HabsWorld.net -- 

The Habs kicked off their final week of home games in 2023 on Wednesday as they hosted Pittsburgh.  They weren’t able to capitalize on late power plays and eventually lost in a 12-round marathon shootout, falling 4-3.

Martin St. Louis opted to keep most of the lineup the same from Sunday’s loss to Nashville.  The forwards and back end remained the same (meaning Emil Heineman’s NHL debut will have to wait) while the goalie rotation continued with Samuel Montembeault getting the nod.  The rest of the team lined up as follows:

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

Matheson – Savard
Guhle – Barron
Struble – Kovacevic

10 Thoughts

1) The game got off to a really slow start with the shots tied at one apiece six minutes in.  Basically, the only Hab generating anything offensively was David Savard who attempted to deke past several Penguins on one shift and drove the net on another.  He was eventually rewarded for his efforts though, as he held the line on an Erik Karlsson clearing attempt.  It was the right decision as Karlsson put a perfect pass on his stick, allowing him to come in and fire one past Alex Nedeljkovic.  Savard is not a particularly skilled offensive player nor does his offence develop quickly but when he gets the time to do something, he does it relatively well.

2) Montreal has been relying on its blueliners joining the attack and it paid off once again just past the midway mark.  Jayden Struble gained the zone, sent it to Jesse Ylonen, and drove the net.  The puck worked its way back to him and he potted it to double the lead.  I’ve said for years now that he’d be a better pro than a college player.  But I didn’t expect him to be this effective this quickly.  Jordan Harris is two weeks away from returning but right now, it’d be hard to pull Struble to open a spot for him.

3) Kaiden Guhle has been one of Montreal’s most reliable defencemen all season long.  But even reliable blueliners make mistakes.  He skated the puck out from behind his net way too casually, resulting in a turnover.  The Habs didn’t recover from there.  Montembeault made the first stop but Sidney Crosby was there to lift the rebound past him.  Guhle had time and space to make the safer play.  St. Louis talks about trying to emphasize making the right read, not just a read.  Guhle wound up doing the latter and it hurt them.

4) The Canadiens got a late power play when Marcus Pettersson, one of Pittsburgh’s better penalty killers, was sent off for interference.  The strangest thing happened…Montreal actually scored on it.  Mike Matheson’s shot through a screen squeaked through Nedeljkovic but looked like it was going to stop on the goal line.  Fortunately, Sean Monahan was there to tap it in to get the forwards on the board.  Sometimes, the best point shot is the one that just gets on net where the traffic and rebound ultimately yield the better look.  This was one of those, a nice contrast compared to when he’s trying to blast a point shot home.

5) Montreal did a nice job killing off an early interference call on Johnathan Kovacevic in the second period but a neutral ice turnover wound up leading to a too-many-men call, extending Pittsburgh’s advantage.  Soon after, Jake Guentzel fired one through the slot past Montembeault.  Not the start to the period the Habs were looking for although it foreshadowed the rest of the frame.

6) Regression to the Mean, Part 1: At some point, Josh Anderson has to score on a goalie.  Near the eight-minute mark, Anderson had not one, not two, but three slot looks on Nedeljkovic.  They were good looks in a scramble with him doing everything right.  One of these days, something has to go his way, right?  He can’t have a shooting percentage below two forever; it’s usually above ten.  Something has to give at some point.

7) Regression to the Mean, Part 2: For the talent that the Penguins have, the fact they boast one of the worst power plays in the NHL is incomprehensible.  With their firepower, once they got one, you had to figure they’d score in bunches.  Pittsburgh scored twice on Tuesday with the man advantage (snapping a 13-game drought) and wouldn’t you know it, the floodgates have opened.  After Juraj Slafkovsky was called for hooking midway through the period, Crosby quickly scored his second of the night, banking a shot off Mike Matheson and in.  Now that they’re scoring, watch for them to jump up the league-wide power play rankings quickly.

8) The Habs had their chances to score a second power play goal.  The first one was early in the third and it was a pretty good one for both units but they couldn’t score.  They had another chance late in regulation when Drew O’Connor went for goalie interference and squandered it.  Then they got one in overtime when Evgeni Malkin was called for tripping.  That one wasn’t much better, save for a good look at the end.  You can’t miss that many opportunities and come away with a win very often.

9) Having said that, I do want to point out that the Habs played a very good third period.  They controlled the play, had lots of offensive zone time, and held the Penguins to one shot in the final 12 minutes.  That’s about as good a period as you can have without scoring.  At a time when closing out games has been a challenge, this was a nice step in the right direction, even without a goal.

10) That was one of the wackier shootouts the Habs had.  12 rounds with four goals in a row to start and then hardly anything after.  I’m a bit surprised Mitchell Stephens wasn’t picked to go though.  He’s someone that typically is in an offensive role in Laval and if memory serves, he has been decent at that level.  I’d have tried him over some of the options at the end.  Having said that, it’s hard to quibble when you’re in Round 12.  From Montembeault’s standpoint, stopping eight is pretty good, even in the loss.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: David Savard – When Savard is on his game, he can still be an impact player.  Part of this is likely him benefitting from being well rested but he was sharp at both ends of the rink in this one.  Games like this are why he still has a lot of value on this back end as a stabilizer which stands out in a group that doesn’t exactly have anyone quite like him.

Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 4 shots, 23:27 TOI

2nd Star: Mike Matheson – If it felt like he hardly ever left the ice, it’s because he hardly left the ice.  He played half the game which is nuts.  Matheson was involved plenty offensively and defensively with a lot more good than bad.  For this game at least, Montreal’s top pairing was quite sharp.

Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 5 shots, 32:21 TOI

3rd Star: Cole Caufield – The scoring chances were there and he helped draw the first power play in the third off one of his misses.  Given his salary, fans are rightfully critical of his lower-than-expected production.  But he’s still quite effective and dangerous when the puck is on his stick.  Games like this show it’s only a matter of time before they start going in…probably in bunches as is often the case for streaky scorers.

Stats: 0 points, 6 shots, 23:07 TOI