After falling to Calgary on Tuesday, the Habs looked to get back in the win column as they hosted Vegas on Thursday. They held the lead for more than half the game but a late penalty proved costly as they fell 6-5.
Martin St. Louis made a pair of changes for this game, one by choice and one by necessity. Rafael Harvey-Pinard is day-to-day with a lower-body injury and was unavailable to play so Michael Pezzetta returned to the lineup. Meanwhile, Cayden Primeau got the call in goal. The team lined up as follows:
Newhook – Suzuki – Anderson
Caufield – Dvorak – Slafkovsky
Pearson – Monahan – Gallagher
Pezzetta – Evans – Ylonen
Matheson – Barron
Guhle – Kovacevic
Xhekaj – Lindstrom
1) One team showed up at the start of the game. It wasn’t the Habs. Primeau was tested early and often at five-on-five. Then, after Mike Matheson was called for tripping, the Golden Knights basically controlled the play in the offensive zone for the entire two minutes. Full credit to Primeau for standing tall early, stopping this one from potentially getting ugly early.
2) After the penalty, Montreal finally had some offensive zone time and they made the most of it with Alex Newhook beating Adin Hill far-side which snapped a 13-game goalless drought. In practice on Wednesday, St. Louis had his players shooting for specific spots trying to work on their scoring touch. Newhook’s shot was a well-placed one, perhaps a by-product of that extra detail work the day before.
3) Johnathan Kovacevic has had plenty of offensive opportunities this season which is a bit of a surprise considering he’s not known for his offence. He wasn’t able to cash in on those good chances but the law of averages caught up to him as he scored on what more or less amounted to a broken play. The angle wasn’t as sharp as Newhook’s but it again went far-side on Hill with a well-placed shot.
4) Unpredictability on the power play can be a good thing. Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield were flipped on the man advantage. That’s good. Mike Matheson skates in untouched on a breakaway instead of the drop pass. That’s good. But aside from all that, they went with the same formulaic approach that rarely works. It even yielded a shorthanded goal from Brett Howden, the fourth they’ve allowed this season with the man advantage. Varying zone entries has worked when they try it so it surprises me why they don’t try that more.
5) Had it not been for Harvey-Pinard’s injury, Jesse Ylonen probably wouldn’t have even played; Pezzetta likely would have taken his spot. So he needed a standout performance. I’d say two goals qualifies as one. The first was a well-placed shot on a breakaway while the second was a quick wrister. Ylonen’s shot is his top asset so it’s nice to see him have a big night.
6) The blown leads weren’t entirely surprising with Montreal’s defensive struggles in this one but it was still frustrating. They were burned on a set play off the draw on Brayden McNabb’s goal. Then Jonathan Marchessault scored on a two-on-one. After Ylonen made it 4-3, a bad Kaiden Guhle penalty led to Shea Theodore’s point shot going through. Bad defensive awareness on their second goal, a bad turnover on the third, and a bad penalty to take leads to the fourth. Part of the growth of being an inexperienced team but that will still sting.
7) It’s not very often that Arber Xhekaj gets squared up on a hard hit but that happened when Ivan Barbashev got him in the second. It looks like it’s a left shoulder injury and he left the game. If Jordan Harris can’t return Saturday, things could get interesting on the recall front. Mattias Norlinder would have been the first recall a month ago but now, maybe it’s William Trudeau if they want to have three lefties and three righties (taking Logan Mailloux out of the equation).
8) Montreal didn’t have many chances in the third but one of their best came around the midway mark when Caufield found himself with the puck in the slot but didn’t get a good one off. It’s fair to say he’s in a slump right now (joining quite a few others).
9) Late penalties have been a concern for the Habs for a while now and it finally came back to bite them. Brendan Gallagher took a well-earned double-minor for high-sticking Pavel Dorofeyev and Vegas scored on both ends of the power play with goals from Jack Eichel on a slot shot and Mark Stone on the wraparound (the last one being one Primeau will want back). It particularly stung after Justin Barron got one back in the final minute but that’s as close as they got.
10) This game was the full Primeau experience. In the first, he showed why the Habs have been so high on him as a prospect with several key saves. In the second, there were some chinks in the armour but still, not bad. He played well in the third aside from that Stone goal that wound up as the winner. When he’s on, he’s clearly an NHL goalie. Now, it’s going to be about game-to-game and even period-to-period consistency. The only way to get that is with game reps. He did well enough to earn himself another start soon but playing time is certainly going to be hard to come by.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Alex Newhook – He had some jump in this one which was good to see since he had been fairly quiet lately. He snapped his goalless drought and picked up an assist on Kovacevic’s marker as well. Curiously, he was relatively low for ice time among forwards. Yes, shorthanded time was a factor but down the stretch, we didn’t see much of him.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating, 1 shot, 13:43 TOI
2nd Star: Jesse Ylonen – It’s hard not to put him here. Overall, he wasn’t the most visible in this one but that was a byproduct of hardly playing as the fourth line being productive didn’t result in more ice time than usual. With two goals, he earned himself another game even if Harvey-Pinard is ready to return.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating, 4 shots, 7:22 TOI
3rd Star: Justin Barron – No one had a good game on the possession side of things but he qualifies in the ‘less bad’ category. I thought he was his usual good puck-moving self and his goal at the end certainly made it interesting. What was noteworthy was that he was even out there in the first place. A few weeks ago, he was a healthy scratch and now he’s on the ice with a minute to go. That’s pretty impressive to earn the trust of the coaches that much that fast.
Stats: 1 goal, +2 rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 2 hits, 3 blocks, 21:24 TOI