The Habs returned from their All-Star Break with a much different look as their second-line centre and top power play mainstay in Sean Monahan who was dealt prior to the break. The team was more vocal than usual about their deception at losing Monahan, but life had to go on. The team was in Washington to face the Capitals, a team that also has slim playoff hopes at this point in the season. The Canadiens top line took care of business in the first and Montembeault handled the rest as Montreal hung on for a 5-2 victory.
Cole Caufield — Nick Suzuki — Juraj Slafkovsky
Tanner Pearson – Jake Evans — Jesse Ylonen
Joel Armia – Brandon Gignac – Josh Anderson
Michael Pezzetta — Lucas Condotta — Rafael Harvey-Pinard
Mike Matheson — Kaiden Guhle
Jayden Struble – David Savard
Arber Xhekaj – Johnathan Kovacevic
1) The opening eight minutes of play were entirely controlled by the Habs as they led 7-1 in shots and 2-0 on the scoreboard when the sequence was over. The Capitals could not contend with the speed of the Canadiens, specifically of the top line which was very dangerous early. It didn’t help that the Caps’ passing was atrocious and responsible for far too many giveaways, giving Montreal some early opportunities.
2) The first Habs goal came from a Slafkovsky forecheck that caused a turnover. Caufield had the puck on a 3-on-1. John Carlson slid on the ice to block the pass, but Caufield would have none of it. He saucered a pass directly onto Suzuki’s stick who buried the game’s first goal. 57 seconds later, Charlie Lindgren gave up a big, bad (it really was not a good rebound to give), juicy rebound on an unscreened Guhle point shot that went straight to Suzuki who simply had to put it home.
3) Before the end of the first period which ended with a 13-5 shot advantage for the Habs, Pezzetta lost a face-off. However, Trevor van Riemsdyk blew a tire in the corner. Harvey-Pinard accepted the gift and sent a pass to Pezzetta in the slot. Pezzetta got in a better position before wiring a precise shot to the top corner to make it 3-0, chasing Lindgren in the process.
4) The second period should have been renamed the Montem-show in this one as it was the Habs who got badly outshot 16-5. He only gave up one goal to Alex Ovechkin after a bad Savard clearing attempt that was made worse by the fact that the entire forward group had flown the zone and left Savard out to dry.
5) It was a rough second period for Pearson who took two bad penalties. On the first, Ovechkin would beat Montembeault but not the post. The Habs countered with their own poor effort on the power play. During the second penalty kill, Max Pacioretty’s nice passes also beat Montembeault, but Savard was there to make a huge save.
6) Interesting night in terms of players in uniform as Gignac and Condotta both got more playing minutes than Ylonen who just can’t seem to take advantage of the chances he gets. A quiet night for all three players, but it’s far more acceptable for the two newbies to be weathering the storm of playing in the NHL. Ylonen should be making his mark by now.
7) The Canadiens were better in the third, but the Capitals did have sequences where they really pushed and Montembeault remained the calm presence that allowed the Habs to play adequate hockey and secure the win.
8) Slafkovsky made it 4-1 with to play as Evans attracted double coverage by cutting to the middle before sliding it back to Slafkovsky. Slafkovsky took the pass and pulled a toe-drag on the defenceman before releasing a wicked wrist shot that beat Lindgren and extended the lead. What a play at 4-on-4.
9) Rasmus Sandin responded before the end of the 4-on-4 sequence, 22 seconds to be exact, as he accepted a Carlson pass off the faceoff and one-timed it home to keep the game interesting.
10) The Habs were then gifted a man advantage as Anthony Mantha was guilty of a selfish penalty on Kovacevic. Seconds later, Matheson sold a point shot that everyone bought. He instead sent a pass to Slafkovsky who wired a second great shot past Darcy Kuemper to cap an excellent night for the youngster that ended this game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Juraj Slafkovsky
Remember when Slafkovsky would get himself in these great shooting spaces and then try to force a pass through the zone to Caufield or Suzuki? None of that in this one as he was ready to shoot, and Charlie Lindgren paid the price. Don’t look now, but that’s nine goals on the campaign for the 1OA. Can he get to 20? I say he does it.
Stats: 2 goals, +1, 1 hit, 3 shots, 17:15 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Samuel Montembeault
Montembeault got to rest in the first period, and then he had to completely bail out the entire squad in the second period. Not only was it a high number of shots, but some of the saves that were made in both the second and the third periods were excellent and really highlighted why he’s been the recipient of two Molson Cups on the season.
Stats: 37 saves on 39 shots, .949 save %, 2.00 GAA, 60:00 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Nick Suzuki
Suzuki came out of the All-Star game and was still playing with that finish as he scored two early. The line was also the only Habs line able to get much going offensively over the last two periods. It feels like that will be a theme in the 30-some games that are left this season. For this game, it was nice to see them produce in bunches.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, even, 3 shots, 18:45 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Cole Caufield
I don’t like adding a fourth mention her, but felt it was criminal to not highlight what was an excellent game by Caufield. Usually, it’s Suzuki playing the game in all three zones to open chances and set up passes for Caufield. On this night, Caufield’s 200-foot game stood out, and what can be said about that saucer pass on the game’s opening goal? WOW!
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 4 shots, 15:58 T.O.I.