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Tuesday was a matchup between a team on a long losing streak and one on a really long losing streak.  Montreal, of course, had the shorter one and put it to an end with a 4-2 victory over Arizona.

Montreal only made one lineup change for this one.  In goal, Samuel Montembeault got the start after Jake Allen came up a bit short on Saturday versus New Jersey.  While some expected Jayden Struble to return, he was scratched after missing the morning skate as it turns out he’s not quite ready to return.  The team lined up as follows:

Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Roy – Newhook – Armia
Gallagher – Evans – Anderson
Pearson – White – Ylonen

Matheson – Guhle
Xhekaj – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic

10 Thoughts

1) A concern that I had early and often in the opening frame was that the Habs were getting way too cute, the top line in particular.  There are no style points nor do you get bonus points for fancy passes or completing a bunch of passes before shooting.  If you’re trying no-look drop passes in the slot, something is wrong.  Someone needs to start shooting the puck.  Montreal had ten shot attempts in the opening 20 minutes.  Not shots on goal, shot attempts.  Against a team that hasn’t won in more than a month, that’s categorically unacceptable.

2) Fortunately for the Canadiens, one of the few shots that actually hit the net went in the net.  Joshua Roy pushed the puck ahead to Alex Newhook who had a two-on-one with Joel Armia.  J.J. Moser played too tight to Newhook, allowing Newhook to feather a pass to Armia who had plenty of time and space.  (And thankfully, no inclination to try a drop-pass or something to up the degree of difficulty.)  Armia opted not to deke and just fired it high and past Connor Ingram to open the scoring.

3) I was curious to see the penalty kill in this one.  Arizona is quietly efficient with the man advantage (though without leading scorer Clayton Keller) while the Habs have been overtly lousy shorthanded for a while now so this was an interesting test.  Juraj Slafkovsky took a bad high-sticking call late in the frame and Montreal’s top unit got trapped for the entire shift (the beginning of which was in Arizona’s end, to their credit).  They held on the rest of the way, largely keeping the Coyotes to the outside but the zone entry was too easy and there wasn’t much pressure from the defence after that.

4) Montreal’s pass-first approach seemed to lure Arizona into doing the same early in the second.  On a two-on-one, Nick Schmaltz opted to try the more difficult drop pass, allowing Nick Suzuki to interfere with the shot from Barrett Hayton.  On their third two-on-one of the second period, they did it again.  On a related note, allowing three odd-man rushes can’t be what the coaching staff was looking for when they talked about trying to not let things go the wrong way in the middle frame as it has as of late.

5) The Habs got an odd-man rush of their own soon after Hayton’s chance.  Jordan Harris blocked the Michael Carcone shot, skated up the wing on a two-on-one, and opted for the shot, beating Ingram far-side.  Harris isn’t much of a shooter but he picked his spot quite well on that one.  (Unrelated to this play but while I’m mentioning Carcone, his story is a pretty good one, a career minor leaguer who got his chance this season and has 15 goals.)

6) Arizona didn’t waste much time getting that goal back.  With the puck behind the net, Montembeault followed where the puck was originally going.  However, it got knocked down and Alex Kerfoot was there to wrap it around on the opposite side to get the Coyotes on the board.

7) Slafkovsky took another high-sticking call in the offensive zone a little past the midway mark, giving the Coyotes another chance with the man advantage.  Montreal managed one extra zone clear (with seconds left) but once again, Arizona took it to them.  Once again, their strategy to kill the penalty appeared to be to follow them around and hope for the best.  I know this isn’t the most talented group but the penalty kill looks much too vanilla for my liking.

8) After a shaky start to the third, Harris’ strong performance continued as he sent a feed to Tanner Pearson.  He caught Liam O’Brien flat-footed, resulting in another breakaway which he buried for his first goal since early December and second in his last 35 outings.  That’s not going to do much for his trade value but it was still nice to see him get one.

9) Of course, the lead couldn’t be comfortable.  After a much better penalty kill just past the midway point of the period, the Habs caught a bad break as Kaiden Guhle got a stick on Nick Bjugstad’s shot.  He slowed it down completely but Montembeault was tracking the original result, allowing it to just squeak by.  However, the Canadiens held on and Nick Suzuki added a late empty-netter for good measure.

10) This was one of those ‘law of averages’ games.  While Martin St. Louis took some flak for suggesting the last five games comprised one of Montreal’s best stretches of the season, he wasn’t wrong in terms of five-on-five play and puck control.  They deserved some better fates in some of those and didn’t get them.  Meanwhile, they had no business winning this one and did even without a power play for the second straight game.  The law of averages strikes again.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Samuel Montembeault – It would have been difficult not to put Montembeault here.  It was a rough night defensively for the Canadiens who struggled with Arizona’s pressure but the netminder held tough all game long to keep them in it.  Not a bad outing on his bobblehead night.

Stats: 2 GA on 38 shots, 2.00 GAA, .947 SV%

2nd Star: Jordan Harris – The pressure is on Harris, a speculative casualty of the defence corps that will have some new prospects vying for spots before long.  This is the type of game that should remind fans that he is a capable contributor for this group, particularly in transition which helped him score his second of the season and set up Pearson’s tally in the third.

Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating, 2 shots, 2 blocks, 17:34 TOI

3rd Star: Joel Armia – His line was effective at times in the offensive end despite some limited playing time for his linemates.  Armia had a nice finish on his goal in the first, had a couple of decent moments shorthanded, and a strong defensive shift at the end to seal the win.  He’s actually showing some consistency game-to-game right now which is great to see.

Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 4 shots, 2 blocks, 16:50 TOI