After coming up short in Saturday’s matinee, the Habs looked to come up with a split on Super Bowl weekend as they hosted St. Louis. It didn’t happen. Instead, they dropped a 7-2 decision while a pair of blueliners suffered injuries.
Martin St. Louis made a trio of lineup changes for this one, two by choice and one by necessity. The former was between the pipes with Jake Allen getting the nod against his former team while Jordan Harris was in for Arber Xhekaj. Meanwhile, the latter was Joshua Roy taking the place of Rafael Harvey-Pinard who was injured yesterday and has already landed on IR where he’ll miss four to six weeks. The team lined up as follows:
Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Pearson – Evans – Anderson
Roy – Newhook – Armia
Pezzetta – Gignac – Ylonen
Matheson – Guhle
Struble – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic
1) After getting burned on a poor short stretch yesterday, avoiding that was going to be important in this one. Things got off to a rough start when Alexey Toropchenko took the puck, rushed up ice, blew past Jayden Struble and slipped it past Allen who missed with the poke check. Not the best of starts but they needed to not let it snowball. That didn’t happen. St. Louis continued to control the play early and less than five minutes later, Brayden Schenn redirected a Colton Parayko point shot past Allen to double the lead. It wasn’t 25 seconds apart like Saturday but it still was a case of not bouncing back quick enough.
2) Things got worse on the next shift. Harris was falling behind the net when Samuel Blais finished a hard check into the boards. Harris stayed down for a while and was visibly shaken up. While it’s too early to officially say he has a concussion, it sure looks like he does. If not, it’s an upper-body injury that’s going to keep him out for a while.
3) On the ensuing five-minute power play, Montreal elected to take the ‘we’re only trying one play’ approach. Both units were trying to force the quick pass to the slot play. Perhaps it was a pre-scouted tendency to exploit but the predictability was an issue by the time the five minutes were up. However, there was an unintended benefit. Just as the penalty expired, Juraj Slafkovsky sent a cross-ice feed to Nick Suzuki on the opposite wing. Since the Habs were spamming the play in the middle, the Blues were loading up coverage there, leaving Suzuki wide open. He had an open net to shoot at and made no mistake, beating Jordan Binnington.
4) Unfortunately for the Canadiens, they weren’t able to escape without any further damage. Struble’s tough start continued when he was called for a hook on Toropchenko and 13 seconds later, it was Jordan Kyrou taking a feed from Robert Thomas and beating Allen on the side. Suzuki took a penalty of his own late in the frame which they managed to kill off but it was still a period that lacked any momentum and much in the way of energy.
5) I will give Montreal a bit of credit for how they started the second period. They killed the rest of the Suzuki carryover and then put five shots on Binnington quickly. While it didn’t result in any sort of sustained pressure, it was at least a better two-minute stretch than they’d had at any point in the first.
6) Sometimes, hockey gives you things you don’t see very often. Case in point, a player getting called for a dive tripping another player on that dive, earning a second penalty. That’s what happened to Oskar Sundqvist who was knocked down by Kaiden Guhle (who also got a penalty on the play) but then tripped Michael Pezzetta on the dive. The power play wasn’t anything to write home about but the penalty sequence was interesting.
7) After what was a better overall second period, the Canadiens couldn’t close it. A lack of support from the forwards on an attempted zone exit came back to bite them with Nathan Walker eventually getting the puck and sliding a shot past Allen who wasn’t able to spot it. Montreal is a team that emphasizes the transition game so their forwards tend to fly the zone quickly. Plays like this are the drawback of that approach as it makes it harder to clear the zone and every now and then, it’s directly responsible for a goal.
8) The third period couldn’t have gone much worse. St. Louis scored early on a carryover power play as Thomas slipped a shot past Allen that the veteran would want back. After Joel Armia got that back when a David Savard point shot hit him and went in, Jake Neighbours went and added another power play marker just to make a poor penalty kill look even poorer. It just wasn’t their night.
9) Just when you thought it couldn’t get any uglier, it got uglier. Jordan Kyrou scored on a shot that missed the net by a wide margin; the rebound hit the boards, then hit Allen’s skate and went in. Guhle then was injured late. And in a perfect way to end it, Johnathan Kovacevic took a Jesse Ylonen goal off the board when he got in a frustration fight with Neighbours just before Ylonen took the shot, making it so that Montreal finished the game with two available defencemen (two injuries, two ejected).
10) A general thought on Joshua Roy (it’s better than reliving more of the third period). He was quiet at the beginning of the game but was more effective as it went on as he started to get a better feel for Alex Newhook as they were playing together for the first time. This is an intriguing combination as Newhook’s creativity should suit Roy well in terms of trying to generate offence. I don’t know if Roy is just the short-term recall or if he’s going to get an extended look. If it’s the latter, it’d be nice to see those two stick together for a little while.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Nick Suzuki – He scored the only goal that really mattered in this one back in the first period before it got out of hand. As has been the case lately, his line is the only one that is able to generate any sort of consistent offensive pressure and that was once again the case in this one.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 11/21 faceoffs, 20:10 TOI
2nd Star: Mike Matheson – It was an ugly game for Montreal’s defence corps as a group. One of those ‘burn the tape’ outings. But that wasn’t so much the case for Matheson who actually had a lot more positive plays than negative in this one, even with his penalty eventually leading to Neighbours’ goal. This would have been a great game to give him some rest but instead, he had to play heavy minutes down the stretch due to a lack of availability for other blueliners.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 4 shots, 4 blocks, 27:41 TOI
3rd Star: Alex Newhook – He wasn’t as noticeable in the third but in the first two periods, there were some good moments from him in the offensive zone. My expectations were fairly low considering how long he was off and that it was a back-to-back but he looked like the player he was before the injury. That’s an encouraging sign.
Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 3 shots, 2/3 faceoffs, 16:31 TOI