wideman kept a shift alive for Carolina. A point shot was then left uncovered by Montembeault as Aho simply outpowered Belzile to bury the rebound and restore the lead. This was unfortunate for Belzile who did complete a strong defensive play earlier in the shift to gain a puck that should have been cleared.
The soft defensive play snowballed from this point on as Brent Burns then just walked around a trio of stick-checking Habs (Armia, Drouin, Kovacevic) as he skated from the blue line all the way to Montembeault. Montembeault stopped the initial shot, but Jarvis buried the rebound to make it 4-2.
The game was put out of reach at the five-minute mark when Jordan Staal simply beat Suzuki up the ice after beating him on a faceoff in the Carolina zone. There, he accepted a pass from Jordan Martinook on the rush to score which caused Martin St. Louis to call a timeout and get about as publicly mad as I’ve seen him since taking over behind the Habs bench.
Six minutes into the period, Pezzetta tried to deliver a big hit, missed, and ended up taking a dumb interference minor penalty. Montreal killed the penalty as both teams settled into going through the motions for the most part.
Svechnikov got physical on a shift which the Habs reacted to. In the end, Wideman took a cross-checking penalty. The Habs killed the penalty and then Pezzetta was robbed by Raanta after a great Pitlick pass.
With two minutes to play, Kotkaniemi tripped Savard and the Habs ended the game with a power play that looked entirely disinterested and created no scoring chances. With 20 seconds left in the game, Wideman committed to a pinch with no one behind him. It failed and Jarvis went in all alone and beat Montembeault for his hat trick goal.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Samuel Montembeault
I think the Habs actually played a really solid defensive game for the first forty minutes. The Hurricanes were ahead in shots, but there weren’t many dangerous scoring chances. For the most part, the Canadiens kept them to the outside and they accepted and committed to the Claude Julien, take a point shot, and try to create traffic mentality. Montembeault gets the nod here because in a game where no one stood out, he’s got the most interesting stat line and he’s the one that ultimately was left out to dry by the team in the third period.
Stats: 35 saves on 41 shots, 6.03 GAA, .854 save %, 59:44 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Michael Pezzetta
What does it say about the offensive output when a fourth line player gets the nod as the best player of the game? Pezzetta always tries hard despite his obvious lack of skill. He scored the game’s first goal, but then cost the team by taking two penalties. Decent game for him.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 3 shots, 7 hits, 10:15 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Rem Pitlick
For someone who wasn’t even supposed to play, I think Pitlick did alright. I think this is a player that never really adapted well to the coaching change and likely is counting the days until he’s no longer in the organization. Until that moment happens, it’s nice to see the effort level remain constant even though he’s clearly far far away from the confident young player that we saw last season.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 10:04 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Kirby Dach
Dach did not play in this game as he was out with an illness (and not for trade purposes as I jokingly mentioned on Twitter) and while I don’t think it’s great to single out players for poor efforts, I’d say his absence was noticeable in the performance offered by two veterans who both returned to being as ineffective as they were pre-All-Star game. Oddly enough, the portion of the fan base who is really pushing Dach as the team’s best centre is also the group who wants to see the Habs lose. An interesting conundrum for those fans.