After a win in Los Angeles, the Canadiens continued their West Coast tour with a visit to Anaheim on Friday night, a rink where they have struggled for much of this decade. With veteran defencemen John Klingberg and Dmitry Kulikov having been shipped off at the trade deadline – for third- and fourth-round picks – the Habs were in a good position to improve that record.
The team played well enough, and Samuel Montembeault bailed them out in the second period when things were the grimmest, but a few unnecessary penalties gave Anaheim’s power play, ranked league-worst coming into the game, the chances they needed to put the game away and continue their dominance over the Habs in Anaheim
First goal first
The Habs were immediately aggressive out of the gate, and it paid off. With Montreal on the attack, Josh Anderson passed from the left-side boards to Mike Matheson, who was at the top of the circle on the other side. Matheson took a few strides in and sent off a hard wrist shot on net. John Gibson dropped down to make the save, but the puck trickled through his legs, and Jonathan Drouin was there in a flash, fighting off Jakob Silfverberg and tapping the loose puck from the blue ice into the net for his first goal of the year and a 1-0 Montreal lead.
It was almost identical to what might have been Drouin’s first goal eight weeks earlier when Drouin’s backhand trickled past Blues goalie Jordan Binnington before Anderson tapped it in from the blue ice for a game-winning goal. It took almost two months, but the karma from that one eventually came back, and Drouin was able to erase the zero in his goal stats for the season.
That lead did not last very long, though, as a pair of defensive miscues proved costly for the Canadiens. First, with Jordan Harris out of position, Anderson gave the puck away to Max Comtois at the blue line, and as Comtois streaked in along the right-side boards, Jayson Megna followed him on the left side. As Comtois curled toward the goal, so did Megna, and Johnathan Kovacevic was neither able to stop the pass nor contain Megna. Megna took a quick wrist shot from behind Kovacevic and surprised Montembeault enough to beat him and tie the game up at 1-1.
Mike Hoffman had a chance from the left-side boards some three minutes later but Gibson made an easy save on his slap shot.
The Habs had a better opportunity a little before the midway point of the period: Rem Pitlick carried the puck across the Anaheim blue line, and was taken down but still managed to make a pass. David Savard took a hard shot on goal, and as Gibson gave up a lively rebound, Christian Dvorak had an excellent opportunity to put it in, but Gibson gloved the shot safely.
The Canadiens’ power play got an opportunity 11 minutes into the period, as Comtois was called for a check to the head, having put his shoulder into Michael Pezzetta’s face in front of the Habs’ bench. The power play was as inept as it has been at times this season, though, and the only notable scoring opportunity was a shorthanded one.
With 30 seconds left in the penalty, the Ducks cleared the puck all the way to the Montreal end, and as the puck bounced off the boards, the Anaheim forecheckers pounced on it. Silfverberg picked it up just to the left of Montembeault and flipped it to Derek Grant on the right. Grant might have scored on that chance, but Kaiden Guhle got his stick in the way and the puck flipped harmlessly into the air and out of danger.
While the Ducks pressed increasingly as the period wore on, the Habs took opportunities for a counterattack, and Pitlick, too, tried a slap shot from the left-side boards with 90 seconds remaining, but Gibson was again able to turn that away.
The shots for the period were 13-11 for the Canadiens, with the Ducks having made up much of the early difference in the second half of the period, and the high-danger scoring chances were tied at three apiece.
Trying for two
The Habs tried another full-strength attack from the opening faceoff, and had an opportunity just a minute into the period, as Nick Suzuki got a pass to Denis Gurianov, but Gibson was able to snatch Gurianov’s backhand into his glove.
The Ducks got their first real chance of the period a few minutes later, as they buzzed around Montembeault, with the Canadiens unable to get the puck out of the zone. Matheson blocked one of the shots, and then Montembeault made two saves on Grant to hold the fort.
Anaheim got their first power play at 13:20, as Drouin was sent to the box on a rather marginal-looking tripping call. Given the ineffectiveness of the Anaheim power play throughout the season, it was grim to see how well they were controlling the play in the Habs’ zone. It was more than a minute before Dvorak could get his stick on a pass to clear the zone, and give the tired penalty killers a chance to reach the bench.
