The New York Islanders arrived in Montreal on Saturday for their first of two visits, in second place in the Metropolitan and playing very solid hockey recently. Second game of a back-to-back for them, although that has not helped the Habs much this season.
However, on this occasion, the Canadiens built a 4-0 lead and managed–barely–to hang on to it to take a 5-3 regulation win, only their sixth of the season. In a refreshing change, the scoring came from players suffering from scoring droughts recently.
Slafkovsky – Suzuki – Caufield
Evans – Monahan – Anderson
Gallagher – Dvorak – Armia
Pezzetta – Stephens – Ylonen
Matheson – Savard
Guhle – Barron
Struble – Kovacevic
1) Martin St-Louis said before the game that the Montreal fans deserved a win, and the Habs appeared to have heard that message, as they came out flying at the beginning of the game. Speed! Energy! Discipline! Juraj Slafkovsky nearly set up an opening goal in the first shift, passing the puck to Nick Suzuki. Suzuki tipped it to Cole Caufield, but Semyon Varlamov was there to make a save, a pattern that would repeat many times in the first period as the Habs had repeated scoring chances.
2) The Islanders worked hard on the forecheck in the Montreal zone, but their challenge early on was with poor decisions with the puck, as they repeatedly gave it away in their own zone. Varlamov kept his net clean, though, covering for the defensive errors, a script we have often seen with the Habs as well.
3) Johnathan Kovacevic was called for tripping Casey Cizikas three minutes into the second period. It looked like only a light touch on the skates, but Cizikas went down and the referee’s arm went up. Only three total penalties in the game tonight, though. The Islanders controlled the ensuing power play, but the Montreal penalty-killers were effective in keeping the puck to the outside, and the three shots on net were not dangerous.
4) About three minutes after Kovacevic returned, the Habs’ pressure finally bore fruit. Brendan Gallagher won a puck battle on the right-side boards in the Islanders’ zone and managed to pass the puck to Joel Armia while falling down, in a classic Gallagher effort. Armia drifted to the left in front of the net, using the defenders as a screen, and wristed the puck past Varlamov for the early Montreal lead, and his fourth of the season.
5) Three more minutes, and another workman-like effort paid off for the bleu, blanc, et rouge: Jake Evans and Sean Monahan applied pressure deep in the zone to keep control of the puck, and got it back to the blue line for Justin Barron. Barron’s shot hit Josh Anderson near the hash marks, but Anderson was alert, as he picked up the loose puck, spun around, and snapped it past a surprised Varlamov to double the lead at 2-0.
6) That was Anderson’s first goal against a goaltender this season, but he wasn’t done quite yet. With less than a minute remaining in the period, the Habs were all over the Islanders in the offensive zone. The puck came loose near the right-side hash marks, and Anderson drove for it. Managing the puck with his left hand, he beat Mike Reilly to get to the net. Varlamov got his right pad out to make the save, but Anderson was able to lift the rebound over the pad to take the lead to three goals.
7) The announcer was still pronouncing the goal to the ecstatic Bell Centre crowd but the Habs’ top line was already back at work, with the puck again deep in the New York zone. Slafkovsky got the puck loose behind the net, Suzuki picked it up and fed it to Caufield, who was ready at the opposing goal post. Varlamov had no chance as the young sniper scored his first goal in eight games.
8) The Islanders came out far more determined for the third period, and the play started with the Habs hemmed into their own zone. When the Canadiens were able to rush out, Slafkovsky was key, carrying the puck through the neutral zone and into the New York zone. Slafkovsky’s work was excellent, as he patiently waited for the space to make a play. The pass to Caufield didn’t generate a scoring chance but it did draw a penalty as Anders Lee slashed Caufield. The power play itself was a disaster, though, as the Canadiens made sloppy passes and were not able to maintain control. And worse, they gave a breakaway chance to Brock Nelson, who fired a shot through Samuel Montembeault’s pads to open the scoring and bring the Islanders within three.
9) That goal really awakened the Islanders, and it was all New York from there. The Habs had outshot the Islanders 36-16 through the first two periods and had a 19-3 edge in high-danger scoring chances, but in the third, those numbers were reversed: 18-5 shots for New York, and 11-1 high-danger scoring chances. Nelson was open on the side of the net two minutes later to close the gap to two, and, finally, Bo Horvat tapped in a loose rebound with six minutes remaining, as the Habs’ defence was in complete disarray.
10) St-Louis finally seemed to get his troops reorganized after that, and the Islanders were not able to get control in the Montreal zone long enough to pull Varlamov until there was little more than a minute left on the clock. Slafkovsky then missed on a long shot at the open net, but Suzuki got the puck to Christian Dvorak, who sealed the victory much to the relief of the Bell Centre crowd.
HW Habs Three Stars
First Star: Josh Anderson (2g, 0a, 6 shots, 16:38 TOI) may not have been the best player in the Habs lineup, but breaking through his scoring struggles–in style–merits a first-star selection. After only an empty-netter so far this year, two goals on six shots was yeoman’s work and got Anderson closer to what his season trend should be.
Second Star: Juraj Slafkovsky (0a, 1g, 4 hits, 2 shots, 19:26 TOI) is looking better and better as the season progresses. He is shooting more, he is finding Suzuki and Caufield with his passes, and also making defensive plays.
Third Star: Samuel Montembeault (31 shots, 28 saves, 0.909 save percentage) didn’t have much work to do in the first or second period, but he kept the Canadiens in the game in the third when the Habs’ defence fell apart under the Islanders’ pressure, making key saves to prevent the Islanders from tying up the game.