After coming up just short on Saturday versus Edmonton, the Habs looked to get back in the win column on Monday against Colorado. They struggled considerably at times but a good second half helped secure them the 4-3 win.
Martin St. Louis opted to make just one lineup change from their last game, that being between the pipes with Jake Allen getting the start. Josh Anderson wasn’t quite ready yet to return from his lower-body injury so the team lined up as follows:
Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Harvey-Pinard – Evans – Gallagher
Roy – Monahan – Armia
Pezzetta – Stephens – Ylonen
Matheson – Guhle
Struble – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic
1) A pregame thought. If Samuel Montembeault is supposed to be the undisputed and unquestioned number one goalie, isn’t this a game he should have had? Meanwhile, if you’re trying to showcase Jake Allen, sitting him for a week and a half and then playing him against one of the best offences in the league seems a little counterproductive, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to have Allen play last week (likely the San Jose game) and have this one be Montembeault’s second straight?
2) During his press conference today, GM Kent Hughes acknowledged he wanted to add more offence to the Canadiens. The opening few minutes were a good example of just how correct he was in that assessment as the Habs were lifeless and could barely get the puck over centre ice. That resulted in an early penalty to Michael Pezzetta for a hold on Fredrik Olofsson and after Allen made several saves on the man advantage, Ross Colton was able to bang home a rebound on his initial shot to open up the scoring.
3) When the Habs got their first man advantage a few minutes later when Brendan Gallagher drew a hook on Sam Malinski, they tried a different power play strategy of sorts – copy the other team. (Frankly, that’s not the worst idea considering how things have gone with the man advantage.) Juraj Slafkovsky got the puck at the side of Alexandar Georgiev, shot quickly to generate a rebound, then buried that rebound. Nice to see him get one that will stick with him; he had one changed over last week.
4) That goal seemed to get Montreal going as they were able to keep pace with the high-octane Avalanche for the rest of the period. Sustaining that would be asking a lot but after the team sleep-walked through the Philadelphia and San Jose games last week, seeing them play with some pace was nice to see.
5) Well, let’s say they didn’t sustain it. Colorado made a conscious effort to use their speed and it flummoxed Montreal’s defence. Their man coverage came back to hurt them early with the Avs using some speed in a three-man game at the blueline. The defenders didn’t call for a switch, eventually resulting in Cole Caufield having to cover Cale Makar and having to travel a long way to get there. Makar had ample time to get a shot off and made no mistake, firing it past Allen. Understanding that they were on to something, Colorado kept attacking with speed and crisscrossing in the offensive zone to either create openings in coverage or find the gaps. The end result was a lot of quality scoring chances while the Canadiens were lucky to get a controlled zone entry let alone any sort of sustained zone time.
6) Their fortunes started to change near the midway mark. Joel Armia was called for a hook on Andrew Cogliano to prevent a breakaway, putting the Habs shorthanded. They kept Colorado to the outside and eventually, Makar took a hard shot that Rafael Harvey-Pinard blocked and, while on the ice, he fired the puck into the crowd. Montreal did well to kill off the brief two-man advantage plus the rest of Harvey-Pinard’s penalty without allowing any sort of threatening shot through.
7) That galvanized the home side who started to take the play back to Colorado, getting some sustained zone time later in the period. They were eventually rewarded for their efforts when Harvey-Pinard got around a defender and squeaked a shot past Georgiev. Oddly enough, had it not been for a blatant trip on Jake Evans going uncalled, that goal never would have happened.
8) The third got off to a much better start. After Kaiden Guhle was held by Mikko Rantanen, the Habs went back to the power play…and scored again. Cole Caufield likes to shoot short-side on his off-wing and Georgiev was ready for it. However, after a give-and-go with Suzuki, Caufield caught Georgiev off guard, going far-side instead. Predictability is an issue for the power play and this was another one that was much less predictable than normal.
9) However, the lead was short-lived as another form of special teams (well, sort of) came into play. After Evans was called for embellishment (apparently he can’t earn a power play no matter what) to create a four-on-four situation, Rantanen gained the offensive zone and sent a cross-ice feed to Devon Toews. His shot went off Jayden Struble past Allen to tie it up. Tough luck for Struble in this one as not only did he redirect this one in, he also took Jesse Ylonen out of the game late in the second with a dump-in catching him in the head.
10) Going with 11 forwards resulted in some strange line combinations, one of which panned out in the end. Joel Armia was on the ice with Sean Monahan and Mitchell Stephens and while his first shot was blocked, he outmuscled two Colorado defenders and buried the rebound to give Montreal the improbable win.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Joel Armia – These are the games that keep giving him ample opportunities in the lineup, even when the team is closer to full health. He had a strong defensive outing, won several board battles, and used his size effectively, helping to set up the winner. If only he did this more often.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 3 shots, 19:49 TOI
2nd Star: Jake Allen – While I still disagree with him getting this start, full credit to him for a solid bounce-back performance. When the Avs were putting the full-court press on, Allen being able to keep the puck out and allowing the team to find its skating legs was a huge difference-maker in this one.
Stats: 3 GA on 35 shots, 3.00 GAA, .914 SV%
3rd Star: Cole Caufield – Montreal’s power play had a rare strong performance in this one with Caufield playing a big part in that. He had an assist on the Slafkovsky goal while his perfectly-placed shot early in the third gave the Habs their first lead. You never know when a shooter can get on a hot streak but now some of these are going in at least.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, -2 rating, 3 shots, 20:17 TOI