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The Habs kicked off the penultimate week of their season on Tuesday as they hosted Philadelphia.  The Flyers have struggled as of late and that continued in this one as the Habs won 9-3 in dominant fashion.

Martin St. Louis made a pair of changes to his lineup from Sunday’s loss to the Rangers.  Samuel Montembeault got the start in goal while up front, Christian Dvorak returned earlier than expected from his pectoral surgery; instead of missing the rest of the season, he took Colin White’s spot in the lineup.  The rest of the team lined up as follows:

Caufield – Suzuki – Slafkovsky
Gallagher – Newhook – Armia
Pearson – Evans – Anderson
Pezzetta – Dvorak – Harvey-Pinard

Matheson – Savard
Harris – Kovacevic
Struble – Barron

10 Thoughts

1) Montreal got out to a quick start in this one.  Jake Evans had a good chance to score on the opening shift of the game but couldn’t get the shot off.  No matter as on the next shift, the top line got to work early.  Cole Caufield set up Mike Matheson for a one-timer that went off Juraj Slafkovsky and past Samuel Ersson to open up the scoring.  Slafkovsky didn’t do a whole lot on the goal, he just went to the net and had it hit him.  With his size, he should be able to score quite a few goals that way.

2) The only penalty of the first period (rare for a Chris Lee-officiated game) was a too-many-men call on the Habs just past the midway mark.  As it turns out, there’s a reason that Philadelphia’s power play is dead last in the league as they couldn’t get much of anything going.  That’s not to take away from an improving Montreal penalty kill (getting Dvorak back helps) but for a team that’s desperate for victories as the Flyers are, it’s surprising to see them struggle that much with the man advantage.

3) There was a shift with a little over three minutes left in the opening frame that really stood out.  The top line had possession but there was plenty of player and puck movement.  Before long, Justin Barron came down from the point and sent a feed toward the net for Jayden Struble.  Not one of the forwards, a defenceman driving the net while the other one had vacated the point as well.  However, there was coverage behind them.  If there was ever a shift that epitomizes how St. Louis wants his team to play, it’s that one.  Lots of read and react, aggression, and attention to detail.  That’s a fun way to play when you can get that much puck control in the offensive zone.

4) The second period didn’t get off to a great start.  Joel Armia missed the net on a breakaway and the top line missed a good chance a few minutes later.  Let’s just say it didn’t matter.  A little before the midway mark, the top line got set up once again with Matheson working the puck to Nick Suzuki on the left side.  He went cross-crease to Slafkovsky who had sneaked behind Jamie Drysdale and a quick shot gave him his second of the night and a 2-0 lead.  Another read and react type of play from that top trio with Slafkovsky flashing open at the right time.

5) Two minutes later, a second point shot was tipped home as Brendan Gallagher got a piece of Johnathan Kovacevic’s blast.  It might have gone in on its own but there’s no faulting Gallagher for getting to the crease and impacting the shot.  Meanwhile, that was Kovacevic’s first point in six weeks.  The fun continued soon after.  On the next shift, David Savard sent a stretch pass right on the tape of Slafkovsky at the Flyers’ blueline, sending him in all alone.  He fired it past Ersson for his first career hat-trick.  Worth noting, the next goal is especially important to him.  That will be his 20th, earning him a cool $250,000, money that would come off Montreal’s salary cap via the bonus overage penalty if he gets it.

6) They weren’t done there.  80 seconds later, Jordan Harris sent a quick pass to Josh Anderson who had a half-step on Nick Seeler.  Seeler tied Anderson up, drawing a delayed penalty.  As that was happening, Anderson got a push shot through and then Seeler tripped Anderson into Ersson.  The contact allowed the puck to trickle in and since it was the Flyers’ blueliner who forced the contact, John Tortorella didn’t bother to challenge.  One goal doesn’t change anything from the full-season perspective but it’s nice to see Anderson get one.

7) Three minutes after that, Dvorak got in on the action.  He delayed after entering the offensive zone, creating some space for the play to develop.  He worked a give-and-go with Harris and then wristed one past Ivan Fedotov (who had come in after the fifth goal) on a shot the rookie Russian netminder probably would like back.  But it’s good to see Dvorak rewarded for working so hard to get back ahead of schedule; a goal in his first game back will help make the hard work feel worthwhile.

8) The third period was equally eventful.  Former Hab Ryan Poehling had a pair of goals while Joel Farabee buried a rebound to hurt Montembeault’s numbers.  From a defensive standpoint, it’s not ideal to cough up three goals in the third but they could get away with it this time.

9) However, the Habs scored three of their own.  Rafael Harvey-Pinard, who is in quite the slump himself, drove the net and for some reason, tried to pass.  The pass hit the defender and bounced back to where it was before with Dvorak there to tap it in.  It worked in the end but Harvey-Pinard needed to shoot there; it’s okay to be selfish and try to break a slump with a five-goal lead.

10) Fedotov is a highly-touted goaltender but he has some work to do on reading the play.  Gallagher beat him on a breakaway through the five-hole where it looked like Fedotov thought Gallagher was going to either deke or pull it far-side.  The scouting report would clearly show he doesn’t do those things often, he’s a shooter.  Then, on a two-on-one between Gallagher and Armia, Fedotov seemed to have no idea that Armia was coming in on the other side, allowing Gallagher to set him up for a tap-in to give Armia a new career high.  I’m not complaining but Fedotov was rather underwhelming given the hype.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Juraj Slafkovsky – Truth be told, I’m not sure that I saw Slafkovsky touch the puck in the third period.  It didn’t matter.  He had his first career hat trick in this one and when the game wasn’t out of hand, he was making the biggest impact.  That’s what matters.

Stats: 3 goals, +1 rating, 6 shots, 3 hits, 14:58 TOI

2nd Star: Brendan Gallagher – The second line is a bit of an odd mix as Gallagher isn’t a great fit with a player like Alex Newhook.  However, the group has shown some chemistry as of late and it culminated with three goals including two from Gallagher who had one of his more impactful games of the year.

Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +3 rating, 3 shots, 14:12 TOI

3rd Star: Johnathan Kovacevic – Dvorak could very easily go here as well but I want to highlight Kovacevic.  He has been in and out of the lineup a lot lately and had slipped to seventh on the depth chart.  Injuries should keep him in the rest of the way but so does a game like this.  He was involved at both ends of the rink and was a legitimate presence on the ice instead of just surviving.  St. Louis rewarded him with his most ice time in four months as a result.

Stats: 2 assists, +3 rating, 19:30 TOI