The Habs were back on home ice as they welcomed the Metropolitan Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night in what should have been a guaranteed loss for the Habs. Instead, Montreal’s fourth line made it interesting with the help of Jake Allen. Ex-Hab Jesperi Kotkaniemi was also all over this game as he was both productive for his team, but also at the heart of a few Habs’ goals. The Hurricanes were able to win their third straight game, but the Canadiens were able to collect a loser point for bringing the game to overtime, a point most within the fan base would sooner reject given what it means in the standings and how the team collected it. In the end, a 4-3 Carolina shootout win is what it was.
The Canes started Antti Raanta to face the reigning Molson Cup winner in Jake Allen. The blue line saw David Savard joined by Mike Matheson on the top pair with Jordan Harris and Johnathan Kovacevic completing the top 4. Joel Edmundson and Chris Wideman formed the third pair. Up front, the top line saw Nick Suzuki joined by Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylonen. The second featured Jonathan Drouin flanked by Mike Hoffman and Josh Anderson. The third line saw Christian Dvorak joined by Rem Pitlick and Denis Gurianov while the game’s stars were on the fourth line in Chris Tierney, Alex Belzile, and Michael Pezzetta.
The first period started rather tamely as both teams were tentative until Montreal’s fourth line accelerated the pace early as they trapped the Hurricanes into the game’s first penalty only three minutes into the contest. The power play unit never got set up, but Gurianov came close to opening the scoring in the final minutes of the advantage. Wideman took a neutral zone slashing penalty with 13:21 to play but Carolina’s advantage was cut short when Andrei Svechnikov took a slashing penalty for 1:11 of 4-on-4 that yielded little but ended the first half of the period.
The second half of the first was the game’s most noteworthy sequence. Belzile opened the scoring with 9:43 to play when Pezzetta ran out of room at the top of the zone and simply sent a puck on net. The shot was poorly handled by Raanta which resulted in a big, juicy rebound for Belzile who had a near-empty net. With 6:15 to play, Raanta once again misplayed a puck from far, this time he made a last-second save but he came up limp on the play though he tried to play through the pain.
The Habs added to their lead with 3:44 to play when Drouin skated toward the opposition net and then dropped a beautiful drop pass to Hoffman as everyone followed Drouin and Hoffman simply had to deposit the puck into the empty net. The second goal woke up the Hurricanes who responded 15 seconds later when a bad pinch by Edmundson opened the door to 2-on-1 with Wideman allowing the pass through and Jaccob Slavin putting it home to end the period.
Frederik Andersen was in net for the ‘Canes to start the second as Raanta was pulled in what was officially called a preventative measure. On the ice, Carolina came out much stronger and immediately scored to make it 2-2. A Jesperi Kotkaniemi faceoff win against Suzuki sent the Habs scrambling, and the Canes completed a tic-tac-toe passing play that ended up on Brady Skjei’s stick with Allen way out of position.
However, the Habs fired back 1:49 later when Pezzetta was gifted a Tierney pass after a great forecheck by both Pezzetta and Belzile to trap Kotkaniemi into a bad defensive zone turnover.
Brent Burns and Belzile were then sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct minutes later, and this was piled on when Anderson ran some interference and sent the Habs to a 4-on-3 penalty kill. The Canadiens managed to escape the sequence unharmed, but Carolina took the momentum of the game as they drove up their shot advantage. With 4:47 to play, the Habs got another advantage as Svechnikov was sent off for tripping, but the Habs were unable to extend their lead before the end of the period.
The third period started with some controversy as 2:39 into the third period, Derek Stepan dragged Pezzetta into Allen as Paul Stastny scored on the vacated net. Coach St. Louis challenged the play and was successful as the goal was taken away. A rare win in such a situation for the Habs.
The Hurricanes continued to dominate the period as they piled on 12 shots, and that’s just the ones that got through and weren’t blocked by the Habs’ defenders. With 15:01 to play, Suzuki played like a veteran and trapped Sebastian Aho who was called for tripping. Montreal wasn’t able to capitalize on the advantage, never even getting offensive zone time.
The second half of the period unsurprisingly belonged to the road squad as they pushed to even the score. After four minutes of sustained pressure by Carolina, numerous great saves by Allen, and a fantastic defensive play by Pezzetta, they were able to tie the game. It was a rare Matheson giveaway in the defensive zone that opened the door. The puck finished on Brett Pesce’s stick at the blue line and his point shot was tipped. Allen made the save but Jesper Fast was on the spot for the rebound to finally get one by Allen with 3:38 to play.
Carolina continued to press, and Allen stood tall to get the game to overtime though the Suzuki line had its best shift of the entire game in the final minute of the game.
The overtime was rather uneventful despite the fast pace for the first three minutes. The final two minutes became all the reasons fans love the 3-on-3. It started with a monster shift by Suzuki, Matheson, and Pitlick who earned the best chances for the Habs before Drouin and Gurianov took needless risks that opened the door at the other end. Ultimately, Allen was the difference as the game was headed to the shootout.
The shootout was a long one. Pitlick scored with a quick shot but Burns answered with a shot from a bit further out than usual. Suzuki then undressed Anderson completely with a modified triple-deke before Svechnikov hit the post. Drouin was then stopped on a weak shot while Teuvo Teravainen beat Allen with a nifty backhand. Sudden death.
Andersen stopped a Dvorak backhand, but Allen responded with a save against Aho. Harvey-Pinard then beat Andersen but Allen stopped Seth Jarvis’ deke. Finally, Anderson was stopped by Andersen on a shot attempt before Kotkaniemi snapped one over Allen’s shoulder to end the game.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Alex Belzile
Belzile is becoming a bit of a story with the team. The guy is all heart and watching him succeed should be a feel-good story for the Canadiens. The timing of it is the only thing preventing his success from being the talk of the town as the team continued to earn points through the play of older players that will more than likely hurt the organization in the long term. If nothing else, I wonder if Belzile is proving himself to be a modern-day Steve Begin with his production through pure heart and desire to be a player for the Habs.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 10:41 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jake Allen
A little over a week ago, I went on a bit of a rant claiming that the analysis surrounding Montembeault and Allen and their stealing of games was overly exaggerated. Since then, they’ve been even better as they really have been stealing points for the team. I would absolutely classify this point in the standings as one the team did not deserve, and Allen is one of the main reasons for it happening. Go figure.
Stats: 36 saves, 39 shots, 2.77 G.A.A., .923 save %, 65:00 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Michael Pezzetta
Much like Belzile, Pezzetta is playing well of late, but it’s frustrating more than a great story for the fans. Pezzetta proved that he was more than lightweight fighter last season, he continues to be a player that is limited in skill, but who finds himself in a position to play and he does so better than his skill level suggests he can. As a 12th-13th forward, he’s proving to be a player that is serviceable to a certain extent and could be an asset as a pest once the Habs complete the rebuild and want to start playing some playoff hockey.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 2 shots, 4 hits, 8:28 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Mike Matheson
Matheson continued to be Montreal’s best defender by a wide margin. This player is one that has surprised me despite my overall optimism when the trade was made. What a revelation he’s been! I think this was a brilliant move by Hughes as it was perceived as a cap dump by Hughes, but has quickly become a savvy hockey trade by the new GM. Don’t be fooled by the +/- here, the TOI is a better indicator of his performance.
Stats: -2, 3 shots, 2 hits, 27:53 T.O.I.