After a great effort on Tuesday against the Hurricanes, the Habs welcomed another strong opponent as the New York Rangers were visiting the Bell Centre on Thursday. Much like Tuesday, the Habs offered a great effort but were ultimately not able to surprise the Rangers enough to skate away with the win. It was a 4-3 Rangers victory, though the Rangers required overtime and a shootout to gain their second standing point, which meant the Habs gained yet another loser point which isn’t great considering they aren’t winning but are still finding themselves further away from Connor Bedard with results like that.
The Canadiens had more injuries fall upon them, so their roster was once again slightly different. The top two lines remained intact as Nick Suzuki remained flanked by Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylonen and Jonathan Drouin played with Josh Anderson and Mike Hoffman. With Christian Dvorak out, the Habs called up Anthony Richard who played on the fourth line with Alex Belzile and Michael Pezzetta. This left Rem Pitlick on the third line with Denis Gurianov and Chris Tierney. On the blue line, Jordan Harris was out, but this was softened by the return of Kaiden Guhle. Guhle was paired with David Savard, while Joel Edmundson was paired with Mike Matheson. Chris Wideman and Johnathan Kovacevic rounded out the blue line. Samuel Montembeault got the nod in the crease.
Guhle waited little time to celebrate his return as he took advantage of a strong forecheck by Tierney to join the rush. Gurianov missed his pass as it was behind the defender, but Guhle was brilliant as he spun around and slapped a shot to quickly beat Igor Shesterkin and open the scoring only 35 seconds into the game.
The next shift saw the Habs continue to threaten Shesterkin as Anderson and Hoffman both missed a rebound after a nice pass from Drouin opened a good point shot for Matheson.
New York got going after that and three minutes into the period, Guhle took a slashing penalty as the infraction broke Jimmy Vesey’s stick. Alexis Lafreniere tipped home an Adam Fox point shot 16 seconds later and the score was tied.
Montreal fought back and was the faster team for most of the first half as they held the shot advantage 6-4 at the midway point of the period. However, the Canadiens were quickly called for too many men to start the second half.
The penalty kill completed excellent work as the Rangers were unable to ever get organized in the offensive zone throughout their advantage. However, the Habs had taken a defensive posture and it took a few minutes to break it as New York continued to attack once the sequence was over.
The Habs regained the lead with three minutes left when Belzile won a defensive zone faceoff. Pezzetta made a strong play along the board, and Richard joined to create a 2-on-1. Belzile opted for the shot and beat Shesterkin.
The second period continued the offensive showing as the Rangers once again tied the score on the period’s first shift. When Jacob Trouba gained the puck by winning a puck battle in the offensive zone, Montreal’s coverage shifted to the talent around Trouba. Trouba was surprised by all the room the Habs gave him, but he took advantage as he walked in and wired over Montembeault only 48 seconds into the period. The Habs pushed back and controlled the next five minutes of play before play simmered until the ten-minute mark.
With play still very much even, Richard took a tripping penalty with seven minutes to play in the period. However, it was the Habs who outworked the Rangers to score a shorthanded goal. Patrick Kane whiffed on a puck in the offensive zone and Tierney pounced. He also showed good vision as he found the streaking Anderson who fired home a nice low shot to beat Shesterkin.
However, Kane made up for his earlier mistake as Artemi Panarin found him in the high slot to wire home a rocket to the top corner to tie the game, still on the same man advantage.
New York got another power play when Pitlick took a delay of game penalty when he shot a puck out of the rink. They never got much going before Lafreniere was called for hooking with approximately 40 seconds left in the Pitlick minor. The Habs’ advantage saw Matheson hit the post on a good pass by Drouin, but the period ended with a 14-6 shot advantage for the Rangers, though most of the period did not go in that direction to this writer.
The third period did not start with a goal on the first shift, though Guhle tried his best as he made a strong play in the offensive zone before making a weak play in the defensive zone that led to two scoring chances on said shift. The Rangers then got two nearly consecutive 2-on-1’s before another strong play by Tierney opened a scoring chance for Pitlick that saw Shesterkin make his nicest save of the game.
The second half of the period kicked off with an Anderson breakaway that was stopped by Shesterkin. The second half saw the Rangers get the better chances until Kane took an offensive zone slashing penalty with 4:35 to play. Montreal’s advantage was absolutely horrendous as New York got the only two shots of the sequence. In the final two minutes, Harvey-Pinard powered his way through the Rangers to earn himself a great scoring chance. It was a flash of Gallagher, as the chance was created solely on heart and desire.
Overtime saw Guhle and Harvey-Pinard once again create scoring chances for the Habs in the early moments of the period. Drouin then made a magnificent pass that sent in Anderson on a breakaway, but the latter missed the net. With 1:27 left, Suzuki had his stick held by Fox to send the Habs to a 4-on-3 advantage. Harvey-Pinard deflected a Hoffman shot that rang off the post and then got another two chances in the final minute. It was that close for the Habs but Shesterkin was the difference.
The shootout had five shots and four misses. Pitlick completely missed the net before Montembeault stopped Kaapo Kakko. Suzuki was run out of real estate by Shesterkin before Mika Zibanejad deked Montembeault and ended up with an empty net. Belzile then tried to go five-hole but was stopped to end the game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Kaiden Guhle
A beautiful goal only 35 seconds in. A penalty in the first that proved costly. A few plays in the second which made very clear that Guhle is currently the best defender on the team not named Matheson while understanding that his ceiling is absolutely higher than Matheson’s. Guhle was noticeable all night long. What a stud the Habs have for years to come.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 20:05 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Chris Tierney
Tierney did not get a point on the game’s first goal, but it was his forecheck that created that entire sequence. Then, he showed some hockey IQ in his pass to Anderson for the shorthanded marker in the second period. Can the team ask any more from a late-season waiver wire acquisition?
Stats: 1 assist, +2, 1 shot, 13:18 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Rafael Harvey-Pinard
Harvey-Pinard was relatively quiet at the start of the game, but by the time the third period came around, he was all over the Rangers’ zone creating scoring chances on what seemed like every shift he was on the ice. Late in the third, he battled his way through four Rangers’ players for a shot on net. And then there were the three great scoring chances in overtime. It truly feels like watching the first season of Gallagher all over again, even the taking of abuse from much bigger defenders for most of the game is a flashback to the Gallagher-Chara years.
Stats: -1, 2 shots, 3 hits, 23:54 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Samuel Montembeault
The Habs had a strong first, but Montembeault still made a nice diving glove save in that period. The Rangers carried the play in the second half of the second period as Montembeault stood tall and only allowed two goals despite the busy period which kept them in it to force the game to overtime.
Stats: 30 saves, 33 shots, .909 save %, 2.77 GAA, 65:00 T.O.I.