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After a Western road trip yielded little success, the Habs were looking to turn things around as they returned home to host Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.  However, they couldn’t overcome a disastrous first period, ultimately falling 5-3.

There were no changes to the skaters who suited up in St. Louis but Montreal tinkered with its defence pairings while Jake Allen got the start in goal.  The team lined up as follows:

Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Pearson – Monahan – Gallagher
Newhook – Dvorak – Anderson
Pezzetta – Evans – Armia

Matheson – Harris
Guhle – Barron
Xhekaj – Kovacevic

Ten Thoughts

1) With a team on a back-to-back with a goalie making his third career start, it stands to reason that part of the game plan might have been to get off to a strong start.  That didn’t happen.  The Habs get caught in transition on the opening shift of the game and Nikita Kucherov, who has nine points in his last two games, is lost in transition with a one-timer that beats Allen.  Evidently, covering Kucherov was missed on the strategy sheet as well.

2) While we’re on the topic of missed elements from that game plan, I’m pretty sure not allowing an in-zone two-on-one and having some sort of structure might have been on there.  Mike Matheson looks like he’s in no-man’s-land on the goal but he has to step up to try to stop the cross-ice attempt from Steven Stamkos.  That took him out of position, giving Nick Paul a freebie with the rebound going off Allen’s pad right to him.  This was certainly not Matheson’s best performance but with no support in defensive zone coverage, that one wasn’t on him.

3) Tampa Bay’s power play is known for being good and Montreal’s penalty kill is known for being lousy.  Staying out of bad situations to avoid taking penalties was probably also on that game plan.  Instead, more poor transition play leads to Juraj Slafkovsky needing to grab Luke Glendening (which might have prevented a goal), sending him to the box.  Matheson’s back luck then continues with Alex Barre-Boulet banking one in off his skate soon after.  Basically, whatever was on that game plan, the Habs did the exact opposite.

4) Allen won the Molson Cup award for October but that was the highlight of his night.  He didn’t have much going his way on the first three and he’s not fully at fault for those but Mikey Eyssimont’s banked-in goal from a near-impossible angle was certainly one he was at fault for.  I’d call that a back-breaking goal but at this point, I think the back was already broken.

5) Josh Anderson has been quiet this season but every now and then, we see that spark from him that leaves teammates, coaches, and fans alike believing he could one day become a consistent threat.  That hustle led to a couple of power plays in the opening half of the second and his redirect on a Matheson point shot was the best chance on one of those opportunities.

6) In the first period, Michael Pezzetta took a hard spill into the boards after being tripped on a play that would have been called back on an offside call had Montreal actually scored.  In the second period, Slafkovsky took a hard hit from Tanner Jeannot that wound up resulting in a penalty kill soon after when Cole Caufield was called for tripping.  Talk about not being able to reap the benefits of those tough crashes.

7) It was good to see the power play get rewarded in the third.  In the first period, I thought they moved the puck well and had some success working in the middle of the ice.  Nick Suzuki’s goal wasn’t quite from there but there was some good puck movement nevertheless and that’s an area where there has been some improvement compared to the start of the season.

8) Michael Pezzetta briefly made this game a whole lot more interesting than it looked like it was going to be when he tapped in a rebound off some hard work from Jake Evans.  However, Arber Xhekaj took a needless roughing penalty soon after, taking away Montreal’s momentum.  He had already ‘dealt with’ Jeannot after his hit on Slafkovsky; to try to do it again with the game getting a bit closer and the Habs playing with confidence is a mistake that simply cannot happen.  If he can’t be trusted to stay out of the box in close situations, it will be hard to play him in the third in tight games.  That’s not ideal.

9) While Tampa didn’t score on that advantage, they did on their next one as Nick Paul did well to knock a rebound down and past Samuel Montembeault, who had fared quite well since coming in following Eyssimont’s goal in the first.  Christian Dvorak got that one back late with a nice wrister off the rush in the dying seconds but it was too little, too late by then.

10) While it’s never fun seeing a goalie get his first career win against Montreal, you have to appreciate what Matt Tomkins has gone through to get to this point.  Drafted in the last round 11 years ago, he toiled around in the minors and in Sweden waiting for an opportunity he probably didn’t expect to get; he was previously under contract in the SHL for this season before Tampa Bay came calling.  That’s one of those nice perseverance stories that is a bit reminiscent of former Hab Alex Belzile who bounced around and waited a long time to get his first chance.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Samuel Montembeault – When you’re put into a 4-0 deficit partway through the first period, it’s more or less a no-win situation.  Make the saves when the pressure is off and it’s not a big deal.  Allow some goals and the deficit to balloon and you don’t look great.  But Montembeault was quite sharp and legitimately gave the Habs a chance to get back into this one.  That’s all they could have asked for given the circumstances.

Stats: 1 GA on 25 shots, 1.31 GAA, .960 SV%

2nd Star: Josh Anderson – No, he didn’t capitalize on his chances but for a good chunk of the game, chances themselves were few and far between while he drew a couple of penalties.  If he has another game or two like this, that goalless drought to start the season will end soon enough.

Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 4 shots, 2 hits, 18:25 TOI

3rd Star: Michael Pezzetta – He bounced back well off the hard crash into the boards and made the most of his limited minutes.  He provided a physical spark (and stayed out of the penalty box along the way) while his goal came from crashing the crease.  A solid effort overall.

Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 1 shot, 6 hits, 7:09 TOI