After another rough outing to start the week, the Habs look to get back on track on Thursday as they hosted the Islanders. They started strong before blowing the lead late in the third but managed to get one with just over two minutes to go to get the 4-3 win.
Considering how much Montreal has struggled lately, it shouldn’t come as much surprise that all four forward lines were different compared to how Tuesday’s game started in Ottawa. Lucas Condotta made his season debut, taking the place of Joshua Roy in the lineup while Samuel Montembeault got the nod in net. The rest of the team lined up as follows:
Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Slafkovsky – Monahan – Armia
Pearson – Evans – Gallagher
Pezzetta – Condotta – Harvey-Pinard
Matheson – Guhle
Struble – Savard
Xhekaj – Kovacevic
1) After how the last few games went, getting off to a good start was critical. They certainly checked that box. Montembeault made some good saves early and after a long stretch without a whistle, the Habs got their first power play of the game when Hudson Fasching flipped the puck into the crowd. The top unit moved the puck around well, eventually leading to a tic…tac…tip goal. Sean Monahan fed the puck to Juraj Slafkovsky who sent it to the slot where Nick Suzuki tipped it home. Considering how fragile the Canadiens have been lately, this had to boost their confidence.
2) The Isles got their first man advantage near the midway point on a Rafael Harvey-Pinard hook. It was short but eventful. Montreal got a three-on-one off the draw, then New York had a two-on-one the other way. The Canadiens came back with one of those on their own, eventually leading to David Savard getting slashed by Kyle Palmieri. It was a smart penalty to take as otherwise, Savard had a wide-open net to shoot at from in close.
3) When you think of Cole Caufield’s offence, you likely naturally gravitate to his shot and his ability to pick a tight spot and hit on those at a pretty good clip. But that’s not the only way he can score. After Suzuki chased down a turned-over puck, he sent a quick feed to Caufield who danced around a defender, deked, and beat Semyon Varlamov who appeared to be expecting a shot instead. The scouting report appeared to work in Caufield’s favour there.
4) Notably, Caufield’s goal was still in the four-on-four phase, meaning the Habs would still get a brief power play. They made it count as well, as Mike Matheson skated in and fed a centring feed to Monahan in the slot. Somehow, Monahan was uncovered (you can see why the Islanders made a coaching change over the weekend) and snapped it past Varlamov. After some ugly periods in the last few games, this one couldn’t have gone much better for the home side.
5) The second period? Well, not so much. After failing to score on a carryover power play, Montreal got into some penalty trouble. Jayden Struble took a slashing call on Kyle Palmieri and it looked like the Islanders scored soon after but the whistle went before the puck was tapped in.
6) But that reprieve was short-lived. Seconds later, Jake Evans tried to get around Noah Dobson for a breakaway. He succeeded in getting around him but that was only because he grabbed Dobson’s arm and gave it a toss out of the way. The end result was a long five-on-three and eventually, Mathew Barzal sent a cross-ice feed to Bo Horvat. David Savard got a piece of the pass but not enough as Horvat fired it past Montembeault who had no chance.
7) When Arber Xhekaj was sent to the minors, he had a few things to work on. One of them was not taking as many penalties. He isn’t doing too well at that as he took his second unnecessary penalty in the back half of the second period, one that was about 40 feet away from the puck. (This after taking a penalty on Tuesday as well.) Montreal barely survived the penalty kill – a kick save from Savard played a big role in that – but that can’t be the impression Xhekaj is looking to make on the coaching staff. Montreal had a few good moments in the second period but for the most part, they were on their heels. Meanwhile, Xhekaj hardly played after that, logging just 3:12 of ice time in the final 26-plus minutes of the game.
8) In the first half of the third period, the Canadiens did a nice job defensively, playing with structure. This is something we don’t see that often. And then Brendan Gallagher decided to hand New York all the momentum with an elbow to the head of Adam Pelech. While I don’t think he was aiming for the head, it was a clear and deliberate elbow, landing him a well-deserved match penalty for his troubles. Gallagher has had issues staying out of the box in the third period, especially this season and it is at the point where he simply cannot be trusted to be used in a close game most nights. The question now is how many games he’ll be missing as this is a clear-cut suspension. I’d love to see an extra game tacked on as a healthy scratch when he returns as he needs to be held accountable for the continued penalty trouble.
9) The Habs did a nice job early in the ensuing five-minute kill but started to falter and the Islanders took advantage. Barzal roofed one past Montembeault while Kyle Palmieri buried a rebound 80 seconds later to tie it up. I’m not faulting Montembeault for the blown lead either; he had a very solid game, a good bounce-back after an ugly outing in Boston on Saturday and could very easily have landed in our three stars.
10) To Montreal’s credit, they didn’t give up and as soon as the penalty ended, they were back on the attack. It paid off as Pierre Engvall had a brutal giveaway in New York’s end, giving the Habs possession back. They took advantage and seconds later, Josh Anderson set up Monahan in the slot and he one-timed it home. From there, the Habs narrowly (and I mean narrowly) survived the final two minutes to hold on for quite the eventful win.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Sean Monahan – After a particularly rough stretch over the last month and change, Monahan has picked things up considerably offensively. He had a nice power play goal in the first thanks to some iffy coverage and his game-winner was a perfectly-placed shot. I don’t think this recent stretch ups the asking price in a trade but it should help cement what should be a pretty good return if and when it happens.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +1 rating, 5 shots, 6/15 faceoffs, 17:22 TOI
2nd Star: Cole Caufield – His first-period goal was certainly one of his more memorable regulation-time tallies of the season but I also want to highlight the fact he had some successful board battles which is something we don’t see all that often. The all-around game is slowly coming around while his goal touch has certainly come around recently as well.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating, 4 shots, 16:41 TOI
3rd Star: Nick Suzuki – The captain continued his strong offensive play as of late with the opening marker while helping to set up Caufield’s tally. He’s now at a 70-point pace once again which would continue his recent trend of slow but steady improvement on that front. His overall game wasn’t as sharp as usual but it was so critical that Montreal got off to a better start and he helped make that happen.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1 rating, 1 shot, 5/12 faceoffs, 21:01 TOI