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The Habs finished a long road trip against another strong opponent as they visited the Avalanche in Colorado on Tuesday night. As has been customary this season, they put up their best efforts when facing the best teams. The Avalanche really looked far superior in the first half of the second period. Other than that, the Canadiens played with them for the other 50 minutes and were able to squeeze just enough offence out of the first line and the rejuvenated Joel Armia. On this night, they were able to take advantage of coaching decisions that looked like even the opposing coach took them lightly to start the game on route to an extremely entertaining 2-1 victory.  

Montreal’s Lines

Cole Caufield — Nick Suzuki — Juraj Slafkovsky
Brendan Gallagher – Alex Newhook – Joel Armia
osh Anderson – Jake Evans — Jesse Ylonen
Michael Pezzetta — Colin White — Rafael Harvey-Pinard 

Mike Matheson — Kaiden Guhle
Arber Xhekaj – David Savard
Jayden Struble – Jordan Harris 

Samuel Montembeault 

10 Thoughts

1) The first period can only be described as high-octane hockey as the shots ended 13-11 for the Avs but 2-1 for Montreal where it mattered. This was the case despite the Habs being guilty of the only two penalties in the period, but their penalty killers withstood a power play with plenty of firepower.

2) The Avalanche took early advantage of a bad matc-up as the Newhook line was no match for the speed of Nathan MacKinnon’s line. After two lost battles, Matheson took a risk to get the puck out of the defensive zone, but he ended up out of position in the process. As the puck came back quickly, a tic-tac-toe was had and the Avs opened the scoring just 43 seconds into the game.

3) The mismatch for MacKinnon meant a mismatch for Suzuki as the Habs responded quickly, only nine seconds later. Casey Mittelstadt was easily muscled off the puck by Suzuki who took the puck and beat Justus Annunen five-hole as the young Colorado netminder had a rough period. Annunen starting and putting Mittelstadt in that position to start the game are not excellent decisions by Jared Bednar considering the Suzuki line has been white hot since the All-Star break.

4) With five minutes to play, Annunen thought he had a save on a point shot, but the puck was behind him next to the net. Armia took the puck and completed the wrap-around bank shot off Jonathan Drouin into the empty net.

5) The start of the second period was the Montem-show as the Avs were all over the Habs, but the young netminder stood tall and ensured Montreal’s lead remained. This 10-minute stretch was the only time in the game where Montembeault was really hung out to dry. The rest of the game, Montembeault made important saves, but the team defence was quite good in keeping this offensive juggernaut to limited scoring chances. Giving credit where it is due for this period, there is no way a league-leader like the Avs were very happy with their first period, so they had kicked it up a notch to start the period. 

6) The top line and physical play is what got the Habs going for the second half of the period. Throughout this game, Colorado simply could not contain Slafkovsky on the forecheck and this allowed the Habs to escape a goalless period with an 8-7 shot advantage that wasn’t indicative of the flow of the period. 

7) After two periods, the Canadiens had committed three penalties. The penalty kill was outstanding in keeping the Avalanche completely out of the offensive zone to help their netminder throughout this contest. What a huge key contribution from a special team. While speaking of special teams, I think it also worth noting the faceoff dominance that also played a big factor in this game.

8) The opening minute of the third promised a return to the high pace of the first period as the two top lines exchanged some excellent scoring chances. The pace continued for the next four minutes as the fans were getting their money’s worth in entertaining hockey. 

9) With 8:42 to play, the Avalanche took their first penalty of the game as Anderson was hooked on a breakaway. Honestly, it was the third penalty that should have been called against the Avs on the shift, as a makeshift line of Anderson-Evans-Harvey-Pinard really applied a ton of pressure and had an excellent period. On the ensuing powerplay, the Habs really did everything but score as their power play looked awesome, but they missed the net on a few good occasions. 

10) One minute after that first man advantage, Gallagher took a high stick to the face that resulted in a bloody nose as the Avs took their second penalty that really hurt their ability to get back in the game. The Habs once again got plenty of zone time without being able to solve Annunen who was rather solid in this sequence after a shaky first period. The Avs attacked in the final minute, but the Habs did not break as they got sticks in passing lanes all over their defensive zone. 

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars

1st Star – Juraj Slafkovsky 

In a game that featured Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen and Nick Suzuki, it was once again the 19-year-old kid who stood out the most as he was all over the ice and giving Avs defenders fits on the forecheck. I’m not suggesting that Slafkovsky is a better player than those listed, but the near consistent efforts he has delivered in this second half of the season are an incredible breath of fresh air for this franchise who appear to have really hit a home run with their 1OA. What a revelation he has been. 

Stats: 1 assist, even, 2 shots, 2 hits, 21:57 T.O.I.  

2nd Star – Samuel Montembeault 

In the first period, high quality chances were had for both teams, and where Annunen looked shaky, Montembeault looked like he could handle what was being thrown his way. Montembeault then withstood a barrage to start the second period as it was his most important test of the game where he only flinched once. After that, he wasn’t tested as often, but he still made key saves at key moments, which is exactly what the Habs needed while turning in a strong defensive effort. Still, none of it is possible without the early efforts from a solid Montembeault. 

Stats: 27 saves on 28 shots, .964 save %, 1.00 GAA, 60:00 T.O.I. 

3rd Star – Joel Armia 

I’m going to suggest something that will leave even myself a little puzzled, but I’m starting to think the Habs should not trade Armia this summer. Throughout his tenure in Montreal, Armia has shown flashes of brilliance usually sprinkled around lesser efforts. After a horrendous 2022-23, Armia started the season in the AHL where he’s recently admitted that he’s sought the help on the mental side of the game. That work has started to pay off as Armia has not only played well, but he’s also played consistently well. I believe his play in the last month might be the best of his NHL career. Now, the logic would be let’s sell high on the player in the summer, but I think the sample size might be insufficient to get the type of return that could be had should the Habs hold onto him, allow him to play this way right up until next year’s deadline and then cash in on the expiring contract. Then again, for a player that started the season in the AHL, it might be worth simply getting market value in the summer in case the old Armia returns next season. 

Stats: 1 goal, +1, 6 shots, 1 hit, 17:03 T.O.I.