After a pair of victories over the weekend, the Habs looked to make it three straight as they hosted Chicago on Tuesday. They got some scoring from some unexpected players to help lead the way to a 4-0 win.
Montreal made just one lineup change for this one compared to Sunday’s lineup and it was one made by necessity, not by choice. With Arber Xhekaj out indefinitely with an upper-body injury, Chris Wideman made his return on the back end with the team lining up as follows:
Harvey-Pinard – Suzuki – Anderson
Dadonov – Dach – Hoffman
Armia – Dvorak – Drouin
Pezzetta – Belzile – Ylonen
Harris – Savard
Matheson – Barron
Kovacevic – Wideman
This game was a matchup of teams that are aiming for the basement in the standings. It showed early on as the first several shifts were entirely uneventful. That changed just past the 4:30 mark as Connor Murphy laid a hard (clean) hit on Nick Suzuki. Josh Anderson didn’t like it and a fight ensued with the Montreal winger picking up the instigator and a misconduct for his troubles.
The Blackhawks entered the game going 1/19 with the man advantage in their last 10 games. In other words, Montreal actually has been better than someone lately in that situation. Their first power play lived up to their recent performance as it was killed rather easily.
Just before the seven-minute mark, the Blackhawks were called for too many men. The first unit for the Canadiens matched the ineptitude of Chicago’s advantage but the second was better. Jonathan Drouin sent the puck back to Justin Barron and the youngster sent a seeing-eye wrister from the point that got through quite a screen and past Jaxson Stauber to open up the scoring.
Three minutes later, Chicago nearly tied it up. David Savard turned over the puck at the offensive blueline. That’s not ideal. What was even worse was that he turned it over to Andreas Athanasiou who very well might be the fastest player in the league. He skated in, deked, and beat Jake Allen…sort of. Athanasiou’s momentum knocked the net off with his skate eventually knocking the puck over the goal line. Obviously, that didn’t count.
The next several minutes were full of next to nothing once again before Joel Armia took a neutral zone interference penalty on Philipp Kurashev with a little less than three minutes left. However, once again, Chicago’s power play was powerless and the Habs killed it off to get to the room up by one. Shots on goal were six apiece and frankly, that seemed high.
The start of the second was very much like the first in that the first few minutes were uneventful once again. The segment also ended with a Montreal penalty once again, this time to Armia who went off for a high stick on Jack Johnson. Anderson and Nick Suzuki had close to a two-on-one (Patrick Kane got back to cover Suzuki) and Anderson’s shot was deflected wide.
Midway through the advantage, Allen tried to clear the puck but it landed in the crowd for a delay of game penalty. In that sequence, Mike Matheson made a strong play to stop a likely goal and then Tyler Johnson was stopped cross-crease soon after. The Habs killed off the two-man advantage and the rest of Chicago’s power play couldn’t get anything going.
The Blackhawks kept pressing and with nine minutes left, Colin Blackwell had a slot shot that missed and the Canadiens were able to clear away the rebound. 50 seconds later, Drouin made a nice pass from the offensive zone blueline to Armia for a quick breakaway but Stauber made the stop.
With a little less than six minutes left, Kurashev went off for a high stick on Matheson. This time, the first unit had plenty of sustained zone time although they weren’t able to get much through on net and Chicago killed it off.
Montreal continued to push, however. With just over three minutes left, Evgenii Dadonov dangled around the defence for a good scoring chance plus some pressure after but it remained 1-0. In the final minute, Suzuki stole the puck from Tyler Johnson at the defensive zone blueline for a breakaway but couldn’t get the best of shots off and Stauber was able to keep it out as well. The second ended the same way it began while the Habs held the 13-7 shot advantage.
Just 11 seconds into the third, Max Domi was called for interference on Anderson but both power play units couldn’t get anything going. A minute after the penalty ended, Suzuki got a good shot off the left wing in a one-on-one with Murphy but Stauber kicked it aside to keep it close.
That changed a couple of minutes later though. Armia, Christian Dvorak, and Drouin completed a nice three-way passing play in the offensive zone – Armia to Dvorak to Drouin who went cross-ice to Armia for the tap-in to make it 2-0. Stauber was shaken up on the play but stayed in the game.
A little past the midway mark, Michael Pezzetta got a hard hit in on Domi in Montreal’s zone with the former Hab being slow to get up to go to the bench. Just as Domi was getting there, Alex Belzile skated in on the left side on the rush and dropped a pass for David Savard. Savard kicked the puck to his stick and went high-glove to make it 3-0.
Less than a minute later, it was the Dvorak line again getting on the board. Armia got the puck behind Chicago’s net and sent a quick pass through two Blackhawks defenders to Dvorak who fired it high past Stauber.
From there, both sides were pretty content to play things out for the most part with the lone exception being Reece Johnson who started a fight with Pezzetta in the final minute as he stood up for Domi for the hit earlier in the period. Shots on goal in the final frame were 12-9 for the Canadiens.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Jonathan Drouin – He’s still looking for that goal but if he sets his linemates up as he did in this one, no one’s going to mind. Drouin has the skill to impact the game on a regular basis and it showed in this one. Now, it’s a matter of finding a way for him to do that more regularly.
Stats: 3 assists, +2 rating, 2 shots, 14:33 TOI
2nd Star: Jake Allen – To be fair, he wasn’t really tested all that much and Chicago’s chances could probably be counted on one hand. However, this game was close up until the final half of the third period where a goal allowed could have turned things around fairly quickly. That counts for something in my books so even while it was a pretty easy shutout, he deserves the extra mention here.
Stats: 21 saves on 21 shots, 0.00 GAA, 1.000 SV%, 2 PIMS
3rd Star: Joel Armia – The penalty trouble aside, this is the type of performance that Kent Hughes will be highlighting to other general managers in trade discussions over the next two-and-a-half weeks (the deadline really is that close now). He used his size effectively, drove the net, and showed off some good passing skills. Like Drouin, the question of talent isn’t there but rather him finding a way to show off his skills more consistently.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, 4 PIMS, +2 rating, 2 shots, 13:22 TOI
Honourable Mention: Christian Dvorak – Well, why not make it all three linemates getting a mention? Dvorak was particularly sharp at the faceoff dot (90%), helped set up the three-way passing play marker, then potted his second in as many games after going 20 straight without a goal. Not a bad night at the office.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating, 1 shot, 9/10 faceoffs, 13:26 TOI