The Carolina Hurricanes, trying to retain their first place in the Metropolitan division, arrived in Montreal for the Canadiens’ penultimate Saturday-night game of the 2022-23 season. Given that a loss might be the best thing for the Habs, helping their position for the rich 2023 Entry Draft, the result seemed pre-ordained.
And while it may not really have been pre-ordained, there was little question that Carolina deserved to win this game, the 3-0 final score reflecting the flow of the game and the scoring opportunities for the two teams, going in opposite directions. The draft may change that for the Habs, but that is still a few months away.
My kingdom for a scoring chance
Denis Gurianov broke into the Carolina zone on the left side with just under two minutes on the clock, but Antti Raanta made an easy save on his wrist shot from the far side of the faceoff circle. The attempt did look good, but then that was all the offence that the Canadiens would be able to muster for quite some time.
Four minutes later, the Hurricanes were controlling the play and peppering Samuel Montembeault with shots as the Habs scrambled to try to block shots and clear the zone. At 6:00 even, Brady Skjei took a shot from just inside the blue line, with active traffic in front of the net. Montembeault appeared to lose sight of the shot, and none of the defenders blocked it: the puck ended up in the net, low on Montembeault’s glove side for the early Carolina lead on what was already their ninth shot of the game.
Meanwhile, by the midway point of the period, the Habs were still stuck on just two shots on goal, unable to create any pressure in the Carolina zone – and most times even not able to control a rush through the neutral zone and to the offensive blue line.
They finally managed to create a dangerous opportunity with three minutes remaining in the period, as Nick Suzuki skated in the slot, waited, and found Michael Pezzetta at the side of Raanta’s net. Pezzetta’s shot went wide, though, and Brendan Gallagher couldn’t hit the net with the follow-up shot, either.
The shot totals were 18-5 in favour of the Hurricanes, but the high-danger scoring chances were tied at two apiece after that late play by Suzuki, Pezzetta, and Gallagher.
More of the same, but twice as bad
The second frame opened with wider-open play with Carolina not clogging up the neutral zone as intensely as in the first period. The Habs even got a few early looks at Raanta, although only Pezzetta was able to record a shot on net.
But just before the five-minute mark, Jonathan Drouin’s offensive work paid off, as he was able to send the puck from behind the net to Jesse Ylonen, who one-timed the puck. The shot was blocked, though, and Suzuki was unable to poke the rebound past the goaltender’s pads.
A few minutes later, as the Hurricanes continued to press, the Habs, hemmed in their own zone, were unable to make a line change, and the shifts for Jordan Harris and Chris Wideman, in particular, were stretching close to two minutes. Harris, showing impressive endurance and poise for a rookie, continued to defend unabated. He prevented a dangerous scoring chance as Seth Jarvis carried the puck to the left of the Habs’ net, as he prevented what would have likely been a dangerous shot from up close.
Jordan Staal broke in all alone at about 7:30, but Montembeault took away the shooting angles, and Staal’s shot went harmlessly wide.
But a little after the halfway point, another straw was thrown onto the Habs’ defensive workload, and it was enough to break them for a second time. This time it was Brent Burns that was taking a shot from the blue line, and Paul Stastny, battling in front of the net, deflected the puck down and into the net, past a helpless Montembeault, to give Carolina a 2-0 lead.
The Canadiens got a chance to get back in the game at 11:45 as Skjei cross-checked Pezzetta in a rather unnecessary penalty, but between the Habs’ struggling power play and the Carolina defence, the Habs managed but a single shot attempt, and Raanta easily turned that one away.
After less than a minute of five-on-five play, it was Carolina’s turn, though, as Jake Evans was called for holding Jesperi Kotkaniemi at 14:40. As the Montreal penalty-killers tried to defend against a top-notch power-play unit, things began to fall apart. Alex Belzile was hit by a hard Sebastian Aho slap shot and doubled over in pain. And then Johnathan Kovacevic was called for tripping Martin Necas.
As Raanta raced to the bench for an extra forward, the Hurricanes resumed their attack. With the still-hobbling Belzile the only man back, Aho had little trouble receiving a cross-ice pass from Stefan Noesen and burying it behind Montembeault for his 34th goal of the season and a 3-0 Carolina lead at 16:27.
That was just before Evans’s penalty expired, so the Hurricanes got another two minutes of power play time while Kovacevic sat in the box. One shot and four further shot attempts were all they were able to record, though, as the Habs survived the second part of the assault.
As Kovacevic’s penalty expired, he anticipated the play and waited to get the long pass, which he then handed off to Pezzetta, but Raanta got his pad out to block Pezzetta’s shot.
As the period wound down, Kotkaniemi took a run at Pezzetta, leaving his skates for a hard hit on the Habs forward, and was called for roughing with 0:15 remaining.
The shots were again recorded at 18-5 for the Hurricanes, and the high-danger scoring chances, too, were 2-2, the same as the first period.
The third dozen and then another
The Canadiens had 1:45 of power play remaining as the puck dropped for the start of the final period. As for that man advantage, it’s better not to use the term “power play” as they were not able to make even a shot attempt, let alone a shot on net, during that nearly two-minute period.
Jake Evans, already hit by a slap shot in the second period, continued to have a rough night as he was hit by Jack Drury’s high stick and had to leave for the dressing room to get treatment. No penalty was called on Drury, but fortunately, Evans returned later in the third, apparently not seriously hurt.
Ylonen and Suzuki had another chance midway through the period, but Raanta was once again there to ensure the puck stayed out of the net.
Staal was sent to the sin bin at 15:21 to spend two minutes contemplating the hook he had put on Sean Farrell. Much like the opening of the period, the Canadiens were unable to get within shooting range of the Carolina net and did not record even a single shot attempt during those two minutes.
And so the final tussle of the season with the Hurricanes ended with a whimper rather than a bang, with a 3-0 shutout for Raanta.
The shots in the final period were 14-4 for Carolina, and the high-danger chances 2-1 for them.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Jordan Harris (0g, 0a, 0 shots, 22:24 TOI) played an outstanding game, partnering the not-so-defensively-oriented Chris Wideman for half of that time and making strong, mature defensive plays to minimize the Carolina opportunities. More than 22 minutes of ice time for a rookie playing only his 64th game, Harris is impressively mature and will likely play a big role in the Habs’ defence going forward.
Second Star: Sam Montembeault (50 shots, 47 saves, 0.957 save percentage) didn’t steal the game for the Habs – Raanta made sure of there not being a Habs win – but he kept the team in the game, even as he was being peppered with shots. He might want another chance at one or two of those goals but in such a lopsided game, holding the opposition to three goals is a creditable achievement.
Third Star: Michael Pezzetta (0g, 0a, 1 shot, 16:20 TOI) was a force of nature, recording six hits and drawing one of only three Carolina penalties. He had one of the few realistic scoring chances for the Habs, but nothing was destined to go past Raanta tonight.
Honourable Mention: Jesse Ylonen (0g, 0a, 0 shots, 16:07 TOI) had the benefit of playing with Suzuki and Drouin, but showed poise, demonstrated his playmaking skills, and battled hard on the boards: he is showing that he is more than just a pretty shot.
Following the game, the Habs announced that defenceman David Savard will be out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury.