After a heartbreaking loss in Minnesota on Thursday, the Habs looked to get back in the win column on Friday in Chicago. They got off to a slow start but then rattled off five unanswered goals to pick up the 5-2 victory.
Martin St. Louis opted to make only one lineup change and that was in goal as Cayden Primeau got the nod between the pipes. The rest of the team lined up as follows:
Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Monahan – Evans – Anderson
Armia – Dvorak – Gallagher
Heineman – Stephens – Ylonen
Matheson – Savard
Guhle – Barron
Struble – Kovacevic
1) Montreal got off to a pretty good start to this one. Defensively, it took nearly nine minutes for Chicago to record a shot on goal. Offensively, they showed a bit of patience and were able to get some slot shots off. There was only one problem. Their best chances went well wide on several occasions. Full credit for getting to the right spots but if you’re not hitting the net (some weren’t even close), it loses a lot of its value.
2) The turning point of the opening period was Montreal’s power play. Sean Monahan was hit by a high stick from Connor Murphy near the midway mark, giving the Habs a good opportunity to open the scoring. Instead, the first unit struggled and the second was a train wreck. So long, momentum.
3) Primeau made his best save of the night with a little over four minutes left. After a brutal turnover at the defensive blueline, Mackenzie Entwistle and Anthony Beauviller had a clear-cut two-on-none. Entwistle kept the puck and got off a strong shot that Primeau had to stretch out on. Beauvillier then had an open net to shoot at on the rebound but Jayden Struble did his best goalie impression, just barely keeping the puck off the goal line. We’ve seen nice plays from Struble in transition lately but this type of defensive read will really resonate with the coaches.
4) Unfortunately, the next turnover came back to bite them. One shift later, Justin Barron (who handled the puck like a grenade several times in the first) gave it away at the offensive blueline, sending Chicago in. Connor Bedard sent a cross-ice feed to Ryan Donato who shot it through a bit of a Barron screen past Primeau glove-side on a shot he’d probably like to have back. That glove is a work in progress. Barron’s rough night continued early in the second when he wiped out while chasing Colin Blackwell. He was out of the way as a result, allowing for a quick pass to Jason Dickinson who doubled the lead with Primeau also well out of position due to him overcompensating on Blackwell’s side.
5) The Habs were able to get that back soon after as Mitchell Stephens deflected a Mike Matheson point shot past Petr Mrazek. That was his first NHL goal (regular season) since March 2020. It was a big goal in the context of the game but also for himself. He’s now waiver-eligible after playing in this game and he’s trying to make a case to stick around. This will help on that front.
6) Struble’s strong showing continued with a pair of hits in quick succession, first on Entwistle and then on Reese Johnson. The second drew the ire of Entwhistle and the gloves came off for Struble’s first NHL fight. Chicago picked up the extra minor on the play but the power play was ugly once again. This time, they didn’t lose the momentum as they didn’t have it beforehand.
7) However, they got it soon after. 37 seconds after the man advantage ended, Jake Evans made a nice play along the left sideboards to get the puck to Sean Monahan and he sent a perfect cross-ice feed to Josh Anderson who chipped it home to tie it. Then two and a half minutes later and with the lines jumbled thanks to Cole Caufield’s absence (he did return soon after), Juraj Slafkovsky corralled the loose puck in the crease and tapped in his second in as many nights. For Anderson, the effort is starting to be rewarded while for Slafkovsky, he’s getting rewarded for getting in front of the net, a good spot for him to be on that top line.
8) Considering Montreal’s inability to defend leads, it was heartening to see them play a sound defensive game for a lot of the third period. It was a lot like the first half of the first period where Chicago’s chances were few and far between. I know the Blackhawks are a weaker opponent but that’s at least something to build on.
9) Of course, a one-goal game means one bad bounce could have erased that strong defensive play but the Habs were eventually rewarded when Slafkovsky set up Suzuki who slipped it behind Mrazek. Evans scored seconds later but that one was successfully challenged for offside. But then the offensive dynamo known as David Savard got it back, intercepting a cross-ice pass and firing it into the empty net, giving him four points in his last two games.
10) It was nice to see the fourth line get more of a regular shift in this one. Considering it was the first half of the back-to-back yesterday, having all three players below seven minutes was quite puzzling. Those are the times when you should be balancing it out a bit knowing there’s a game the next night. This time, Heineman was just under ten minutes, Stephens slightly less, and Jesse Ylonen just over 12 thanks to some power play time. More games with that balance would be nice to see and should pay dividends as the dog days of the season approach later this winter.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Nick Suzuki – Not a flashy game by any stretch but it was efficient and effective. That’s more of what should be expected from Montreal’s captain who probably isn’t going to reach the top levels offensively. But even so, he can still be a difference-maker as he was in this game.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1 rating, 1 shot, 6/11 faceoffs, 18:10 TOI
2nd Star: Juraj Slafkovsky – Once again, another strong showing on the top line. The puck control was strong as was his board play while he was firing away more than usual with six shot attempts. The difference between his play now and just a few weeks ago when he was first moved up to the top line is quite something and is a definite positive sign.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1 rating, 3 shots, 3 hits, 14:59 TOI
3rd Star: Sean Monahan – Don’t look now but he has started to pick it up lately offensively; his assist tonight gives him seven points in his last nine games. He could have had another one had the Evans goal not been called back. His line is an odd one in terms of fit but Evans is playing his best hockey of the year and Anderson is finally starting to score. Monahan has had a hand in that and that was the case again in this one.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 1 shot, 9/13 faceoffs, 18:27 TOI