The Habs played their first game since Christmas as they travelled to Carolina to take on the Hurricanes. The one weak spot for the Hurricanes had been goaltending, so the Canadiens were hoping to be opportunistic on this night. That’s exactly what they did in the first period as they looked like they had a few extra pounds of turkey to shed but still came away with a 2-2 score. They played much better in the second but ended that period trailing. Finally, an excellent third period was foiled by a lack of standing up for one another as Carolina was able to pull away with a 5-3 win after a questionable hit on Juraj Slafkovsky.
Cole Caufield — Nick Suzuki — Juraj Slafkovsky
Sean Monahan — Jake Evans – Josh Anderson Joel Armia – Christian Dvorak – Brendan Gallagher
Michael Pezzetta — Mitchell Stephens — Jesse Ylonen
Mike Matheson — David Savard
Kaiden Guhle — Justin Barron
Jayden Struble — Jordan Harris
1) The Habs escaped the first period with a 2-2 score despite being outshot 13-8 which is closer than the period momentum suggested. They got some help as the Hurricanes took two penalties to their one, and Martin St. Louis got lucky as a 50-50 call for goaltender interference went the way of the Habs which kept the score 2-1 instead of going to 3-1.
2) Carolina’s two goals were similar in that a shot from far out was tipped close to Primeau. The goal that didn’t count was also tipped, so they were certainly not taking Montreal’s young netminder lightly, but the young blueliners were having trouble boxing out the Carolina forwards.
3) The Habs’ first goal came when Stephens tipped a Struble point shot with Pezzetta screening Antti Raanta. This created a rebound that Stephens jumped on and buried a rebound to cut the lead to 2-1.
4) On the power play with four seconds to play in the second, Raanta overplayed a Matheson shot on the break-in. That shot never came as Matheson went around the net and tucked home a wraparound. Raanta did not think Matheson had enough time to go around, so nice play by Matheson to use his wheels to his advantage on that play.
5) The trio of Barron, Guhle, and Dvorak extended their turkey play to their first shift of the second period. Guhle lost a battle deep in his zone and had zero support as Barron and Dvorak covered no one. The result was a quick goal for Jesper Fast to start the second period.
6) The Habs played a much better period after that initial minute as they were able to outshoot the Hurricanes 13-7 in the period. Raanta was solid, and a little lucky too as he made a couple of saves without really knowing where the puck was located.
7) The Dvorak line was particularly strong as the period advanced as Gallagher and Armia created some chances with excellent forechecking and some patience once they had the puck.
8) It was the Canadiens scoring early in the third as Anderson blocked a Brady Skjei shot and then out-skated both Skjei and Brett Pesce for a breakaway where he deked instead of shooting. He finally went five-hole and Raanta got most of it, but the puck still squeaked in to tie the game just 25 seconds into the period.
9) Carolina took their third lead of the game with 6:09 to play as a set faceoff play resulted in a Svechnikov one-timer. Barron made his way all the way up the circle to try to stop the play, but he was just a fraction of a second too late.
10) The momentum swing that ended the game was a big hit on Slafkovsky by Stefan Noesen. Many takes will be had on the hit since it was borderline. My take on it is that he jumps into the hit (not as a result of it), so I’m not okay with it. What was infinitely worse was the response by the Habs. Similar to the sequence in Buffalo (also surrounding Slafkovsky), the Habs absolutely wilted when faced with the physicality of the game. The result was Carolina taking the game over physically and the Habs getting frustrated and taking two dumb penalties. At some point, management and coaches will have to make some hard decisions to get Arber Xhekaj back in the lineup because in my book, that’s two games they’ve lost due to not having him in Montreal.
HabsWorld 3 Stars
1st Star – Mike Matheson
Let’s not get carried away, this was a very up-and-down performance by Matheson. In the end, the bad plays did not end up in the Habs net and his one excellent play did end up in an important goal. Considering the entire game was so-so for the Canadiens, he gets the nod for me.
Stats: 1 goal, even, 1 hit, 2 shots, 25:32 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Cayden Primeau
I can’t explain this one. Primeau played a solid game and made the saves he needed to. He even made a few excellent saves in the third. All of the goals he allowed were deflected or off rebounds. Despite all of this, the stats are not favourable, yet again, for the young netminder. The only thing I can think of is that is he often makes himself small in his net making him susceptible to deflections that other netminders would still stop the puck? I’m not too sure, but it seems rather cruel that the stats continue to undermine interesting efforts from the kid.
Stats: 1 assist, 26 saves on 30 shots, 4.01 GAA, .867 save %, 59:52 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Josh Anderson
A few reasons for this selection, the first of which is the nice goal that is very Anderson of yesteryear’s type. It was a nice goal as he made a strong defensive play and used his wheels to get the chance. The second reason he’s getting my final nod here is that he is the only player who even came close to pushing back after the big hit on Slafkovsky as he cross-checked (let’s be honest, it was still pretty soft) a Hurricane who had no desire to engage with him. At least he tried a bit… right?
Stats: 1 goal, +1, 1 hit, 2 shots, 15:37 T.O.I.