HabsWorld.net -- 

After a game to forget on Sunday, the Habs were back in action on Tuesday as they hosted Anaheim.  This was a game to remember for the Canadiens with a couple of career firsts as they skated to a 5-0 victory.

Montreal made a pair of lineup changes for this one.  Cayden Primeau got the start in goal – his first since January 18th in Ottawa.  Meanwhile, with Jordan Harris injured versus St. Louis, Arber Xhekaj made his return to the lineup.  Kaiden Guhle was able to play despite leaving Sunday’s game late so no recall from Laval was needed for this one.  The team lined up as follows:

Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Pearson – Evans – Anderson
Roy – Newhook – Armia
Pezzetta – Gignac – Ylonen

Matheson – Guhle
Struble – Savard
Xhekaj – Kovacevic

10 Thoughts

1) Montreal got an early power play when Nick Suzuki drew a hold on Mason McTavish.  It was interesting to see them try Juraj Slafkovsky as the net-front presence.  While it takes him away from the areas where his shot is more of a threat, it’s worth giving him a look in tight as well.  First, his size helps from a screening perspective while his reach helps with rebound control and keeping possession.  Second, it’s just good development-wise to not pigeonhole him into one area and role.  The Canadiens didn’t score on their advantage but it wasn’t for a lack of chances.

2) That early advantage helped set the tone of the opening frame (and the game), one that the Habs controlled for the most part.  That was especially nice to see not just in terms of bouncing back from Sunday but also to allow Primeau some time to settle in.  He was fighting the puck early (which isn’t that surprising considering how long he sat) so less pressure helped offset the early struggles, allowing him to eventually get his first career shutout.

3) Two of the best chances of the first weren’t even shots.  First, Joshua Roy rang one off the crossbar right off the faceoff on a shot I’m not sure Lukas Dostal has seen yet.  Not long after, Ross Johnston had two opportunities late but fortunately, he’s about the last player they want getting scoring chances with just nine goals in eight years.  Both of those opportunities just missed the net to keep the game goalless through 20 minutes.

4) The second line, one that very well might be the weakest in the NHL in terms of offence (13 goals in 133 games coming in), did nothing their first few games together but they made something happen on their first shift of the second period.  Jake Evans sent a cross-ice feed to Tanner Pearson who then fed it back to Evans who made a quick move to beat Dostal.  I’m not holding my breath that they’ll be able to produce with any sort of regularity but they’ll gladly take anything they can get to take some pressure off that top line.

5) Speaking of that top line, after Cole Caufield was firing from anywhere and everywhere as he looked to get a new point streak going, it was the other two that got that trio on the board.  Slafkovsky carried the puck up the wing before sending a perfect pass to Nick Suzuki who just had to get his stick out there to put it past Dostal.  The playmaking is starting to come around quite nicely for Slafkovsky as of late.

6) David Savard wasn’t mentioned in either of those last two points but he made strong defensive plays to help thwart an Anaheim chance, leading to the puck going the other way soon after where Montreal scored off the rush.  With how nice the goals themselves were, his contribution to those tallies won’t make the highlights but it’s worth a mention.

7) Back to Slafkovsky’s playmaking.  With the Habs on the power play when Jackson LaCombe was sent off for delay of game, he found himself back on the half-wall instead of in front of the net.  The change back to his old spot also worked as well as he sent a cross-ice feed to Suzuki who one-timed it home.  Slafkovsky becoming a good passer adds a new dynamic to the top line while Suzuki hopefully is realizing that his shot can be dangerous on its own; he doesn’t always need to look for the pass himself.  Look at a lot of his recent goals, they’ve been above average in terms of shot quality.

8) Of course, there’s nothing wrong with flipping the script back the other way.  After Cam Fowler took a hooking penalty to break up what would have been a Joel Armia break, Suzuki got the puck on the left side of the net and went across the ice to Slafkovsky who was still on the half wall; the sophomore blasted one home to put the game out of reach.  Two more goals for a top power play unit that’s actually starting to resemble a decent group.

9) Guhle made a nice play to force a turnover at centre, sending him and Brandon Gignac in on a two-on-none.  Guhle let Gignac take the shot to try to get his first NHL goal and Gignac made no mistake, beating Dostal high.  While he’s likely to be a checker for however long he’s up with the Habs, it’s worth remembering Gignac was one of Laval’s better offensive threats.  Burying a couple of these opportunities would go a long way toward helping him solidify a spot down the stretch.

10) Things got a bit out of control at the end with two fights and 31 combined penalty minutes in the final 2:23.  Montreal might have dodged one with Johnathan Kovacevic not getting the instigator when he stood up on an after-the-whistle trip; had he received one for his fight with Sam Carrick, he’d have been suspended for Thursday’s game in New York.  Still, despite the less-than-ideal ending, the Habs preserved the shutout and ended the home stand on a high note.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Nick Suzuki – It’s pretty much low-hanging fruit to pick Suzuki here but frankly, how could you not?  Once again, the captain dominated with his line skating circles around an Anaheim squad that, frankly, didn’t show up.  We saw the playmaking and the shooting and the results couldn’t have been much better.

Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +1 rating, 5 shots, 7/16 faceoffs, 22:36 TOI

2nd Star: Juraj Slafkovsky – Again, a pretty easy selection as Slafkovsky also made his presence felt throughout the game while setting up Suzuki’s goals and scoring his own.  As I noted earlier, Slafkovsky becoming a legitimate threat offensively makes that top trio so much more threatening as teams can’t just key in on Suzuki and Caufield when that happens; good things have been happening since Slafkovsky got going.

Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +1 rating, 3 shots, 2 hits, 20:51 TOI

3rd Star: Kaiden Guhle – I could easily go with Primeau here but with only 13 saves, he wasn’t really tested.  (But congrats on shutout number one nonetheless.)  I’m going with Guhle who I don’t think many expected would even be in this game after he was injured versus St. Louis.  He certainly wasn’t any worse for wear as the sophomore blueliner had a strong defensive game while helping set up Gignac’s first NHL tally.  Considering how injured he looked barely 48 hours ago, I was quite impressed by his game.

Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 7 PIMS, 1 shot, 19:09 TOI