HabsWorld.net -- 

Saturday night was the latest episode in the Battle for Bedard, as the Columbus Blue Jackets – tied with the San Jose Sharks for the least points in the league – arrived at the Bell Centre for a tussle with the Canadiens, fifth from the bottom.

Columbus might have been on a brief winning streak and Montreal on a losing one, but this time it didn’t matter as the Habs feasted on goals, led by Rafael Harvey-Pinard, and took a dominant 8-2 win in a Saturday-night game at home.

First, let’s get busy

It took little time for the opposition to score first, as has been the case so many times this season. This time it was Joel Edmundson making a pass from the right side, behind the goal line that ended up on Jack Roslovic’s stick. A quick pass to Kent Johnson in front of the net, and from there to Lane Pederson on the left side. Samuel Montembeault slid over to block the shot that was bound to come, but the passes were quick and crisp enough that there was not enough time to get there. First blood and a 1-0 lead to the Blue Jackets, then, at 1:36 of the first period.

The Habs didn’t fold, though, and only two minutes later the work paid off, as Mike Matheson led a rush into the Columbus end, and then dropped the puck behind him, to Mike Hoffman. The much-maligned (by fans) Hoffman made no mistake in lifting the puck into the net on the short side to beat Elvis Merzlikins and tie the game up at one apiece.

And then, on another rush, six minutes later, Brendan Gallagher passed the puck to his left to Jesse Ylonen, who was driving for the net. With Columbus defenders crowding the front of the net, Ylonen stopped, took a step toward the middle, and lifted the puck into the net high on the glove side of Merzlikins, putting the Canadiens into the lead.

Hoffman was penalized for slashing at 10:46 but the Blue Jackets achieved little during the power play.

Late in the period, though, with Columbus able to muster up some sustained pressure, Kirill Marchenko scored an odd-looking goal from the goal line but near the right-side boards. The net was at that moment coming off its moorings, as Montembeault had collided with it in his attempt to slide across and block the shot. And to video review it went, then.

After review, the officials determined that the puck was in before the net came off, and that appeared to be the only criterion that mattered, not whether the puck would have gone in, or who pushed the net off. So, it was two-two with two to go in the period.

The shots for that period were 10-8 for Columbus, with high-danger scoring chances 5-0 for them as well. But the goals were nevertheless even at two.

The second is twice as mad

The mayhem in the second period started right off the opening faceoff. As Suzuki won that, he got the puck back to Matheson in the Habs’ own zone. Matheson to Savard, and then back to Suzuki, while Matheson was turning on the power to rush up along the left-side boards. Suzuki saw Matheson coming and tipped the puck to the veteran defender again, and Matheson drove for the net. Merzlikins got his right pad out to block the shot, but could not control the rebound.

And that’s where Harvey-Pinard, driving for the net from the opposite side, came in. As the puck bounced off Merzlikins’ pad, Harvey-Pinard tapped it in, even as he was falling down, restoring the Canadiens’ lead just fourteen seconds into the period.

It looked to be a short-lived lead, though, as Savard lifted the puck over the glass at 1:13, resulting in a two-minute visit to the box. But the Blue Jackets managed only a single shot on net – matched by the Habs’ short-handed shot – before Hunter McKown was called for slashing Harvey-Pinard, neutralizing the man advantage. The Habs managed two shots on Merzlikins during the four-on-four, but then nothing at all during the abbreviated power play.

And at 7:13, the Canadiens confirmed that they were indeed intending to win this game. As Suzuki led a three-man rush into the Columbus zone, he dropped the pass back to Hoffman, who spotted Harvey-Pinard coming in on the left wing. The rookie forward made no mistake in lifting the puck over Merzlikins’ shoulder to score his second of the game. And that gave the Habs a two-goal lead for the first time in the game.

Gallagher, who could be called Harvey-Pinard’s role model for his relentless play and willingness to mix things up in front of the net, took things from there just after the 13-minute mark. Gallagher picked up the puck on the left-side boards in the Columbus zone and maintained control as he was challenged in the corner. He spotted Jake Evans behind the net, made the pass, and stepped into his usual office in front of the opposing net. As Evans returned the pass to him, Gallagher one-timed the puck into the top corner on the stick side of Merzlikins to make it a three-goal lead.

When Adam Boqvist was called for tripping Denis Gurianov at 15:10, Montreal was given another chance to get its power play working. The early effort resulted in only two slap shots on net, by Matheson and Hoffman, both easily turned away by Merzlikins. But with 30 seconds left in the penalty, Hoffman sent the puck cross-ice to the right side, where Matheson took a quick shot on net. Harvey-Pinard was borrowing Gallagher’s office, though, standing just outside the blue ice, and tipped the puck past Merzlikins for a 6-2 lead.

Merzlikins was injured on the play, as he attempted to get his pad out to block the shot, and was replaced by Michael Hutchinson.

Jonathan Drouin was given a late penalty for holding McKown, but the Blue Jackets managed only a single shot on goal, a wrister from the blue line, and Montembeault had little trouble with that.

After the tentative first period, the Canadiens had the jets on full for this one, outshooting Columbus 17-5 and recording a 6-1 edge in high-danger scoring chances.

How much insurance does one need?

The energy levels were clearly more moderate in the third period, and it took more than seven minutes to see a shot registered in the final period. Justin Barron recorded the Habs’ first shot of the period, on Hutchinson, two and a half minutes later.

Things finally got back on track about 12 minutes in, when Alex Belzile and Chris Tierney broke into the Columbus zone on a two-on-one rush. Tierney made a nice pass to Belzile, who was on his left, the other side of the net. Belzile passed it back to Tierney, but the puck appeared to deflect off a Columbus player and into the net before Tierney touched it, granting the goal to Belzile.

The Habs struck one more time, two minutes after Belzile’s goal, as Suzuki, on a rush, took an innocuous-looking wrist shot from near the hash marks and surprised Hutchinson with it, to make the final score 8-2 for the Habs.

There were late penalties to Jordan Harris and Gavin Bayreuther, and Montembeault had to make a few challenging saves, but by that time none of that mattered, as the Canadiens enjoyed a fiesta of goals for the first time in a long time.

Third-period shots were 8-7 for Columbus, and the high-danger chances were at two for each team.

HW Habs Three Stars

First Star: Rafael Harvey-Pinard (3g, 0a, 3 shots, 14:55 TOI) had the magic tonight, scoring on each of his three shots on goal. He showed the Gallagher-esque aspects of his game to his advantage, working hard every shift, showing speed, and making trouble in front of the net. It’s not for nothing that he was called Laval-agher while playing for the Rocket.

Second Star: Nick Suzuki (1g, 3a, 3 shots, 15:59 TOI) lifted his linemates Hoffman and Harvey-Pinard to his level, creating opportunities for them. He now has 61 points in 73 games, already equalling his total from last season.

Third Star: Jesse Ylonen (1g, 1a, 4 shots, 11:17 TOI) played another strong game, and his selection as the third star underlines the performance of the third line: Ylonen, Evans, and Gallagher, who scored two goals and gave up very, very few chances in their own end. Gallagher may never be able to reach heights that would merit his contract, but his play with Ylonen and Evans was notable, and not only for their 90% xGF percentage.

Honourable Mention: Mike Matheson (0g, 3a, 3 shots, 22:15 TOI) showed once again that not only can he attack, but his play with Savard in the defensive zone left little room for complaint.