With the Habs’ road trip having started with a win and a loss, the bleu, blanc, et rouge were looking for a second win against the weakest team in the NHL. It turned out to be nothing easy, but the Canadiens finally left town with two points after a shootout victory.
Newhook – Suzuki – Gallagher
Slafkovsky – Dvorak – Caufield
Pearson – Monahan – Anderson
Pezzetta – Evans – Ylonen
Matheson – Barron
Guhle – Lindstrom
Struble – Kovacevic
1) The Canadiens seemed organized and mostly in control of play early in the game for the first 15 minutes or so of the first period. Not overwhelming the San Jose defence, but maintaining control, moving the puck, and minimizing counterattacks. They were facing the weakest team in the league, to be sure, but it was still a good look.
2) With three and a half minutes to go in the first, though, the cracks started to show. As the Sharks moved onto the attack, Mike Matheson incurred a holding penalty by hanging onto Nico Sturm on the right-side boards near the Habs’ blue line. Sturm managed to make the pass anyway, leading to a San Jose two-on-one. Brendan Gallagher, the only Canadien back on defence–Justin Barron was well back–slid to block the pass, but it was only Cayden Primeau’s solid save on Luke Kunin that prevented a San Jose goal.
3) That was not a frivolous penalty, but the penalty kill was certainly weak, especially considering the strength of the San Jose power play. Jake Evans, Tanner Pearson, Justin Barron, and Kaiden Guhle did their best but did not manage to clear the puck during the two minutes, and Primeau had to save six Sharks shots during that time. Is Pearson really the best forward to play with Evans shorthanded? Yes, Joel Armia was in transit on his way up from Laval (Arber Xhekaj was placed on IR) but Jesse Ylonen has been capable on the penalty kill as well.
4) After that power play expired, the Sharks continued to dominate. After a 9-3 shots edge for the Canadiens until the penalty, San Jose outshot them 13-2 up to the first goal in the second period. This is not an in-game adjustment issue, I think, but I rather suspect the lack of mental strength to recover from opposition pressure.
5) Mike Hoffman, the textbook streaky scorer when playing for the Habs, put the Sharks on the board five minutes into the second. Sustained San Jose pressure again, a lost board battle by Juraj Slafkovsky, a pass from behind the net, and a Hoffman one-timer from near the hash marks that beat Primeau above his glove. Five goals in five games for Hoffman, after 14 games to start the season with but a single assist to show for those.
6) After Barron was sent off for tripping 12 minutes into the second period, the Sharks executed a set piece perfectly, with William Eklund beating Primeau cleanly with a one-timer from the top of the face-off circle, just three seconds into the power play. One might hope that Primeau could have saved either this one or the Hoffman goal, but at this point, the Habs were not looking like they could do anything at all, even with shutout goaltending.
7) Somehow this did wake up the visiting team, as the Habs actually started attacking again. With two minutes left in the period, they had the Sharks hemmed into their zone, and a tidy passing play from Cole Caufield and then Jayden Struble fed Johnathan Kovacevic, who wristed the puck over Mackenzie Blackwood’s glove to bring the Habs within one. Three goals in the last four games, and the big right-hander has now doubled his career goal total just 20 games into the season.
8) The Habs weren’t able to exert much heavy pressure in the third, but the rush paid off when it mattered. A little more than three minutes into the period, Primeau cleared the puck to Slafkovsky on the boards, and the young Slovak sent a long pass to Caufield in the neutral zone. Caufield and Christian Dvorak rushed across the line on a two-on-one, and Caufield’s shot found the back of the net once again.
9) After an ineffectual remainder of the period, the teams came out for some three-on-three shinny. Neither team looked dangerous, though, and both made multiple mistakes to give away the puck. Caufield and Slafkovsky recorded shots, but Blackwood handled those easily.
10) After Eklund scored on Primeau to start the shootout, Nick Suzuki managed to get Blackwood to commit, and then deked around to tap the puck into the net behind him. After that, though, Primeau and Blackwood made saves on seven consecutive shooters, including Caufield, Slafkovsky, Dvorak, and Monahan, none able to find a chink in the goalies’ armour. Jesse Ylonen finally put the game away for the Habs, getting Blackwood to commit to a pad save, shifting direction, and then lifting the puck into the empty net on the other side.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Cole Caufield (1g, 1a, 6 shots, +2, 20:33 TOI) undressed Blackwood with his goal in the third, although he could not score on his other five shots, and Blackwood stymied him in the shootout. But six Caufield shots a game is bound to lead to some scoring.
Second Star: Johnathan Kovacevic (1g, 0a, 1 shot, +2, 11:10 TOI) was playing on the bottom pairing this time, keeping company to Jayden Struble, in only Struble’s second NHL game. The duo acquitted themselves credibly, albeit in limited minutes, and were +2 on the night.
Third Star: Jesse Ylonen (0g, 0a, 1 shot, +0, 7:16 TOI) played yet another game in a limited role on the fourth line, with Mike Pezzetta and Jake Evans, with little opportunity to show what he is capable of. With the shootout reaching the eighth shooter pair, he finally got his opportunity and scored a pretty goal to secure both points for the Canadiens.