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The Canadiens were riding a season-high three-game winning streak as they returned home to the Bell Centre to face the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday. Kaiden Guhle was missing from the lineup, having been suspended for one game for a slash from the bench, so Johnathan Kovacevic stepped into the defensive lineup on the right side. Carolina, of course, is fighting for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

And as much as the Habs were able to go toe to toe with the Hurricanes for most of the night, there was to be no Cinderella story. The stats recorded 17 giveaways for the Canadiens plus nine takeaways for the visitors, and even those numbers might be low, as the bleu blanc et rouge repeatedly turned the puck over to their opponents. Add to that the quietly impressive performance by Carolina goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov, who recorded his third shutout in the last two months, and the final score of 3-0 should be no surprise.

Montreal’s Lines

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

Matheson – Harris
Xhekaj – Savard
Struble – Kovacevic


10 Thoughts

1) Less than a minute into the game, Mike Matheson skated around the net and took a shot from a bad angle to the left of Kochetkov. That shot beat him high, and Matheson had his hands up in the air, but the red light never came on: the puck bounced off the near-side post, and flew across the net above and behind Kochetkov, but ultimately landed outside the net. A beautiful start to the game for the Habs was not to be this time.

2) Late in the period, the second line had a good opportunity, as Brendan Gallagher found Alex Newhook with a pass, and the latter beat out Brett Pesce and Jordan Martinook to get a good shot on Kochetkov. Anderson and Kovacevic, too, followed with their own scoring chances but none of them had the answer for how to beat the Carolina goaltender.

3) Matheson started the second period strongly as well, with a solid controlled zone entry on the left side. He retained possession and passed forward to Cole Caufield, who fed the puck to Slafkovsky. The big Slovak, celebrating his 20th birthday, one-timed the puck but Kochetkov managed to get in front of it again.

4) Nick Suzuki was battling with Seth Jarvis six minutes into the period, when the Habs’ captain was called for interference as Jarvis didn’t have the puck. Suzuki thought Jarvis should also have been called for snatching the stick out of his hands, but it was not to be, and Suzuki wound up the only one sitting in the box. As it was, the Canadiens’ penalty-killers, led by the Evans-Armia-Matheson-Savard unit, performed well again, keeping the puck to the outside and repeatedly clearing it.

5) As the penalty expired, Suzuki jumped onto the ice. He didn’t have any speed, though, so he waited for his teammates to catch up before making the zone entry. He circled, evaded the defenders, and finally sent a pass to Kovacevic, who was striding toward the Carolina net. The quick shot looked good, but again Kochetkov was there. Evgeny Kuznetsov was subsequently sent to the bin for two minutes to contemplate how he might be able to clear the puck next time without putting it over the boards.

6) Alas, the Habs’ power play was unable to find the cracks in Kochetkov’s defences in the first flurry inside the Carolina zone. And then, Teuvo Teravainen beat Matheson to the puck on the right-side boards, with the Habs’ top defender falling down on the play. Teravainen sprinted off on the turnover, and passed the puck cross-ice to Jordan Staal, who was all alone on Samuel Montembeault. A quick shot beat Montembeault through the five-hole, and the Hurricanes drew the first blood in the game. That was the Habs’ 12th shorthanded goal against this season, one category where they might prefer not to lead the league.

7) Much has been made this season about how Newhook is miscast at centre, and should really be a winger in the Habs’ future plans. The 23-year-old from St John’s, NL has made a massive improvement in his performance at the faceoff dots: from a roughly 40% average while in Colorado, he is now winning about 48% of those. Tonight, through two periods, he had won some 70% of them. And nothing better to show the team’s confidence in him than having him take the offensive-zone draw on the power play, with Suzuki taking up a position to his right. Kirby Dach’s return next fall may change things, but Newhook is certainly going to make that decision a difficult one.

8) Two minutes into the third period, the Habs’ top line of Caufield, Suzuki, and Slafkovsky were hemmed in their own zone, with the Hurricanes’ third line of Martin Necas, Kuznetsov, and Martinook applying pressure. Suzuki turned over the puck at the hash marks but Montembeault saved the situation. Harris gave it away shortly after, for another scoring chance. Harris eventually was called for hooking Necas, sending Carolina to another power play. And this time the penalty killing unit was unable to keep a clean sheet, as Montembeault kicked away a Jake Guentzel shot, only for Sebastian Aho to one-time the rebound in over the goaltender’s pad.

9) The Canadiens finally got another power-play chance 12 minutes into the period as Brent Burns whacked the skates from underneath Gallagher. But this time, the top unit couldn’t even execute a controlled zone entry. In multiple attempts. And neither could the second unit. Joel Armia got the closest, carrying the puck to the corner, but he, too, was stripped of it, and the puck was sent back to the Montreal end of the ice.

10) Head coach Martin St. Louis pulled Montembeault with three minutes to go, but it really looked more like a formality than anything else, as Kochetkov had been unsolvable all night. And so it was: Slafkovsky stumbled near the right-side corner, and lost the puck to Guentzel. A three-on-two attack against a Montreal defence with no goaltender could hardly have positive consequences, and, indeed, Jarvis put an exclamation point on the Carolina victory with the empty-netter.

HW Habs 3 Stars

First Star: Juraj Slafkovsky (0g, 0a, +0, 20:40 TOI) was not able to extend his point streak on his birthday, but the big winger played yet another excellent game, both creating chances for his teammates and shooting himself–he recorded nearly a quarter of Montreal’s shots on net in the game.

Second Star: Jayden Struble (0g, 0a, +0, 1 shot, 18:39 TOI) was solid alongside Johnathan Kovacevic, with 51% of expected goals in Montreal’s favour while the two were on the ice. They have not played together often, this opportunity coming only due to Kaiden Guhle’s one-game suspension, but their games seemed to mesh well together.

Third Star: Samuel Montembeault (29 shots, 27 saves, .931 save percentage, +0.903 goals saved above expected) was solid in net for the Canadiens, giving up only the Staal shorthanded breakaway goal and the Aho snapshot from the rebound–a rebound on a shot that he would likely want to try to save in a different way if he had a chance to do so.