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After a meet in Carolina on Thursday, the Canadiens travelled to Sunrise, Florida to tangle with the Panthers on a rare Saturday night road game. Jonathan Kovacevic was in the press box for a second game, while Jake Allen took over the goaltending duties from Cayden Primeau.

It was another well-built team that the Habs would face for their penultimate game of 2023, although with a different playing style from the Hurricanes that they had played two days prior. Again, though, they were in the game until well into the third period, and again they ended up losing by multiple goals. This time it was the power play that made the real difference: the edge was 2-1 for Florida, with all three scored on the power play before the hosts sealed the win with two late goals.

Starting lineup:

Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Monahan – Evans – Anderson
Armia – Dvorak – Gallagher
Pezzetta – Stephens – Ylonen

Matheson – Savard
Guhle – Barron
Struble – Harris


Ten Thoughts

1) Just three minutes in, Michael Pezzetta took exception to a hit by William Lockwood, and the two quickly dropped their gloves. Lockwood is a couple of weight classes below Pezzetta, and the latter pummelled the Florida winger pretty freely until the two tumbled to the ice. Lockwood’s fight at least got him something on the scoresheet, for the first time in his fourteen games with the Panthers.

2) Carter Verhaeghe high-sticked Josh Anderson in the Habs’ zone, earning himself a two-minute vacation in the penalty box. Anderson fell down on the play but was still able to send the puck out of the defensive zone. While the power play amounted to nothing, Anderson’s play on the incident itself was a great example of the energy he is showing now. A near-breakaway in the first minute of play and the two best chances on that power play were all classic Anderson, who appears to have rediscovered his mojo.

3) Cole Caufield may not be scoring bucketfuls, but his defensive work is hugely improved from last season. The diminutive winger battles for pucks in the defensive zone like there is no tomorrow, and wins a fair share of those battles, too. Now, we want to see him combine the elite scoring with the 200-foot game in the coming seasons …

4) Former Hab Nick Cousins stole the puck from Mike Matheson and dashed for a breakaway, with David Savard on his heels. Savard never let up, and Cousins could not get a clear shot on goal. In the end, Allen made a fairly easy save, and Cousins slid unhappily into the end boards. He did not appear to have fond thoughts for Savard as he got back on his feet.

5) Four minutes from the end of the first, Jake Evans won a board battle at the defensive blue line and broke into the Florida zone. He was able to make a clean pass to Joel Armia, but all the big Finn saw was Anthony Stolarz, as the Florida goalie had slid across.

6) Nick Suzuki was sent off for holding two minutes into the second period, and the penalty kill looked good and aggressive at first. However, with the seconds ticking down on the penalty, the Panthers got their power play set up, and that finally paid off for them. The Evan Rodrigues shot from between the hash marks hit Eetu Luostarinen in front of the net. Luostarinen was alert, and as the puck bounced in the air, knee-high, he swatted it past Jake Allen for the opening goal.

7) Rodrigues, in turn, was called for holding Matheson just a few minutes later. This time the power play was working better, with movement and crisp passes. And Caufield, he of the defensive efforts in the first period, was in the right place at the right time. Suzuki sent a pass to the young sniper, near the left-side post, and Caufield snapped a quick backhand shot to the top corner of the net to tie the game back up at 1-1.

8) With the Habs called for too many men on the ice–the third of only four minors against the bleu, blanc, et rouge on the night–Florida had another chance to get their power play formation working well. This time they got it going late, and Verhaeghe scored just as Pezzetta jumped out of the penalty box. Except for the fact that the Habs’ coaching team was paying attention, and had noticed that the puck had come out of the zone about 40 seconds earlier. A challenge followed, and it took little time for the referees to restore the score to one apiece.

9) With 80 seconds left in the period, Jesse Ylonen made a mistake at the blue line, trying to carry the puck out when flipping it would have been the safe play. Luostarinen snatched the puck away and dashed for the goal, but Justin Barron was on him to ensure he did not get a good shot away. Yes, Barron can be very effective defensively, too.

10) With the third period approaching its midway point, there had still only been about 30 shots all said by the two teams. But then Armia was called for roughing, and the Florida power play got into action. The Habs’ penalty kill unit had trouble getting to the puck, let alone clearing it, and the man advantage eventually paid off for Florida: Luostarinen grabbed it in the corner and was able to skate for the corner of the net with no defenders interfering with him. And then it was nearly a carbon copy of the Caufield goal, with Luostarinen also lifting a backhand shot up into this corner, this time over Allen’s shoulder for the eventual winner; Sam Bennett scored late and Verhaeghe added the empty-netter to put it out of reach.

HW Habs 3 Stars

First Star: Cole Caufield (1g, 0a, 3 shots, -1, 19:29 TOI) was working the 200-foot game very effectively, and scored a pretty backhand goal. He is more effective on offence now, with Juraj Slafkovsky on the top line, but it’s even more encouraging to see that his game is developing new aspects and is far less one-dimensional than expected.

Second Star: Mike Matheson (0g, 1a, 2 shots, -1, 22:36 TOI) was effective in the offensive zone, as might be expected. In addition to his assist, he also set Suzuki up for a dangerous scoring chance–which, alas, ended up on the goalpost–but he also logged three minutes of hard-fought penalty kill time.

Third Star: Josh Anderson (0g, 0a, 2 shots, -1, 18:31 TOI) fought hard, skated hard, and had several close-up scoring chances on Anthony Stolarz, but could not bury the puck this time.