After two games to forget, the Habs were hoping to get back on track on Thursday as they hosted the Capitals. The floodgates opened up for them in the second period as a four-goal frame paced them to a 6-2 victory.
Martin St. Louis made a pair of lineup changes for this one. Samuel Montembeault got the start in goal in place of Cayden Primeau while Rafael Harvey-Pinard returned from his lower-body injury, taking the place of Sean Farrell who was a healthy scratch. The team lined up as follows:
Harvey-Pinard – Suzuki – Armia
Gurianov – Drouin – Gallagher
Pitlick – Evans – Hoffman
Pezzetta – Tierney – Ylonen
Matheson – Barron
Edmundson – Wideman
Schueneman – Kovacevic
The game didn’t get off to a great start for the Canadiens. Less than 90 seconds in, Mike Matheson missed on a simple breakout pass, resulting in a turnover. The puck got to Matt Irwin in the slot and he got off a good shot that Montembeault just got a piece of. Three minutes later, Sonny Milano sent a cross-ice pass to a wide-open John Carlson but Montembeault did well to get across to get that one.
However, a minute after that, Dylan Strome took the puck in the neutral zone and skated in on the left wing. He had room to cut to the middle and fired a shot far-side that caught the post and went in to open up the scoring.
Just past the midway mark, Michael Pezzetta had a big hit on Nic Dowd in the offensive zone. That drew the ire of Tom Wilson who skated in and dropped the gloves, earning himself an instigator penalty for his troubles.
On the ensuing power play, Montreal actually had some sustained zone time, something we don’t see from them very often. Their best chance came with 15 seconds left in the advantage when Mike Hoffman rang one off the post. Just as the penalty was set to end, the Habs were called for too many men. However, it was the Canadiens who had the lone shot and the best chance on Washington’s power play.
With a little under four minutes to go, Denis Gurianov skated in and shot off the rush. It didn’t go in but it helped generate some zone time and a few shots for the home side. It looked like Montreal would get another opportunity late but Irwin broke up a two-on-one with Gurianov and Brendan Gallagher to preserve Washington’s advantage through the opening 20 minutes. Shots on goal in the frame were 13-6 for the home side.
Montreal had the pressure late in the first and carried it over into the second. 1:45 in, Rafael Harvey-Pinard set up a trailing Joel Armia in the slot but his shot hit Nick Jensen and went out of play. Armia would be heard from again later on. 20 seconds later, Matheson drove the net off a won faceoff and tried to go far side but Darcy Kuemper got across.
On the next shift, Pezzetta went off for interference on Irwin, sending the Capitals to the power play. However, it was the Habs that capitalized as Joel Edmundson’s clearing attempt off the boards went right to Nick Suzuki, sending the captain in on a breakaway. He made a quick fake and went far-side on Kuemper, sliding it just past the goal line to tie it up. Montreal was able to kill off the rest of the penalty unscathed although they did allow Milano to get a couple of quick looks in the slot not long after.
Seven minutes in, Edmundson was called for hooking Evgeny Kuznetsov, sending Washington back to the man advantage. But once again, it was the Canadiens who capitalized. This time, Jake Evans won the draw back to Matheson. Armia got himself open, received the pass, and wristed one past Kuemper to give Montreal a rare lead. The reason for the offensive zone draw that led to the goal? Harvey-Pinard hitting the post seconds before. Once more, the Habs killed off the rest of the penalty without any issue.
Not even 30 seconds after the penalty ended, Alex Alexeyev turned the puck over behind Kuemper. Jonathan Drouin was right there and sent a quick pass to Gallagher in the slot and the veteran made no mistake with his shot beating Kuemper to make it 3-1. Quite a turn of events before the midway mark.
Montreal kept pressuring. Barely a minute after the goal, Rem Pitlick’s shot was redirected by Hoffman for his second post of the game. It didn’t matter as 30 seconds later, Suzuki won the puck to Matheson. He faked a pass to Justin Barron and instead went cross-ice to Armia. This time, it was a one-timer instead of a wrister but the end result was the same with the goal light coming on.
Milano’s eventful period continued when he was called for an offensive zone hook on Johnathan Kovacevic with a little less than seven minutes left. This time, the power play looked a bit more disjointed. After returning to the ice, Milano tripped Barron, sending him right back to the box. Washington had the best chance on the man advantage with Wilson driving the net on a one-on-one with Matheson. He tried to go five-hole but Montembeault just squeezed the pads in time. While the struggling power plays weren’t a great way to end the period, a four-goal frame from the home side was certainly impressive. Shots on goal in the period were 12-8 for the Habs.
Washington came out with some pressure to start the third and they were rewarded. Not with a goal but rather a power play; a bad turnover by Chris Wideman was then compounded by him smacking Craig Smith in retaliation. However, once more, it was the Habs who had the most dangerous-looking chance although Harvey-Pinard’s pass to Suzuki on a two-on-one just missed.
After Matheson set up Armia’s two goals, Armia tried to return the favour with a cross-ice pass just shy of the five-minute mark but Kuemper was able to get across. Things then settled down for a while.
But with seven minutes left, things started to get a little more interesting. Dowd was stopped twice in front, the first out of midair while he nearly potted the rebound. Ten seconds later, Gallagher had a partial break on the defence. His shot went wide and he went flying into Kuemper, earning himself a goalie interference penalty.
Peter Laviolette pulled Kuemper early in the man advantage and it worked out as Washington won an offensive zone draw and got set up, setting the stage for Strome to send a cross-ice feed to Nicklas Backstrom who was wide-open for a tap-in to make it a two-goal game.
Kuemper was then pulled again with more than four minutes left. Eventually, Armia was able to get the hat trick. He had a two-on-one with Harvey-Pinard and his first shot was blocked but he tracked the puck down and buried it to make it 5-2.
Montreal didn’t let up from there. Martin Fehervary had to hustle to break up what would have been a breakaway for Pitlick with 2:20 left. Then, after Kuemper opted not to cover the puck on a dump-in to run out the clock, he instead played it to the corner. However, Evans was right there. He sent a quick feed to Hoffman who fired one home with 18 seconds left to wrap it up. Shots in the final frame were 12-7 for the Capitals.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Joel Armia – To be honest, I thought he was the quietest of his line. However, a hat trick is a hat trick and Armia showed much more aggression trying to shoot the puck than he typically does. These are the games that are fun and frustrating at the same time. He is capable of playing like this which is great, the bad part is that he doesn’t do so often enough.
Stats: 3 goals, +2 rating, 3 shots, 17:21 TOI
2nd Star: Mike Matheson – Matheson once again was the standout player on Montreal’s back end. His transition play was there, he blocked several chances, and oh yeah, he set up three goals in the second period alone. Yet another very effective night from their top blueliner.
Stats: 3 assists, +4 rating, 5 shots, 4 blocks, 25:45 TOI
3rd Star: Nick Suzuki – The captain has been quieter as of late but this was one of his best games in a while. His shorthanded goal gave the team some life and he had a particularly effective night on the penalty kill. Add an assist and a good showing at the faceoff dot and the end result is one the Habs will take from him any time.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating, 3 shots, 2 takeaways, 12/21 faceoffs, 18:25 TOI
Honourable Mention: Jake Evans – There wasn’t anything flashy about his game but he had a few nice passes, did well on the penalty kill, and was particularly sharp early on at the dot which led to Armia’s first goal. They need more nights like this from Evans next season.
Stats: 2 assists, +2 rating, 1 shot, 12/20 faceoffs, 17:05 TOI