The Habs wrapped up their West Coast road trip on Sunday with a trip to Vegas. They were sluggish early on but got better as the game went on. However, they weren’t able to overcome a three-goal deficit in the third as the Golden Knights picked up the 4-3 win.
Montreal made a pair of lineup changes for this one, one by necessity and one by choice. With Kaiden Guhle and Justin Barron both day-to-day with upper-body injuries, Frederic Allard, just recalled after being acquired, made his Canadiens debut on the back end. Meanwhile, Jake Allen got the start in goal. The team lined up as follows:
Harvey-Pinard – Suzuki – Gurianov
Hoffman – Drouin – Anderson
Pitlick – Dvorak – Ylonen
Pezzetta – Tierney – Belzile
Matheson – Savard
Edmundson – Allard
Harris – Kovacevic
Vegas controlled the play early which helped earn them the first power play less than three minutes in when Michael Pezzetta was called for a hook on William Karlsson. However, the Canadiens’ penalty killers did quite well to interfere in the passing lanes and the Golden Knights weren’t able to get set up.
Just past the six-minute mark, the Habs got their best chance of the period. Jesse Ylonen won a puck battle behind the net, allowing Christian Dvorak to skate in and send a centring feed to Rem Pitlick in the slot but Jonathan Quick was there to make a pad stop.
From that point on, Vegas took over. Allen made a few strong saves over the next five minutes including a good reaction stop on Karlsson following a defensive zone giveaway just past the halfway mark.
But with the Habs on their heels, the Golden Knights were eventually able to capitalize. With a little less than six minutes left, the puck was sent out to an open area in the high slot. Shea Theodore came down from the blueline and sent a wrister through a big screen, beating Allen short-side to open up the scoring.
Vegas continued pushing late in the period to try to get one. With 2:20 left, Allen went post-to-post to get across to stop a one-timer from Michael Amadio. 30 seconds later, a giveaway behind the net allowed Brett Howden to do a wraparound but his shot went wide.
The Canadiens weren’t able to hold on though. Following a defensive zone faceoff, Josh Anderson flew the zone too early as Montreal turned it over. That gave Vegas a bit of extra space to work with and they put it to good use. Several quick passes later, Jack Eichel sent a feed toward the net for Ivan Barbashev in the crease and he tipped it home with 17 seconds left to double the lead heading to the break. Shots on goal in the opening frame were 13-5 for the home side.
Montreal came out much better in the second. Just past the three-minute mark, a point shot took a strange bounce off the boards and went right to Anderson on his off-wing. However, Quick was able to get across. Defensively, it took more than seven minutes for Vegas to get their first shot of the period.
Unfortunately for the Habs, that shot went in. After a turnover in the neutral zone on a missed pass from Denis Gurianov, Phil Kessel narrowly managed to stay onside in transition and Reilly Smith was in on a two-on-one with Karlsson. Smith sent the first pass and got it back for a tap-in on a perfectly executed play. Martin St. Louis pondered a challenge for offside but decided against it. Less than a minute later, Karlsson rang one off the post.
The Canadiens got their first power play of the game at the 8:26 mark when Jonathan Marchessault hooked Pitlick. The top unit had some good pressure for the first 30 seconds of the advantage before it went back to being its typical ineffective self.
Two and a half minutes later, Johnathan Kovacevic’s point shot got through Quick but went just wide. The top line then had a couple of looks off that play but couldn’t bury it. 30 seconds later, Anderson was sent in on a breakaway but he missed the net trying to go high-glove. Montreal had the better chances in the period but still found themselves down an extra goal; shots in the period were 11-5 for the road squad.
The Habs got off to a nice start to the third as two minutes in, Jonathan Drouin won an offensive zone faceoff back to Mike Matheson. Matheson deked around Paul Cotter and fired a high shot past Quick to get the Canadiens on the board.
They got a chance to get within one two and a half minutes later when Zach Whitecloud was called for interference on Rafael Harvey-Pinard. The first unit had lots of pressure, generating a trio of shots but none of them went into the net. Just as the penalty was ending, Allen had to make a big five-hole stop on a Chandler Stephenson breakaway.
However, a minute later, Vegas was able to get another one by Allen. The original point shot bounced around and landed on the stick of Barbashev to the right of the crease. He quickly sent a shot on goal and it just trickled across the line to make it 4-1.
To their credit, the Habs didn’t give up. Just 24 seconds later, Michael Pezzetta sent Alex Belzile in on the right wing with some room. He faked a shot which threw Quick off and then fired one past him to make it 4-2. 35 seconds later, it was a one-goal game. Ylonen did well behind the net again to get a centring feed out front to Harvey-Pinard who fired it home and all of a sudden, it was a game.
Then, the physicality picked up. Kovacevic had a strong hit on Cotter, one that drew the ire of Alec Martinez who started a fight. There was no instigator to be found (or even a roughing minor if they didn’t want the misconduct). On the next shift, Keegan Kolesar threw a big hit in the corner and when the whistle went a little later, a scrum ensued with no calls once more.
The Canadiens continued to push and generated a few looks but couldn’t manage the equalizer. Out went Allen with 100 seconds left but they weren’t able to muster up much aside from a Drouin one-timer late. It was certainly a valiant effort but they came up short once more. Shots in the final frame were 11 apiece.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Rafael Harvey-Pinard – He’s quickly becoming a little engine for the Habs with his hustle standing out early when the team was scuffling. Harvey-Pinard was back on the top line for this one and was energized, leading Montreal in shots on goal and blocks while scoring the third goal to make the finish an interesting one.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 5 shots, 2 hits, 5 blocks, 19:40 TOI
2nd Star: Mike Matheson – The veteran saved his best work for last in this one as he was dominant in the third period. He made a nifty deke to set up his goal and held his own defensively despite logging nearly 27 minutes of ice time as he and partner David Savard logged extra work to cover for limited minutes for Allard (who had a decent game himself).
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 3 shots, 26:50 TOI
3rd Star: Josh Anderson – I didn’t like how he flew the zone too early which led to the second Vegas goal late in the first but other than that, he was quite noticeable once again. He was around the net and generated a few scoring chances but just wasn’t able to cash on them.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 1 shot, 2 hits, 19:19 TOI
Honourable Mention: Jonathan Drouin – It’s amazing what a bit of confidence can do. Drouin had an efficient game – nothing flashy but he made a few good reads offensively while being Montreal’s best player at the faceoff dot which directly led to the Matheson goal.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 2 shots, 2 blocks, 6/7 faceoffs, 17:03 TOI