After a tough outing on Monday, the Habs were back in action on Tuesday night as they travelled to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins. This one got off to a rough start but the offence battled back as the Canadiens snapped their seven-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory.
Martin St. Louis made a pair of lineup changes for this one. Samuel Montembeault got the start in goal after coming in midway through the second against Colorado in relief of Jake Allen while Justin Barron was able to return, taking the place of Chris Wideman on the back end. While Rem Pitlick left Monday’s game early, he was able to suit up for this one with the team lining up as follows:
Harvey-Pinard – Suzuki – Ylonen
Gurianov – Drouin – Anderson
Pitlick – Belzile – Hoffman
Pezzetta – Tierney – Richard
Matheson – Kovacevic
Edmundson – Barron
Guhle – Savard
After a rough first period last game, this one didn’t start any better. Just 21 seconds in, the defensive coverage was sloppy, allowing Bryan Rust to wrap the puck around. Montembeault made the stop but the rebound went right to Jake Guentzel who went five-hole to open the scoring. Montreal had a good chance to tie it before the one-minute mark as Jonathan Drouin set up Denis Gurianov for a quick break but Tristan Jarry was there to make the stop.
Three minutes later, Josh Anderson knocked Alex Nylander’s stick out of his hands, earning himself an interference call. Pittsburgh didn’t waste much time as Kris Letang sent a point pass to Evgeni Malkin in the right faceoff dot and his one-timer beat Montembeault clean to make it 2-0 less than five minutes in. It looked like a repeat of Monday all over again. But that didn’t last for long.
30 seconds after the goal, Barron stepped up in the rush and got a pass across to Pitlick who had some time and space to drive the net. He opted to drop it back for Mike Hoffman who was just behind him and the quick angle change coupled with a hard one-timer was enough to beat Jarry clean to get Montreal on the board.
Two minutes later, Jesse Ylonen had the puck behind the net and sent a pass to the point. He then skated to the point himself and got a return feed from Mike Matheson, allowing him to step in a hard high wrister that beat Jarry to tie it up. The game at this point was barely seven minutes old.
The Canadiens got a chance to take the lead two minutes after that when Drew O’Connor tripped Kaiden Guhle, giving the Habs a power play. However, they didn’t do anything with it. But, just after it ended, Drouin won a board battle and got the puck to Alex Belzile behind the net. He sent a feed in front to Denis Gurianov whose quick backhander hit the back of the net to give the Canadiens the lead.
With a little over two minutes left, Sidney Crosby interfered with Belzile but Belzile also was called for embellishment, creating a four-on-four situation. (Considering the state of the power play, this might have been the better outcome anyway.) Malkin had a couple of shots early while Mike Matheson had a good rush chance in the back half of the sequence.
Just after those penalties ended, Drouin won a faceoff back to the point. Neither Johnathan Kovacevic nor Joel Edmundson appeared to want to shoot the puck with the former eventually pushing a soft pass to the latter. That allowed Edmundson to set up for a one-timer that changed direction and beat Jarry to double the lead with just 11 seconds left, allowing the Habs to reach the dressing room with a two-goal advantage, a highly unexpected outcome after how things started. Pittsburgh held the 15-7 shot advantage in the period.
After a rough 20 minutes for Tristan Jarry, he was on the bench to start the second with Casey DeSmith coming in. He was tested early as 90 seconds in, Drouin intercepted the puck in the neutral zone, skated in, and got off a good low shot that DeSmith got a pad on. Montreal had three shots in the opening four minutes which is only worth noting since they had just one more the rest of the way.
Just before the six-minute mark, Belzile went off for tripping Crosby. Rafael Harvey-Pinard missed a clearing opportunity which nearly came back to bite them but Montembeault made a good stop on Rickard Rakell to bail him out. Not long after the penalty, Nick Suzuki was sent in with a good stretch pass but Pierre-Olivier Joseph was there to break up the pass-across attempt.
A little past the midway point of the period, Jason Zucker split Matheson and Kovacevic and made a nice move to get a strong shot off. Montembeault’s glove stop was even stronger. However, off the ensuing draw, the Penguins had control with Letang and Marcus Pettersson passing it back and forth at the blueline. Pettersson set up Letang who let a low wrister go that got somehow through the screen to beat Montembeault blocker side to make it a one-goal game.
A minute later, Belzile’s rough night continued as he was called for delay of game. Fortunately for Montreal, Malkin tripped David Savard midway through the advantage; neither team was able to do much with their abbreviated power plays.
With less than four minutes left, Pettersson, who isn’t known for his offensive prowess, made a nifty move to get around the defence and was able to drive the net. He tried to stuff it far side but while he beat Montembeault, he didn’t beat the post.
The Penguins got another opportunity on the power play with two minutes left when Barron went off for high-sticking Zucker. They won the draw, Letang got it to Malkin at the faceoff circle, and his one-timer beat Montembeault. The only difference from the one in the first period is that this one went off Guentzel on its way in. The game was all tied up at the break with Pittsburgh holding a 17-4 edge in shots.
After a rough two periods defensively, the Habs came out much better in the defensive end in the third. They were eventually rewarded for their efforts.
Three minutes into the frame, Barron sent a long stretch pass to the defensive zone to Anthony Richard at the Pittsburgh blue line. Richard was just able to stay onside and had a partial break. He opted for a long wrister and it was the right call as he went high glove on DeSmith to restore the lead.
As the second half of the period began, the Penguins started to push back. Montembeault made a nice stop on a rush from Nylander and a minute later, stopped Rakell in the slot as the coverage was a bit slow on him. With 3:30 left, a defensive zone turnover resulted in a two-on-one with Nylander sliding a pass to Zucker but again, Montembeault was there for the stop.
The Canadiens had a glorious opportunity to seal it with two minutes left. Harvey-Pinard had the puck behind the Pittsburgh net and sent a pass to Suzuki who was all alone in front but DeSmith made the stop to keep them in it before heading to the bench for the extra attacker 20 seconds later.
However, Pittsburgh wasn’t able to come back this time. With 35 seconds left, Anderson knocked down a point shot and fired the puck into the empty net to put an end to the losing streak. Shots in the third were much closer, 11-10 for the Penguins.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Jonathan Drouin – This might seem odd since he didn’t score in a six-goal game but I really liked Drouin’s effort away from the puck. He was much better on board battles as well which helped to set up some chances. On top of that, he did set up two goals while being Montreal’s best player at the faceoff dot on a night where they struggled mightily in that regard (31%).
Stats: 2 assists, +3 rating, 4 shots, 7/15 faceoffs, 15:51 TOI
2nd Star: Samuel Montembeault – The stats don’t look the prettiest for him but they don’t tell the tale. This could have gotten ugly quickly after a tough start but he largely shut the door after that. This was a game where Montreal was thoroughly dominated for long stretches, especially in the first two periods but Montembeault made some key stops to stop Pittsburgh from regaining the lead.
Stats: 39 saves on 43 shots, 4.00 GAA, .907 SV%
3rd Star: Justin Barron – St. Louis was clearly easing him back into things but he made two very strong passes that directly led to goals including the winner. This is the part of Barron’s game that is NHL-ready now (the defence is still a work in progress) and on a team that doesn’t have a lot of mobility and creativity from some of their blueliners, even a game with limited playing time like this has plenty of positives.
Stats: 2 assists, +2 rating, 2 PIMS, 5 hits, 13:14 TOI
Honourable Mention: Anthony Richard – Really, there isn’t a whole lot to say here. Richard didn’t play much but he scored the winner on a perfectly-placed shot. That has to earn him the nod.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 1 shot, 3 hits, 7:21 TOI