The Canadiens opened their season at home on Saturday with a well-played 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks, in a game that was largely not as close as the final score might indicate. Connor Bedard managed to record an assist on the final Chicago goal, but the Habs fought off their final attack to take their first win of the season.
Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Newhook – Dach – Slafkovsky
Pearson – Monahan – Gallagher
Harvey-Pinard – Evans – Ylonen
Matheson – Savard
Guhle – Kovacevic
Harris – Xhekaj
One. The season home opener introductions were … uhh … underwhelming. They felt like they were dragging on, and the crowd wasn’t getting into them, either. After the solid applause for Martin St. Louis, things really tapered off, and it was a relief to have the Blackhawks skate onto the ice so we could move on to the anthems and then the game itself.
Two. Power plays are definitely looking better so far, although we are only two games into the season. Without any substantial upgrade to the personnel, St. Louis has the Habs moving, passing, switching positions–and even shooting. Far less predictable, and more difficult to defend against. Now, the big question will be whether they can leverage that play by putting the puck into the net with at least some level of regularity this season.
Three. That power play will certainly hurt from any prolonged absence by Kirby Dach. Welcomed back to the Chicago (bench) by Jarred Tinordi, the young centre ended up being injured on the play as Tinordi’s hard check propelled him over the boards and into the visitors’ bench. He didn’t return to the game and we’ll need to wait to find out what the prognosis is.
Four. Seven Chicago power plays on the night kept the penalty killers busy, but they were up to the task. Jake Evans, had another breakaway chance on the kill, but he was not the only one, as Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Sean Monahan, and Jesse Ylonen all had their shorthanded opportunities. Aggressive penalty killing combined with rapid acceleration is making this unit look dangerous so far.
Five. The Habs will really need to start working on defending against a six-on-five man advantage. Two goals allowed against the Leafs in the season opener and a solid save on Bedard with the clock ticking down. The 3-2 goal with the Chicago net empty was a downer but does not take away from a very solid start to Samuel Montembeault’s season.
Six. Connor Bedard played well, especially for an 18-year-old playing only his third professional game. However, he couldn’t match up to Monahan on the latter’s shorthanded break, Jordan Harris stripped him of the puck on Bedard’s break–and Montembeault handled all five shots that Bedard managed to get to the net. An impressive rookie, no doubt, but not quite a game-breaker–yet.
Seven. Speaking of Montembeault, he looked far more calm and composed than in the offseason in stopping 28 of 30 Blackhawks shots. With all but two of the high-danger chances on the power play, Montembeault continued the form he showed last season. He made a solid play in blocking shots in the third with the Blackhawks buzzing around the net.
Eight. Arber Xhekaj and Corey Perry got involved in some pushing, shoving, and Greco-Roman wrestling in the Habs’ end, behind the play. Xhekaj was the only one to land a punch, but the referee was watching and saw that there were no innocents in that mini-drama, sending both players into the box just before the end of the second period. No gloves were dropped, but clearly Xhekaj’s posture said that he would take no crap from anyone.
Nine. The Habs dominated the faceoffs, but it’s not really clear whether that was the Habs being good or the Blackhawks really not being able to take the puck at all. 11/14 for Evans and 14/16 for Monahan are super impressive, but really indicate the weakness of the opposition–the Blackhawks have struggled to win faceoffs in all three of their games so far. Bedard is at 20.7% for the season so far …
Ten. Johnathan Kovacevic is playing very solid, mature hockey. A solid +2 game for the defender, he was on the ice not only for both of the Habs’ even-strength goals but also took many of the defensive-zone starts against the Blackhawks attacks.
HW Habs 3 Stars
First star: Sean Monahan (1g, 1a, 3 shots, 18:25 TOI) was not only the scoring leader but impressed throughout the game, in a far more impressive effort than the game against the Leafs.
Second star: Rafael Harvey-Pinard (0g, 1a, 3 shots, 13:03 TOI) was superb in killing penalties and led the team with three high-danger scoring opportunities. He’s no longer scoring at the astronomical rate of last season, but he is a consistent threat to break into the offensive zone.
Third star: Samuel Montembeault (30 shots, 28 saves, 0.933 save percentage) lost his shutout bid when a puck glanced off Guhle’s skate and onto Tyler Johnson’s stick in front of the net, but he kept the Habs in the game when it mattered.