The Habs were back in action after a dominant win against Columbus over the weekend. They faced the Buffalo Sabres minus Tage Thompson on Monday. Considering the road game and what was a huge week that included games against the Lightning and Bruins prior to the thumping of the Blue Jackets, an off night was not totally unexpected.
Instead, the Habs offered yet another gutsy effort. The result was another win, this time a shootout win as the Habs won 4-3 in a shootout, fans of the team can surely be encouraged that such a trap game did not result in a totally lacklustre effort as the team continues to show promise moving forward. The pessimists will surely point to this being a step away from the 5th best odds in the Draft Lottery.
The roster did not change much from Saturday as Rafael Harvey-Pinard was on the top line with Nick Suzuki and Mike Hoffman. Kirby Dach centred the second line with Jonathan Drouin and Denis Gurianov while Jake Evans was the pivot on the third line that featured Brendan Gallagher and Jesse Ylonen. Finally, Chris Tierney, Alex Belzile, and Michael Pezzetta formed the fourth line.
On the blue line, Mike Matheson was paired with David Savard on the team’s top pair while Justin Barron and Joel Edmundson were the second unit. Jordan Harris and Johnathan Kovacevic rounded out the group of skaters. Jake Allen got the start still searching for his first win in March.
The Canadiens came out strong as they scored the game’s first goal only 1:22 in. Matheson activated and went around the Buffalo zone before he gave the puck to Drouin. Drouin delivered an excellent cross-ice pass to Harris who was initially stopped by Eric Comrie, but Harris was able to put home his own rebound.
The Sabres wasted little responding as they would tie it at 3:49. Much like Matheson, this was started by a strong shift by Owen Power in the offensive zone. Finally, Tyson Jost purposely put a puck wide on Allen who was slow getting to the rebound to the other side as Lukas Rousek scored on his first NHL shift as Allen once again gave up a goal on his first shot faced in a game.
With the Sabres slowly finding their legs, Gallagher helped them out by spotting them a power play as he went off for tripping at 6:23. The Habs were able to kill the penalty despite considerable offensive zone time for Buffalo.
The second half of the period saw the Sabres win puck battles all over the ice while Montreal was on their heels. What did not help was a series of sloppy rebounds by Allen who was really fighting it throughout the period. At 17:38, Edmundson opened the door for the Sabres as he took a holding penalty which gave Buffalo a chance at a lead in the final minutes of the period. The Habs bent but did not break as the Sabres got a ton of shots finishing the period with a 13-6 advantage in that regard.
The second period started on the wrong foot as some sloppy defensive play by Savard and Matheson opened the door to a great scoring chance which forced Drouin to take a hooking penalty a minute into the period. Six seconds later, Jeff Skinner clipped Kovacevic with a high stick and the penalty kill was done.
At 4:28, the Habs regained the lead when Savard iced the puck only for Belzile to get to the puck first. He faked a slap shot and Comrie was down and out as Belzile went top-shelf. On the next shift, Hoffman took a selfish offensive zone retaliation penalty.
The Buffalo advantage was finally able to make the Canadiens pay as Allen was once again beaten from behind the goal line when J.J. Peterka banked a shot off Allen’s shoulder and into the net.
Nearly three minutes later, it was Rousek again for the Sabres as he was patient with the puck and allowed himself enough space to find a late streaking Riley Stillman who then simply outwaited Allen and tucked passed a sprawling Harris who was trying to help his netminder.
The second half of the period started with Buffalo all over Montreal as the offensive zone time was off the charts. However, the Habs defended quite well and kept the Sabres to the outside of the zone and limited the number of good looks they got on Allen.
The final five minutes saw the Canadiens wake up a bit and take it to Buffalo. This was helped by a Kyle Okposo high stick penalty in his offensive zone. Comrie made an important save on Hoffman before Power made a second save on Hoffman and the teams retreated with Buffalo holding a 3-2 lead despite the Habs’ 24-22 shot advantage.
The Habs had 40 seconds left on their power play to start the third period and all they were able to get out of it was some offensive zone time to start. However, they still turned it into significant momentum as the Canadiens were controlling play.
The shot advantage was even 32-25 when Gallagher tied the game with his 200th career goal at 8:35 of the third. It was a nice goal too as he took a drop pass by Evans in zone entry to make it to the top of the circle where he snipped one by Comrie.
Play slowed down considerably as both teams appeared to accept that they were waiting out the last nine minutes of the game to earn themselves a point. The Sabres were the better team, and they did hit a post, but the game required some extra time.
In overtime, a calm start to the period became eventful once Dach got on the ice. Dach lost his check which opened the door to the Sabres. A strong save by Allen was made even better when Allen has the presence of mind to drop the puck and pass it up the middle of the ice to Dach who was suddenly on a breakaway. Comrie made a great save and with Dach trying to stuff home the rebound, Peyton Krebs came in a little over-aggressive and took a cross-checking penalty.
The Habs took a timeout, but their power play was still disorganized and overly predictable despite a Matheson post with a minute left in the period. In the end, the Sabres killed the penalty and then applied pressure as they too hit the post in the final minute.
In the shootout, the first six shooters could not score as Suzuki, Drouin, and Matheson missed while Allen stopped Victor Olofsson, Peterka, and Alex Tuch. Finally, Jack Quinn beat Allen by losing the puck on his deke. However, Ylonen scored after almost stopping completely on his attempt to keep the game alive. Casey Mittelstadt and Kovacevic were stopped and Allen stopped Dylan Cozens before Pezzetta finally came in with speed and scored to end the game before riding his stick all the way to Allen.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Mike Matheson
You might be an important player on the team when your time on ice is five minutes more than the second guy on the list. That’s true of Matheson on this night as he logged just under 30 minutes of ice time. Doing it while your partner struggles, which was also the case for Matheson on this night just shows even more the amount of trust the coaching staff now has in Matheson. What a steal that trade has turned out to be.
Stats: 1 assist, -1, 5 shots, 1 hit, 29:05 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Jake Evans
As is usually the case with Evans, it’s not pretty, it’s not flashy, but it is effective. On this night, the rest of the forwards had such uneven efforts that the consistency offered by the third line was noticeably good. Fitting that Gallagher got the equalizer because Evans and Gallagher were the better of the forwards against the Sabres.
Stats: 1 assist, 0(+/-), 3 shots, 16:44 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jordan Harris
Harris scored early and then continued to do Harris things as his intelligence was on full display multiple times in the evening as he had some heavy forechecks often that he was able to get around to get the puck out of the zone which is more than can be said about some of the more veteran players on the squad who really had a tough time with the speed of the opposition on this night.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 2 shots, 18:53 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Brendan Gallagher
Finally, a little bit of rhythm to his game, Gallagher is also coming around on the scoresheet as he’s produced in two straight games. This production doesn’t include the shootout goal which won’t technically count, but he’s been far more involved around the puck in the offensive zone after a few quiet games upon his return to action. It’s not the same Gallagher as it used to be, but that might be an important thing moving forward.
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 4 shots, 1 hit, 13:19 T.O.I.