The Edmonton Oilers arrived in Montreal for a Saturday-night rumble with the Canadiens, riding a nine-game winning streak. Meanwhile, the home team was coming off a pair of stinkers against the Flyers and the Sharks, so the question for the Habs fans was whether they would be able to put up a fight against one of the top teams in the league.
The bleu, blanc, et rouge looked great for a while but were eventually fighting for their lives in the third period, and a 2-1 overtime loss was surely an acceptable outcome even for head coach Martin St-Louis. Outshot 41-24 and with an xG deficit of 4.72-2.41, it would have taken more luck than this to pull out a victory against the Oilers.
Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Harvey-Pinard – Evans – Gallagher
Roy – Monahan – Armia
Pezzetta – Stephens – Ylonen
Matheson – Guhle
Struble – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic
1) The Habs got a power play opportunity very quickly as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tripped Cole Caufield only 46 seconds into the game. Sean Monahan won the faceoff in the Edmonton zone, avoiding those dreaded zone entries, and the power play looked good once again, with movement and rotation. It would be good to see Caufield moving a bit more, but with Nick Suzuki, Juraj Slafkovsky, and Monahan, at least they are not depending on a single weapon. A positive sign this time was the board battles, as the Habs managed to foil the Oilers three times, keeping the puck in play. And, one minute into the power play, they got results, as Suzuki made an outstanding cross-ice pass to Caufield, who was ready and drilled the puck past Stuart Skinner for a 1-0 lead.
2) Juraj Slafkovsky has been playing better since December, gaining confidence and then playing better again–a virtuous circle, now. A highlight in the first period was a toe-drag-and-turn combination to avoid two defenders between two circles for a good chance.
3) Connor McDavid, Zach Hyman, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are not to be trifled with. The Oilers’ top line has combined for seventeen goals during their nine-game winning streak, and they were clearly intent on adding to that total tonight. When they got their game going, and gained the Montreal zone, there was little that the Habs could do to regain possession and exit the zone. Often it was only Montembeault snatching the puck to stop the play that enabled them to get out. Still, on even strength, McDavid was unable to solve Montembeault, in spite of his own birthday and all.
4) Michael Pezzetta tangled with Vincent Desharnais (no relation to ex-Hab David), including some cross-checking and shoving, early in the second. He left for the dressing room and then returned midway through the period, but only skated one more shift. Another injury for the Habs’ already-depleted forward corps?
5) The Canadiens’ excellent faceoff work, even in the absence of Christian Dvorak, continued as they won 53% against the Oilers. Suzuki won 67% of his draws, and both Evans and Monahan were over 55%. As an example of what they are able to achieve with this, late in the second period, Draisaitl was tossed from the faceoff in the Montreal zone, and Evans won it cleanly. Evans immediately broke out with Monahan, who managed a shot on Skinner. It was not a dangerous one, but Skinner held the puck–and moved the faceoff to the Edmonton zone.
6) On the first play of the third period, the Habs’ defence once again fended off a McDavid attack, with the shot deflected over the glass. However, on the ensuing play, Warren Foegele tucked the puck onto Montembeault’s left skate, which was jammed against the post, and Leon Draisaitl then fought off Savard to tap the puck into the net. Martin St. Louis challenged the goal on the basis of Foegele having interfered with Montembeault. Unsuccessfully, though, so the score stayed at 1-1, and the Oilers would go on a power play.
7) The Habs’ penalty kill was remarkably good this time, though, and, better yet, McDavid ran into Montembeault with 40 seconds remaining in the penalty. That kicked off three frantic minutes of end-to-end action, first four-on-four, then on a Habs power play, and finally at full strength, with chances at both ends of the ice. Monahan nearly tipped one in on the power play to restore the Montreal lead, but that was not to be, as the puck glanced off the post.
8) With Foegele having tripped Joel Armia, the Canadiens got another power play opportunity just before the midway point of the period. With Monahan winning the faceoff cleanly, the top power play unit got to work. Movement, rotation, and the passing all worked well, but the Oilers were utilizing much the same penalty killing strategy as the Habs, keeping the opposition to the outside. The Habs managed three shots on net, but they were from far enough anyway that Skinner appeared to not be troubled by them.
9) With two minutes remaining in the third, the shots for the period were 18-8 in favour of the Oilers, and as Edmonton broke into the Habs’ zone, Brendan Gallagher had to resort to hooking Cody Ceci to stop a scoring play. There would be no mercy for Gallagher–there rarely is–and the Oilers would go on a fourth power play with only 1:49 remaining on the clock. Edmonton threw everything they had into that power play, but the penalty kill, exemplified by Armia and Monahan, played them perfectly, and the Oilers had little enough to shoot at.
10) Once the 11 seconds of power play had expired, the Oilers were quickly called for an offside, setting up three-on-three play. Mike Matheson joined Suzuki and Caufield on an excellent rush and then, remarkably, skated back to catch up with Draisaitl in the Habs’ zone and knock the puck off the Oiler star’s stick. An outstanding end-to-end play, no question. Alas, on the ensuing attack, Matheson’s stick caught Darnell Nurse in the face, and now the Oilers had yet another man-advantage opportunity, only four-on-three this time. And they made it count, as McDavid passed the puck to Evan Bouchard, who one-timed the puck off the post and in, on the 41st Edmonton shot of the game.
HW Habs 3 Stars
First Star: Samuel Montembeault (41 shots, 39 saves, .951 save %, 2.72 GSAx) couldn’t quite steal the game for the Canadiens, but he was solid in net, calmly foiling the Oiler attacks time and time again. Beyond the save percentage, he is exuding the kind of confidence the team needs, knowing that their goaltender will backstop them and keep them in the game.
Second Star: Mike Matheson (0g, 1a, 4 shots, +0, 27:42 TOI) did yeoman’s work with nearly 28 minutes on the ice. An assist on the Caufield power play goal and an outstanding play in overtime to prevent the Draisaitl scoring opportunity were the highlights; the unfortunate penalty in overtime looked accidental and should not detract from an outstanding performance.
Third Star: Joel Armia (0g, 0a, 0 shots, +0, 17:58) was a key cog in the penalty kill unit, keeping the Oilers’ big guns to the outside, and clearing the puck repeatedly from the Canadiens’ defensive zone. No, he is not scoring but, as a role player, he is still making the Habs a better team.