It was another Saturday night game on the road for the Canadiens, as they visited the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 7,000th road game in the gloried history of the Canadiens franchise. Both teams are now well away from their glory days, although the Canadiens much more so, and the Penguins, too, are approaching a point where a rebuild will become a necessity.
However, the Penguins improved their playoff chances for this year, at least, as they took the maximum two points in this game, the Habs giving up an overtime winner after three hard-fought periods of regulation play.
Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Slafkovsky – Monahan – Armia
Pearson – Evans – Ylonen
Harvey-Pinard – Condotta – Pezzetta
Matheson – Guhle
Struble – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic
1) The game started with the Penguins piling it on, peppering Jake Allen in the Montreal net. As the clock neared the ten-minute mark, the Penguins held an 8-3 edge in shots, but Cole Caufield likely had the best chance in that first half of the first period, as he got the puck near Tristan Jarry’s right-side post. Jarry made the save, but, oh, what could have been…
2) Jordan Harris was sent off at 9:19 for tripping Jeff Carter, bringing the Penguins’ big guns onto the power play. However, Pittsburgh entered the game with a power play scoring percentage of only 13.3%, dead last in the league, despite featuring Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And so it was this time, too: the Penguins recorded four shots on six attempts, but Allen made a great save on Bryan Rust in the only serious scoring chance.
3) While the Penguins controlled the play in the first period (shots 14-8, xGF 59%), it was the bleu, blanc, et rouge getting on the board first. Mike Matheson, having moved up to the left faceoff circle, made a cross-ice pass to Kaiden Guhle, who was at the right-side goalpost, and Jarry was powerless to make the save on Guhle’s shot. It was another goal–and two more points–by the Montreal defence corps, as they continue to be mobile and take advantage of scoring opportunities deep in the offensive zone.
4) Four minutes into the second period, the Penguins finally broke through Allen’s defences. Valtteri Puustinen took a wrist shot from the hash marks, Allen made a clean pad save on the shot, but he could not control the rebound, and Lars Eller, celebrating his one-thousandth NHL game, snapped it past the Canadiens goaltender to tie the game up.
5) The Habs did not get their first power play until past the midway point of the game when Kris Letang got called for interference on Nick Suzuki. However, the Canadiens made it count this time: approaching the midway point of the penalty, Suzuki got the puck cleanly to Sean Monahan on the right side of the net. Jarry might have been expecting the shot from the edge of the blue ice, but Monahan had already spotted Juraj Slafkovsky at the opposite post, and a quick pass later, the young Slovak forward had the puck on his stick with lots of empty net gazing at him. He tried to send a pass across to Cole Caufield but it went off Ryan Graves and n, and the Habs were back in front again, this time by a 2-1 score.
6) Pittsburgh had an outstanding chance to get on the board three minutes into the second, as Noel Acciari rounded the Habs’ net, and tried to tuck a wraparound goal past Allen and into the net. Allen was having none of that, though, and had his pad in the right place at the right time. Meanwhile, Jansen Harkins drove for the net, looking for crumbs off the table, and precipitated a melee behind the net as the Canadiens’ players came to Allen’s rescue.
7) The Penguins are currently the top faceoff team in the league, and they showed it in this game. It’s not often that Monahan and Suzuki are under 42% in a game, but they certainly were mired there in this one, with the Canadiens winning only 39% of the puck drops. Jake Evans only won two of his seven faceoffs, and Lucas Condotta was only trusted with a single face off–which he lost.
8) At the halfway point of the game, the Penguins found their second goal. They had been pressing Montreal, controlling the play, and looking for scoring opportunities on Allen, when Sidney Crosby made the difference. As he got the puck in the right faceoff circle, facing the boards, he made a seeing-eye pass behind him, with nary a look, finding Jake Guentzel skating the far post. Guentzel tipped the puck into the net, with Allen having no chance to respond to the play.
9) Regulation time finished off fast and furious, with the Penguins having the upper hand first after the tying goal, but with the Habs getting into the action as well. However, the real scoring chances were happening in the Canadiens’ end, with only Allen holding down the fort, until the buzzer sounded, mercifully, to mark the end of regulation time play.
10) The Habs won the initial faceoff for overtime and had possession for something like 80% of it, but the outcome was still not what the Montreal fans were looking for. Two and a half minutes in, Matheson’s shot was blocked by Evgeni Malkin–who had been remarkably quiet offensively throughout the night–and, with Slafkovsky and Josh Anderson both caught beyond the goal line, Marcus Pettersson and Rickard Rakell broke out, with only Matheson back. Rakell passed to Pettersson, Matheson unable to block the pass, and Pettersson wrapped up the Penguins’ victory with a shot into the far side of the net. Could Matheson have played it better? Maybe, but certainly one of Anderson and Slafkovsky should also have been ready for the Pittsburgh counterattack.
HW Habs 3 Stars
First Star: Jake Allen (30 saves, 33 shots, .909% saves) kept the Canadiens in the game, and gave them a chance to steal the game. Alas, they couldn’t hold the lead, but one could hardly blame Allen for the Pittsburgh goals.
Second Star: Nick Suzuki (0g, 1a, +0, 1 shot, 21:57 TOI) might have struggled on faceoffs against the mighty Sidney Crosby–77% on the night–but he played a strong 200-foot game once again, and capped that off with an excellent secondary assist to enable the Slafkovsky power play goal.
Third Star: Johnathan Kovacevic (0g, 1a, +0, 1 shot, 4 hits, 16:11 TOI) looked much better in his second game back in the lineup. He and Harris didn’t spend much time facing Crosby and Malkin, but they played a solid game with no major mistakes. Both are trying to earn their way back into the lineup, and their play tonight surely did not hurt their chances.
Following the game, the Habs returned Lucas Condotta to Laval. As they’re now at their bye week, Condotta can go back down and get in some more action as the Rocket have three games before Montreal’s next one.