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It’s unusual for the Toronto Maple Leafs to delay their first trip to Montreal until March, but that’s how it worked out this season. The Leafs may only be third in the Atlantic but are reckoned to have a credible chance to win the Stanley Cup this year. Of course, we have heard that story before …

As it turned out, the Habs didn’t quite have enough to take a win against their oldest rival. Two mistakes by their young defence corps cost them two goals, as this time Samuel Montembeault was not able to bail them out. Nevertheless, the bleu blanc et rouge were in the game throughout, and were never awed by the star power of the Toronto top forward unit. Another well-played loss, then–and another step toward a high draft pick in the summer.

Montreal’s Lines

Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovský
Roy – Newhook – Armia
Gallagher – Evans – Anderson
Pezzetta – Harvey-Pinard – Pearson

Matheson – Guhle
Xhekaj – Savard
Struble – Harris


10 Thoughts

1) It took but 38 seconds for the Habs to draw first blood, as Juraj Slafkovsky skated the puck into the Toronto zone along the left-side boards. Ilya Lyubushkin took his man into the boards, but by then Slafkovsky had already sent a cross-ice pass to Cole Caufield, who was speeding in on the right side. Add in Mike Matheson, trailing Slafkovsky on the attack, who adroitly skated around Lyubushkin and found plenty of open ice to head for the net. Caufield saw him get open, sent him the puck, and Matheson undressed Ilya Samsonov before tucking the puck behind the Toronto goaltender on a backhand shot. A textbook example of what Martin St-Louis preaches, from D activation to playing without the puck.

2) Two-thirds of the way through the first, the shot totals favoured the Habs 9-3. When have we last seen numbers like that, especially against a team considered by many to be a Stanley Cup contender? However, Toronto seemed to wake up late in the period, and Montembeault had to be sharp. He turned away a Lyubushkin backhander, a dangerous William Nylander wrist shot, and finally, a tip by Connor Dewar in order to protect the Habs’ lead.

3) Taking the man is what Arber Xhekaj tried to do in the open ice, but Bobby McMann avoided him at the Toronto blue line and sprinted into a two-on-one break with Matthew Knies. David Savard took the pass away, but McMann was able to snap the puck past Montembeault to tie up the game. If you’re going to take the man instead of the puck, then you really do need to make sure you get your man. Hopefully, this will be a memorable lesson for the Habs’ young defender.

4) Jake Evans took an unfortunate high-sticking penalty in the offensive zone just before the halfway point of the game, but fortunately, the penalty kill was short-lived. Joel Armia stripped the puck from Auston Matthews as the league’s leading scorer was attempting to enter the Montreal zone. Armia skated hard on yet another shorthanded break and was able to take a shot on Samsonov. More importantly, he drew a holding penalty on Morgan Rielly, negating the Evans penalty.

5) As the second period was winding down, Max Domi took advantage of another defensive miscue by the Canadiens’ defence corps in the offensive zone: he took a Calle Jarnkrok pass between the faceoff circles and neatly split Jayden Struble and Jordan Harris, neither of whom were too close to the boards. Domi, the former Hab, still has wheels at 29, and neither Harris nor Struble were able to catch him or poke the puck away. And neither was Montembeault able to make the save on the top-shelf shot, conceding his second goal on a second odd-man rush.

6) The Habs’ second line nearly got that back seconds later, as Joshua Roy and Armia attacked immediately after an Alex Newhook faceoff win. Samsonov was able to make a save on the Roy wrister, and there was no rebound for Armia to tap in.

7) An end-of-second scrum precipitated an extra penalty for Xhekaj, who pulled off Jarnkrok’s helmet in the melee. In the ensuing penalty kill to start the third, the Habs were able to clear the puck quickly, but once the Leafs managed a zone entry, the Habs’ penalty unit could not regain possession or get a stoppage in play. A full two-minute shift, then, for Evans, Armia, Matheson, and Kaiden Guhle, and full credit to the exhausted unit for keeping the Leafs’ big guns to the outside.

8) A few minutes later, it was the Habs exerting pressure on the Leafs, and Evans drew a holding penalty on Timothy Liljegren as the Toronto defender wrapped his stick around Evans. The ensuing Montreal power play did not look to be at its most potent, but Newhook showed that he is capable of filling in for the departed Sean Monahan. As the Toronto defenders focused their attention on Slafkovsky and Caufield, Newhook was able to find open ice and convert a Slafkovsky pass into a pretty top-corner goal.

9) The game looked to be headed to overtime once again, but with less than seven minutes to go, Jake McCabe lobbed a harmless-looking shot from the right-side boards at Montembeault. The goaltender made the save but gave up a rebound. That rebound hit John Tavares, battling with Tanner Pearson in front of the net, bounced off the Leafs’ captain and into the net for the 3-2 lead.

10) The Canadiens got one more kick at the can after a Jarnkrok tripping penalty, but even with Montembeault out of the net for a sixth attacker, they were unable to penetrate the tight box of Leafs defenders to get a clear shot at the net.

HW Habs 3 Stars

First Star: Juraj Slafkovsky (0g, 2a, 3 shots, +1, 21:23 TOI) is going from strength to strength. After a tentative rookie season, the Slovak winger has become not only faster and stronger but also smarter, making the right plays, and knowing when to shoot and when to pass. The passes were the right answer today, as he fed both Caufield and Newhook on the two Habs scoring plays.

Second Star: Mike Matheson (1g, 0a, 2 shots, +1, 28:21 TOI) played nearly half the game, including that gruelling penalty kill at the start of the third period. But his goal was a thing of beauty, not only for the shot but especially for the way he slipped past Lyubushkin to find the open ice and enable the pass from Caufield

Third Star: Alex Newhook (1g, 0a, 1 shot, -1, 17:51 TOI) is leading the second line in creating new opportunities and scored a pretty power play goal. And, oh yes, he managed a 61.5% in the faceoff circle, too, bettered only by Suzuki.