After the overtime win in Montreal last Saturday, the Habs would surely not be able to take the Bruins by surprise on this Saturday night. And so it was, as the Bruins took off into a 2-0 lead in the first and added a third in the second. It felt like too little, too late already, but Juraj Slafkovsky and Johnathan Kovacevic each managed to put the puck behind Jeremy Swayman to make it a 5-2 final. The score was not close, and with a 44-22 shots edge to Boston, neither was the play in the game.
Newhook – Suzuki – Caufield
Slafkovsky – Monahan – Ylonen
Anderson – Dvorak – Gallagher
Pearson – Evans – Pezzetta
Guhle – Kovacevic
Matheson – Barron
Harris – Lindstrom
1) After some sustained early Boston pressure, Jesse Ylonen took a hooking penalty on David Pastrnak at 6:11, taking away a solid scoring opportunity in the process. Two minutes shorthanded against the Bruins would have been bad enough, but 13 seconds later, Jonathan Kovacevic got his stick tangled in Brad Marchand’s legs, making it a two-man advantage for 1:47. Now that was not a prescription for good things for the bleu, blanc, et rouge, and it took Boston only forty-seven seconds to make the Habs pay for those transgressions.
2) Jake Allen maybe should have been able to make the save on Charlie McAvoy’s power play goal, as he had pretty good visibility on the shot from the top of the faceoff circle, but there was little he could do about the second goal. Brandon Carlo’s shot from near the blue line was into solid traffic in front of the net, and Trent Frederic tipped it little more than a metre in front of Allen, giving the veteran goaltender no chance to react.
3) Martin St-Louis and the team left the ice after the first period in which the team was thoroughly outplayed. Brendan Gallagher had the best scoring chance on a breakaway–after sustained Boston pressure–but overall the Habs struggled to gain control and exit their own zone, let alone enter the offensive zone. Would there really be any good magic in St-Louis’s toolkit to get the Habs back into the game?
4) After a better start to the second period, another shot from the blue line made its way to the net behind Allen. Jordan Harris got his stick on Pavel Zacha’s shot, which changed direction slightly, enough to just get past Allen’s right pad. A compounding of individual misfortunes? Maybe, but another Boston goal in any case.
5) The Habs were able to control the play more often in the second, and one of those times paid off as Alex Newhook, on the right-side boards, got the puck to Nick Suzuki behind the net. Suzuki spotted Juraj Slafkovsky, who had just jumped onto the ice to replace Cole Caufield. Slafkovsky, at the bottom of the left faceoff circle, released a quick shot to beat Swayman with his second goal of the season. Not a pretty play with his new linemates — Monahan and Ylonen — but still a welcome score to help mitigate the pressure the young Slovak puts on himself.
6) The Habs’ second power play of the game was as ineffective as the first. Worse, as the penalty expired and Frederic jumped out of the box, Charlie Coyle fed a pass to him to set him up for a break. An exhausted Justin Barron was unable to respond; Slafkovsky made an attempt, but very clearly he’s not a defenceman and was unable to handle him. And Allen couldn’t handle the shot, so it was the Bruins by three again.
7) St-Louis was a legend as a player, and a self-professed student of the game, but at times it’s very clear that he is still learning when it comes to coaching the teams–and coaching against a skilled opposing coach. Responding effectively to coaching moves is more than just hockey IQ, it’s something akin to coaching IQ. St-Louis finally made changes for the third, moving Christian Dvorak to the second line, between Slafkovsky and Ylonen, but instant chemistry among new linemates rarely happens, either.
8) The Boston power play spoke up again in the third, as Pastrnak took a shot from the blue line and Brad Marchand kicked it back across the net to James van Riemsdyk, who was open on the left side and tapped in the shot. That was four goals from point shots, and the absence of David Savard and Arber Xhekaj is clearly noticeable in the reduced number of blocked shots.
9) Jonathan Kovacevic is following the St-Louis mantra of defencemen grasping offensive opportunities when they present themselves, and it’s finally paying dividends for the normally defence-minded right-hander, this time with a tidy goal from a Dvorak pass to the front of the net.
10) Another mantra that needs to be repeated is the avoidance of penalties: the Canadiens sent six players to the box on this night, and they continue to lead the league in this less-than-desirable category. Some of the infractions were justified, such as Ylonen’s hook in the first, but the sheer number is still far too high.
HW Habs 3 Stars
First Star: Juraj Slafkovsky (1g, 1a, 1 shot, +1, 15:43 TOI) is gaining self-confidence–swagger, St-Louis might say–and a two-point game will have reinforced that. Which linemates will he play with the next game? That we don’t know yet, but Slafkovsky needs to believe in himself first and foremost, and putting points on the board will certainly help that.
Second Star: Jonathan Kovacevic (1g, 0a, 2 shots, +2, 16:33 TOI), paired with Kaiden Guhle again, had a tough start but the duo built up their game from that low, with Kovacevic recording the best xGF% of any of the Habs defenders. And to top that, he scored his second of the season, again from near the front of the net.
Third Star: Nick Suzuki (0g, 1a, 2 shots, +0, 18:34 TOI) is doing what we expect Suzuki to do now, playing a relentless game even when the odds are stacked against the team. He managed to find Slafkovsky for the first goal, but the new top line of Caufield-Suzuki-Newhook did not show any results yet.