The Habs looked to make it a clean California sweep on Saturday as they took on Los Angeles. Instead, they put forth one of their ugliest efforts of the season, falling 4-0.
Although Joel Armia was recalled midway through Friday’s victory over San Jose, Martin St. Louis opted to dress the same 18 skaters. However, for the 16th straight game, there was a goalie change as Jake Allen got the start between the pipes. The rest of the team lined up as follows:
Newhook – Suzuki – Gallagher
Caufield – Dvorak – Slafkovsky
Pearson – Monahan – Anderson
Pezzetta – Evans – Ylonen
Matheson – Barron
Guhle – Lindstrom
Struble – Kovacevic
1) After a start to the game that no fan for either side will think fondly of, Montreal had the first penalty when Gustav Lindstrom went off for a hook on Anze Kopitar. The penalty kill was decent and it was good to see Jesse Ylonen on it. After playing just over seven minutes in three of the last four games, finding more ice time for him is a good idea so throwing him back into the rotation on here makes sense.
2) The Kings are a bigger team and that size made a difference on the opening goal. Pierre-Luc Dubois skated in and while Jake Evans was blanketing him in coverage, the size and strength differential between the two was noticeable. That allowed Dubois to slide a cross-ice feed to Carl Grundstrom who blasted one past Allen from near the faceoff circle. Montreal’s defenders slid back a bit too much in transition which opened up the seam for Dubois to get that pass through.
3) I know there is some fatigue involved with it being the third game in four nights (and the back end of a back-to-back with travel) but one shot in the first period just isn’t going to cut it. It’s not as if they were unlucky and had a whole bunch of good opportunities that just missed either. Defensively, holding Los Angeles to ten shots in the opening frame isn’t terrible against a good team but managing just one is a level of ineptitude that just can’t happen. Especially against a backup goalie (Pheonix Copley) who came into the game with a .845 SV%.
4) To their credit, Montreal did come out better in the second. An early power play had some good moments; their best chance was a quick post from Nick Suzuki. Meanwhile, defensively, they held the Kings without a shot for the first six minutes. Nothing special but it was still good to see some small improvements after a rough opening frame.
5) Trevor Moore’s goal was all kinds of ugly. Allen completely misread the initial shot which went high and wide, putting himself well out of position. As he scrambled to cover Moore’s wraparound, he left way too much of the short-side post open, making for a pretty easy goal. But that’s only part of what bothered me on that one. Brendan Gallagher made a soft play on the puck in the neutral zone, allowing for an easy entry. Meanwhile, there was no whistle on Moore’s shot. The Canadiens stopped playing while the Kings didn’t as they actually scored again. Players are taught to play to the whistle. One team did and the other didn’t.
6) Montreal had a great opportunity to end the second period on a high note when Alex Laferriere was sent off for tripping. Instead, the early-season ugliness of the power play returned; the Habs could barely get the puck into the offensive zone and when they did, it exited quite quickly. Juraj Slafkovsky had a late opportunity that came out of nowhere but instead of putting up some pressure or a goal to help them feel good heading into the third, they ended on a low note.
7) There are games where the defence just looks overwhelmed. This was one of those. Early in the third, Johnathan Kovacevic made a mistake of telegraphing where he was going with a pass with no pressure on him. Compounding the problem, he then missed the mark. That led to a turnover to Jaret Anderson-Dolan who found Trevor Lewis. Lewis then fired a shot that went five-hole on Allen, another one he’d probably like back.
8) A third one Allen would want back came ten minutes later. Moore was far from a shooting lane so he just flipped the puck toward the net, likely hoping for a rebound. Somehow, it squeaked through a small hole between Allen and the post, finding its way into the net as well. Yes, it’s a play that would be hard to duplicate if they tried but nevertheless, it’s a goal that shouldn’t happen. I guess in some ways, it was fortunate that the game wasn’t close at this point as this was a ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ type of goal. But the back had been broken long before that.
9) A general thought on the third period, I wanted to see some sort of pushback. It was clear they weren’t winning the game (the Lewis goal basically cemented that reality) but hey, maybe they’d get aggressive and try to make something happen. They didn’t which was disappointing to see. Fatigue and all, going through the motions is never a good sight. The end result was being shut out in Los Angeles for the first time in franchise history.
10) If you’re concerned about Slafkovsky’s development so far, it’s understandable but this game provides a glimpse of what patience can eventually provide. Quinton Byfield, the second overall pick in 2020, didn’t do much in his first three professional seasons but showed slow but steady development as he went along (while spending a bit of time in the minors as well). Now, he’s having a breakout year at the age of 21. Slafkovsky is a couple of years behind that path but is showing slow but steady development this season. There is no guaranteed pathway to success but if you’re looking for an example of a similar player eventually breaking out, Byfield is it.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Mike Matheson – In a game where most of the blueline stood out for costly turnovers (how the team was credited with just four in total is yet another example of why the takeaway/giveaway stat in the NHL is utterly meaningless), Matheson stood out for not being the main culprit. Possession-wise, his pairing was the best and in this game, that’s good enough to get a mention here.
Stats: -1 rating, 3 shots, 23:49 TOI
2nd Star: Alex Newhook – His line was the best one (admittedly, that’s not saying a lot) but I want to highlight that Newhook continues to look a bit more comfortable each game as he gets more accustomed to playing with Nick Suzuki. His speed fits in better on the wing and while that element wasn’t overly noticeable, getting more comfortable with more reps on that trio is a good thing.
Stats: 1 shot, 3 hits, 18:22 TOI
3rd Star: The penalty kill – It’s hard to find any player that positively stood out so let’s look at the penalty kill. The Kings are one of the highest-scoring teams in the league but the Habs did a decent job killing off their two power plays. Considering how much the penalty kill has struggled lately, that’s a small step in the right direction on that front at least.