With a little more than a week to go, the Habs kicked off their final five games of the season by hosting the Detroit Red Wings at the Bell Centre. The Wings represent the weakest of the five opponents left for the Canadiens, so GM Kent Hughes made some decisions as you will see in the covering of the roster that was dressed for this game. Based on those decisions by the general manager, the outcome was as expected as the Habs dropped their fourth straight contest to remain one point lower than the reeling Arizona Coyotes. This time, it was by a 5-0 score as the team delivered a performance that was not in line with their surprisingly upbeat season. They laid a total egg on home ice.
As mentioned, the “tanking” decisions started between the pipes as Cayden Primeau was in net, with Samuel Montembeault on the bench to provide support. The next eyebrow-raiser was on the top offensive line as Nick Suzuki was flanked by Jesse Ylonen and Sean Farrell. The second line featured Jake Evans, Brendan Gallagher, and Mike Hoffman. Jonathan Drouin pivoted the third with Denis Gurianov and Joel Armia on his wings, while Michael Pezzetta, Chris Tierney, and Rem Pitlick finished the forward group. On the blue line, Mike Matheson played with Justin Barron, Joel Edmundson with Johnathan Kovacevic, with Corey Schueneman and Chris Wideman forming the third pairing.
The name of the game in the first period was poor transition defence. The game started with the Habs on the offensive and it immediately paid dividends as Chiarot took a hooking penalty on Tierney.
Montreal’s advantage struggled as per usual which appeared to give momentum to the Wings as the visitors opened the scoring 40 seconds after the penalty was killed. Lucas Raymond skated into the Habs zone and Edmundson and Armia backed up way too much and gave Raymond the slot. Raymond skated in and fired home the game’s first tally.
Detroit got a few more shifts in the Habs zone and Primeau looked shaky as he gave up juicy rebounds, but his team worked hard and blocked some shots.
With the Habs in the offensive zone, the Wings once again used its transition play to victimize the Edmundson – Kovacevic pairing as Jordan Oesterle lobbed a stretch pass to David Perron who was behind the defensive tandem that wasn’t paying attention. Perron skated in alone, deked to his backhand to score on Primeau.
The next few minutes were played in the offensive zone for the Canadiens as they opened up a sizeable shot advantage, but they were unable to solve Husso. With 4:39 to play, Simon Edvinsson took an offensive zone penalty for interference and the Habs were ready to squander another advantage, which they did without really threatening Ville Husso. The period ended with a 10-7 shot advantage, but a 2-0 deficit where it mattered.
The second period started, and it was evident that the focus simply wasn’t there for the Habs. Detroit was ripe for the picking, and they opened their slot, but Montreal couldn’t land a pass as the sloppy play was all over the ice. The best chance that resulted in a shot on net was the tipped point shot by Tierney.
The sloppiness continued until the Wings extended their lead with 12:48 to play. After Matheson lost his battle in the defensive corner, both Barron and Pezzetta were guilty of stick-checking their coverage as Matt Luff found the puck in the slot to score a goal. Detroit would hit another post on Primeau before the half of the period on terrible Wideman coverage.
The second half of the period kicked off with Dylan Larkin delivering a whack on Primeau after the young netminder clearly had possession. Matheson took exception and went after Larkin which resulted in coincidental minors, the type of penalty a coach like St. Louis should appreciate given the low “give a crap” factor shown by many in uniform on this night. As the teams played at 4-on-4, another shot beat Primeau, but Suzuki reached behind his netminder to prevent the puck from entering the net.
Husso then did what Primeau had yet to do which was to make a huge save as he came across his crease to rob Drouin after a nice Schueneman pass. On the rebound, Gallagher tripped Austin Czarnik which started a string of three consecutive penalties for the Habs which allowed Primeau to finally settle down and make some strong saves.
After Pezzetta tripped Dominik Kubalik, Gurianov roughed up Czarnik. On the second occasion, Detroit extended their lead to 4-0. With 1:40 to play, Jake Walman got a shot on net and Joe Veleno tipped it by Primeau.
The third period started with Montreal killing what was left of the Gurianov penalty. After that, it was two teams going through the motions and really not caring about the fact that fans in the building had paid good money to watch what was supposed to be entertainment.
Suzuki got a 2-on-1 with Farrell, but one thing that was weird on this night was that Suzuki acted as though Farrell was Cole Caufield and obsessively tried to pass to him. Unfortunately, it was to the point where it was predictable and easy to defend.
With 12:34 to play, Perron scored again to make it 5-0. After a lost battle by Pezzetta, Wideman was caught floating. Edmundson tried to cover for him, but that only opened his coverage as Olli Maatta found Perron on the back door for the tap-in.
With four minutes to play, Veleno took a hooking penalty on Barron for yet another offensive zone penalty. This third advantage for the Canadiens was the same as the first two as they got zone time, but never threatened the middle of the ice or Husso’s crease. Husso did make a great save on Hoffman after an excellent Suzuki pass. That was it though as Montreal just didn’t have it on this night.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Mike Matheson
Nobody else on the Habs looked even close to as engaged as Matheson. Nobody else laid their body on the line to make plays on this night.
Stats: -1, 3 shots, 4 blocks, 26:15 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nick Suzuki
Suzuki looks to be trying, but after two seasons without missing a game where the team is not close to being part of anything interesting, Nick looked a little checked out when it was time to give up his body for the cause. Hard to blame him.
Stats: -1, 3 shots, 1 hit, 21:07 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Brendan Gallagher
He still tries, but he’s no longer capable of carrying a line on his own at this stage of his career.
Stats: 1 shot, 14:57 T.O.I.