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Back on home ice for the first time in two weeks, the Habs looked make it three straight wins as they hosted Philadelphia on Thursday.  It wasn’t pretty at times but they were able to come away with the 4-1 victory.

Martin St. Louis opted to keep the skaters the same from their victory over Colorado on Tuesday night but he did make a change between the pipes, giving Cayden Primeau the nod.  This was only Game 39 of his career but it’s now the fourth time he has faced the Flyers, a team he’s now played against more than any other.  Meanwhile, the team lined up as follows:

Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Gallagher – Newhook – Armia
Anderson – Evans – Ylonen
Pezzetta –White – Harvey-Pinard

Matheson – Guhle
Xhekaj – Savard
Struble – Harris

10 Thoughts

1) Considering Philadelphia is in the midst of a tight battle to hold onto the final playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division, I was expecting them to come out with a lot of energy.  They didn’t.  I’m not sure they came out with any energy, to be honest.  To be fair, Montreal wasn’t any better in the opening half of the first period either.  The sluggish start was capped off by a Flyers power play that lived up to its league-worst billing.

2) Having said that, it’s not as if Montreal’s performance with the man advantage has been much better.  In their first opportunity when Travis Sanheim went off for interfering with Jake Evans, the first minute of the power play was like Philadelphia’s.  However, they did get set up after that and took advantage.  Mike Matheson sent it low for Juraj Slafkovsky who quickly went cross-crease to Nick Suzuki.  Suzuki took the pass on his skate but was able to chip it past Samuel Ersson to open up the scoring and give him his first 30-goal season.  He’s the first Canadien to hit the 30-goal mark since Brendan Gallagher back in 2018-19.

3) Four minutes later, one Hab was able to bust a long slump as Jesse Ylonen scored his first of the year.  Not the season, the calendar year; his last goal was 43 games ago when he scored twice against Vegas in mid-November.  Jayden Struble’s initial shot was stopped but the rebound kicked out to Ylonen who didn’t get much on the rebound but it was enough to lift it past Ersson.  I’m not one to normally pay attention to goal celebrations let alone care but I thought it was curious that Ylonen didn’t seem the slightest bit happy or relieved to have ended his goal drought.  Oh well.

4) That second goal seemed to wake Philadelphia up.  Not from a standpoint of testing Primeau (who faced just five shots in the opening 20 minutes, pretty low from a team averaging the third-most shots per game in the NHL) but in terms of trying to ratchet up the physical intensity.  If nothing else, they were trying to drag themselves into the game that way.  While we’re on shots, it’s not as if the Canadiens were much better; they only had six.

5) The ensuing four-on-four provided a bit of a spark to start the second and partway through that stretch, Jayden Struble and Owen Tippett each went off for two as the chippy play continued early in the second.  It wasn’t the beginning of a different-looking middle frame, however.

6) Frankly, there wasn’t much going on for most of the second period.  Both teams traded power play opportunities with nary a quality chance to speak of and the Flyers were a bit better at getting shots through on Primeau who had to make a couple of good stops.  If the Habs were on the road, we’d have been calling this a quality road period, one that didn’t yield too many strong chances although there weren’t many chances for Montreal either.

7) The final 30 seconds were a bit more interesting.  Jayden Struble skated through some Flyers defenders and let go a quality backhand that beat Ersson but drew iron; he did well to hustle back as Philadelphia was going the other way in transition.  The Habs countered but couldn’t get a shot off before the rough stuff after the whistle picked up at the buzzer for the second straight period.

8) If the second period was a good road period from the Habs, the third was a good old-fashioned rope-a-dope from the home side.  The Canadiens were listless offensively and the Flyers took it to them for the majority of the frame.

9) The third also featured something you don’t see every day, three goals being disallowed for three different reasons.  Garnet Hathaway had one called back for a distinct kicking motion, though he drew a hooking call on Josh Anderson on the play.  Morgan Frost banked a shot from the sideboards off Primeau’s inside pad but it was called back for offside.  Then Suzuki’s second of the night was taken off the board for a high stick.  Oddly enough, the shot that put the puck in wasn’t a high stick but the one that preceded it was.  That probably shouldn’t have been reviewable off the goal but rather challengeable for a missed stoppage from the Flyers.

10) After Joel Armia potted an empty netter, I was surprised to see the Flyers pull Ersson for a second time during a four-on-four situation.  The move worked out as with just over a minute left, Owen Tippett beat Primeau to end the shutout streak for good (though it, too, was close to being offside).  Jake Evans added another empty-netter to make it a three-goal victory in a game where the Habs didn’t play anywhere near as well as the score might suggest.  The law of averages strikes again after they had some bad luck in the win column despite better performances; that usually works itself out over time.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Nick Suzuki – This wasn’t a flashy game from the captain by any stretch (no one on Montreal stood out that way) but it was a very effective game.  He had the first goal, helped set up the winner, had a goal called back, and had a good defensive outing as well.  I’ll take that any day from Suzuki; so will the Habs.

Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating, 1 shot, 2 hits, 20:46 TOI

2nd Star: Cayden Primeau – It’s hard to argue with another statistically strong outing that nearly extended his home shutout streak.  I did drop him down a spot as I didn’t like the first two that beat him (the ones that were called back).  He didn’t have great rebound control on the first one and the second was a positioning miscue.  All in all, a solid performance though which is certainly an encouraging sign as he looks to get more established in the NHL.

Stats: 29 saves on 30 shots, 1.00 GAA, .967 SV%

3rd Star: Jayden Struble – There are a few options here but I want to highlight Struble even if he wasn’t quite third-star-worthy.  After a strong start to his NHL career, he had been quieter lately.  It’s part of the growing pains for all young defencemen.  But in this game, he looked more like his early-season self and played with some snarl which seemed to help him settle in.

Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 13:51 TOI