After nearly pulling off a comeback victory against Detroit, the Habs looked to get back in the win column on Monday against Seattle. This time, they got the early lead and nearly blew it but held on for the 4-2 victory.
Before the game, the Habs activated Arber Xhekaj off injured reserve. However, rather than take someone out of the lineup or send Mattias Norlinder down, Montreal opted to send Xhekaj to Laval. It might be a short-term thing to allow him to get back to playing condition but either way, it allowed the back end from Saturday night to stay the same. Meanwhile, the rest of the team lined up as follows after Martin St. Louis made more line changes:
1) Putting three players together who haven’t scored in ages is an interesting strategy. But the one thing the Monahan line has is enough experience to do some of the fundamentals. That led to the first goal. Jake Evans pressured Jamie Oleksiak, forcing the turnover. Josh Anderson was backing him up and was there to collect the puck. Sean Monahan read the play and got to open space for an easy tap-in, his first goal in just over a month.
2) Seattle has kept the same defensive pairings for the last 25 games (a stark contrast to Montreal who lately has changed things up about every 25 minutes) but you wouldn’t have known it in the opening period. They flubbed several clearing attempts and full credit to the Habs as they were able to knock most of them down to maintain offensive zone production. It didn’t lead to any extra goals but zone time and scoring chances were certainly welcome as one of the worst first period teams in the league (Montreal is 32nd in GF% in the first period) outscored the fourth-best.
3) While the Monahan line worked, I do question the decision to put Juraj Slafkovsky on the top line. I know they want to reward him for some improved play but what was the discussion after Saturday’s game? He needs to shoot more and defer less. Put him with the two top forwards on the team and what do you think is going to happen? He’s going to keep deferring to the others. He picked up a turnover in the offensive zone late in the first and even while he was skating toward the net, he was looking to pass, not even providing the faintest threat of a shot. I’ll acknowledge that the pass was the better play but when you telegraph that it’s coming, it loses its threat. Meanwhile, it’s mixed messages – we want you to shoot more but will put you with players you’re always going to want to pass to.
4) Let’s go back to the fundamentals. After a long start to the second without a whistle, Jayden Struble does well to keep the puck in with Christian Dvorak shooting soon after. Brendan Gallagher was there for the screen and Tanner Pearson got to the weak side to corral the tip, leading to an easy goal, his first in 20 games. The Habs are not a team that typically does the basics well. It’s part of why they have a losing record and hey, they’re a young team so it’s understandable. But when they execute the little things right, good things happen.
5) Speaking of doing the little things right, there was finally some movement on the power play. After Slafkovsky drew a tripping call on Adam Larsson, the Canadiens got to work in the offensive zone. But instead of passing it around with little movement, Caufield and Suzuki eventually swapped places, leading to Seattle players following them. That opened a quick seam for a quick tic-tac-goal play as Monahan rifled home his second of the night.
6) Getting pinned for long shifts is a killer and it came back to bite the Habs. The Dvorak line and the Matheson pairing were all out for nearly three minutes. That group held their own for a while against the pressure, keeping the play largely to the outside but in the end, their exhaustion (and Matheson losing his stick) opened a path for Jared McCann to beat Montembeault to get the Kraken on the board.
7) I’ve referenced the talking point before about process and results. It’s a results-driven league but process on a game-to-game basis (even shift-to-shift) can’t be overlooked. That’s where I am with Josh Anderson. He played with some energy and used his speed to generate a good chance late in the second. That’s a nine-out-of-ten type of play with the one drawback being that it didn’t go in. But Anderson has put a few games like this together now. It was only a matter of time before something went his way.
8) Mike Matheson took his second penalty of the game early in the third, this time for hooking. The first penalty kill unit bent but didn’t break, eventually clearing the zone around 65 seconds into the advantage. The second unit tried the same approach of keeping Seattle to the outside but this time, it didn’t work. Vince Dunn’s first point shot was stopped but Eeli Tolvanen fed him the rebound and he blasted one blocker side past Montembeault. It would have been nice to see a bit more pressure rather than just trying to hold on, even with a two-goal lead.
9) Did anyone else think that after Suzuki was stopped on a two-on-one with less than five minutes left that something bad was going to happen? Brandon Tanev nearly scored after Kaiden Guhle crashed into Montembeault and even in the final couple of minutes, it was a fairly passive defence from the Habs who seemed to be in full prevent mode. That was concerning.
10) That said, while it wasn’t pretty, it worked out with Anderson firing one into the open net to seal the victory. I don’t think it’s the way he wanted to get one but it went in and that’s what matters. He snapped his goalless drought although the drought for him actually scoring on a goalie will live on a little longer. But back to that talk about process. Keep doing the right things and eventually, something goes the way it should. Nice to see him get rewarded.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Sean Monahan – It was an odd line combination but hey, for one game, it worked. Monahan scored the opening goal plus the power play marker that stood as the winner. I have to admit, I didn’t think that line was great in between but two goals is two goals and he now sits alone as Montreal’s goal leader.
Stats: 2 goals, +1 rating, 2 shots, 3/6 faceoffs, 17:24 TOI
2nd Star: Samuel Montembeault – The final numbers might suggest he was peppered with a lot of scoring chances but that wasn’t the case. But Montembeault played a steady game and didn’t kick out too many rebounds off of a pretty high shot total, making a few key stops along the way. Overall, a solid performance.
Stats: 2 GA on 33 shots, 2.00 GAA, .939 SV%
3rd Star: Johnathan Kovacevic – He was shuffled around quite a bit during the game with St. Louis opting to limit Struble’s minutes but the end result seemed to be the same whoever he was with. Most of the time, the puck was in Seattle’s end when he was on the ice, yielding very positive possession stats. It’s his second straight game of 20+ minutes after going six straight below that mark.
Stats: 0 points, +2 rating, 2 shots, 20:23 TOI