Montreal’s road trip came to an end on Wednesday as they were in Columbus to face the Blue Jackets. They were able to overcome a very sloppy start, setting the stage for a late game-winner in a 4-2 victory.
Martin St. Louis made a pair of changes to the group from Saturday’s tough loss to Los Angeles. Joel Armia took Michael Pezzetta’s spot in the lineup while the goalie rotation continued with Samuel Montembeault getting the nod. The team, with some tweaks to the bottom six and the back end, lined up as follows:
Newhook – Suzuki – Gallagher
Caufield – Dvorak – Slafkovsky
Armia – Monahan – Anderson
Pearson – Evans – Ylonen
Matheson – Lindstrom
Guhle – Barron
Struble – Kovacevic
1) A pregame thought. It’s not that I have an issue with Armia going into the lineup. But at a time when Jesse Ylonen is playing well, he only gets one game off the fourth trio and now someone out of the lineup leapfrogs him? About a week and a half ago, I floated out the idea that St. Louis just might not be a fan of Ylonen and that’s why he’s hardly getting any opportunities off the fourth line. This would serve as further evidence of that idea as, with Columbus being a weaker team, this would seemingly have been the type of game to move him up.
2) Kaiden Guhle had an unlucky start to this one. First, he hits the post on the opening shift. Then, a couple of shifts later, he fans on a clearing attempt, sending Yegor Chinakov in all alone on Montembeault. Chinakov didn’t score but the sequence set the tone for what a lot of the period was in the defensive zone for the Canadiens.
3) The Blue Jackets didn’t have a ton of zone entries but Montreal handed them plenty of extra opportunities with several giveaways in their own end. It wasn’t limited to just blueliners either as some wingers got in on the action. Columbus didn’t generate much in the way of high-end chances off of those but after a couple of days of practice, I was hoping to see more cohesion in their own end. Somehow, the Habs were credited with just one giveaway in the period (seriously, just one), another example of why the takeaway/giveaway stat in the NHL is entirely meaningless. Also somehow, they escaped unscathed with a scoreless period.
4) Yesterday, our Oren Weizman lamented the lack of physicality and that was evident on Patrik Laine’s breakaway goal but not in the traditional sense. There was a lost one-on-one board battle before Laine split through three defenders (on a line change) entirely unimpeded which is not good. Laine basically whiffed on his shot entirely but got the lucky bounce as it went off Montembeault’s skate and in. His good fortune against Montreal continues as he now has 13 points (nine goals) in 11 games against them.
5) The bad bounces continued soon after when Alex Newhook accepted a good setup feed from Brendan Gallagher and then hit the post. Perhaps this was going to be one of those nights…or so it seemed for about five more seconds. The Habs kept control and Newhook got another opportunity in the slot, this time getting it past Elvis Merzlikins.
6) Two minutes after that, the defensive zone miscues struck again and this time, they paid for it. A quick three-on-one in-zone play ensued and after whiffing on an open net in the first, Yegor Chinkakov made no mistake the second time, beating Montembeault who had no chance. Basic transition play shouldn’t be an issue at this point in time but for whatever reason, the Habs really struggled with this tonight. Meanwhile, Chinakov scores a day after his agent leaked out that he’s unhappy with his role and is considering asking for a trade.
7) Montreal did get one more bounce to go their way (it wasn’t all bad luck on that front). Christian Dvorak wisely kept the puck and shot on a two-on-one. It wasn’t much of a shot but Merzlikins couldn’t control the rebound, sending it right to the slot where Cole Caufield was there to bury it. That line also had a particularly strong shift in the second with extended zone time. They didn’t score but moments after, Montembeault made a nice heads-up play to send a 120-foot pass to Armia to spring him for a partial break that was stopped. Through two periods, that was probably the best breakout pass they had and it came from the goalie.
8) Wes McCauley is a referee who often doesn’t call a lot of penalties. Garrett Rank is now known for being the official who gave out ten ten-minute misconducts at the same time. While this wasn’t a physical game, there were several missed calls on both sides. It seemed as if they were intent to not award a power play unless it was an egregious offence. Naturally, the one man advantage came from a puck-over-glass call with Gustav Lindstrom getting caught. Montreal’s penalty kill survived the two minutes (Columbus had lots of control despite being one of the worst units in the league).
9) That proved crucial as the Habs were able to get one with under three minutes left with Armia tipping home a point shot from Mike Matheson. I’ll refer you back to Thought One where I complained about Armia being elevated to the third line. Well, this is why I’m not in charge of line combinations.
10) Armia had some good board work in the attacking zone on his next shift, helping to set up the empty-netter. It’s not often you see a half-slapper for an empty-net goal but that’s what Lindstrom wound up doing off another feed from Matheson. Whatever works, I suppose. That’s his second of the year, setting a new career high.
By the way, for anyone wondering, the official giveaway stat for the Habs in this game was four. File that under the category of numbers not making sense.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Mike Matheson – Through two periods, he was on pace for a lighter game ice-time-wise. Then he played nearly half the third period and played an integral role in Montreal pulling it out in the end. A pretty solid game from Montreal’s top blueliner who saw more time with Lindstrom (who also had a good outing) than he generally does. An odd combo but it worked.
Stats: 2 assists, +1 rating, 3 blocks, 23:17 TOI
2nd Star: Alex Newhook – Another game, another outing where he looks a bit more comfortable on that top line. Newhook is not a typical complementary player but he did a lot of little things well, then got open for those two high-end chances in the second, the second of which went in. I know many fans want to see Caufield back on the top line (it’ll happen eventually, don’t worry) but having another duo that works is only good news for St. Louis and his staff.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 2 shots, 2 hits, 14:52 TOI
3rd Star: Joel Armia – After sitting for a couple of games following his recall, it’s fair to say the leash was going to be short for Armia. A poor showing here could see him sitting for a while again or worse, sent back to Laval. He did absolutely everything he needed to in order to stay in the lineup. Strong on the boards, good defensively, and a timely game-winning goal sure doesn’t hurt either.
Stats: 1 goal, +2 rating, 3 shots, 16:26 TOI