Overall, the PK unit did keep the passing to the outside, but intercepting passes or winning board battles simply was not happening. Anaheim recorded nine shot attempts during the power play and its immediate aftermath, but with good shot blocking and some solid saves by Montembeault, the Habs scraped through that power play unscathed.
After another two minutes of five-on-five play, Anaheim gifted a second power play to the Habs, as Sam Carrick continued to play after breaking his stick. The man advantage seemed to be no advantage at all, though, as the Canadiens were unable to gain control in the Anaheim zone, let alone run an actual power play. In two minutes, not a single shot on net was recorded.
Second-period shots were 13-7 in Anaheim’s favour, and the high-danger chances 6-0, but Montembeault kept the bleu blanc et rouge in the game.
Sometimes goals come in threes
After the scoreless second period, the third would determine the outcome. Would one of these teams actually be able to score on a power play to break the tie?
The Ducks were not going to wait to find out, and at 1:45 Kevin Shattenkirk’s long pass found Grant, who streaked in through the Montreal defence, but Montembeault made a solid save on Grant’s wrist shot.
Two more minutes went by, and as Matheson checked Trevor Zegras, bringing him down, Zegras felt grievously wronged and slashed Matheson hard enough to get called on it.
With the Suzuki line just having finished a shift, Martin St. Louis started the power play with the second unit, with Gurianov, Drouin, Guhle, Jesse Ylonen, and Dvorak. It seemed an inspired move, as this configuration was able to control play and had five shot attempts in the first half of the two-minute advantage. The top unit continued the good work, but neither one was able to get the puck across the goal line.
Chris Tierney was called for tripping Max Jones at 10:20 in what turned out to be a pivotal penalty. As the Ducks again controlled play on the man advantage, Cam Fowler got the puck across the net to Mason McTavish just to the right of the net, and McTavish lifted it into the top corner on the near side, beating the sliding Montembeault as the puck flew in just over his arm to give the lead to Anaheim for the first time in the game.
And then, some three minutes later, the Habs gave the Anaheim power play another chance, as Anderson tangled with Frank Vatrano on the boards, and held his arm too long, earning two minutes in the sin bin. This power play did not look so bad, as Suzuki broke into the Anaheim zone on a shorthanded attack, and deked two defenders to gain the front of the net. Gibson shot out his left pad, though, to just block the Suzuki wrist shot.
And with exactly five minutes left on the clock, Silfverberg put it away, scoring Anaheim’s 30th power play goal of the season. Shattenkirk took a shot from the point, which was blocked by Rafael Harvey-Pinard. Joel Edmundson attempted to clear the puck but whiffed, and Grant quickly passed it back to Silfverberg, who one-timed it past Montembeault for a 3-1 lead.
St. Louis pulled Montembeault with two-and-a-half minutes remaining, and this time the Habs were able to score, albeit only once. With thirty seconds remaining in the game, Drouin passed the puck to Dvorak, whose wrist shot was blocked by Vatrano. Suzuki jumped on the loose puck and wristed it into the net before Gibson was able to slide across to cover the net. 3-2 final score, then, fairly reflective of the game.
The final period saw a 9-8 shots edge for the Ducks, but a 4-2 difference in high-danger chances in the Habs’ favour. This time Gibson made the difference, though, and the Habs come up empty once again in Anaheim.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Jonathan Drouin (1g, 1a, 1 shot, 17:35 TOI) continues to be maligned by many Habs fans, but he played another strong game and now has a goal to go along with his 19 assists this season, good for seventh on the team for points. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and unlikely to return, but for the time being he is continuing to work hard for the team.
Second Star: Rem Pitlick (0g, 0a, 2 shots, 15:51 TOI) is once again showing flashes of what he was able to do last season after being claimed from waivers by the Habs. No points in this one, but the third line, with Dvorak and Ylonen, was solid and only gave up one high-danger scoring chance in the game.
Third Star: Kaiden Guhle (0g, 0a, 2 shots, 3 blocks, 18:11 TOI) continues to impress on his return from injured reserve. He made an excellent recovery to prevent an Anaheim shorthanded goal and showed excellent potential in quarterbacking the second power play unit.
Honourable Mention: Denis Gurianov (0g, 0a, 4 shots, 15:04 TOI) is integrating into the Habs’ way of playing quickly, making good decisions, and finding open ice. The hockey IQ that was reputedly missing in Dallas does not seem to be a problem in Montreal so far.