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The Habs kicked off their final stretch of the 2023-24 season on Monday with a trip to Detroit.  They had a two-goal lead in the third but couldn’t hold it, eventually falling 5-4 in overtime.

Martin St. Louis made a pair of lineup changes from Saturday’s loss to Ottawa.  Samuel Montembeault got the start in goal while on the back end, Lane Hutson made his NHL debut, taking the place of Jayden Struble.  The team lined up as follows:

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

Matheson – Barron
Harris – Kovacevic
Hutson – Savard

10 Thoughts

1) It took all of two shifts for Hutson to hit the scoresheet.  He got the puck from David Savard on the blueline and went for a bit of a skate, something we should probably get used to seeing.  His shot hit a body in front but bounced right to Brendan Gallagher who back-handed it past Alex Lyon to open the scoring before the five-minute mark.  This was a good example of an element of Hutson’s game that can play at this level right away, the poise and patience with the puck on his stick.

2) Another young blueliner hit the scoresheet two minutes later.  Josh Anderson’s shot hit the stick of Olli Maatta and bounced right to Justin Barron; he fired a wrister past Lyon to double the lead.  There’s no denying that Barron’s offensive skill set works in this offence which is why he has fared better in that regard with the Habs than with Laval.  Defence, on the other hand, is still a work in progress.

3) Speaking of a defensive work in progress, that’s something that’s going to apply to Hutson for a long time.  Not even two minutes after Barron’s goal, he got caught in no-man’s land.  With Joel Armia leaving for the bench to get a new stick, Hutson covered the high point but that left a two-on-one down low.  J.T. Compher sent the puck across for Alex DeBrincat; his shot caught a piece of Montembeault’s stick but went right back to Compher.  Hutson hadn’t made it back down in coverage yet, leaving Compher wide open to put it home.  Certainly not all Hutson’s fault on the play but that’s one the video coaches will be pointing out.

4) Barron had an ill-timed turnover not long after the goal, giving it away in the neutral zone to send Detroit in on a two-on-none.  Mason Raymond waited a little too long to try to pass it over, allowing Mike Matheson to get close enough to dive to break up the play; the puck hit his stick and sailed away.  Matheson certainly has some miscues of his own defensively but full credit to him for taking away what would have at least been a Grade A scoring chance.

5) The secondary scoring continued for the Habs in the second period.  Jake Evans sent a perfectly timed pass to Rafael Harvey-Pinard in the offensive zone, giving him some daylight in front of Lyon.  Shayne Gostisbehere was approaching from his left, trying to angle Harvey-Pinard to go right.  Lyon certainly felt that way as he prepped for a deke but instead, Harvey-Pinard sniped one far-side, snapping a 27-game goal drought in the process.  A good finish to his season would certainly help his cause as he has been quiet for a good chunk of the season; reminding management that he does have a decent shot when he decides to use it is a good idea.

6) Josh Anderson threw a big hit on Raymond in Montreal’s zone, one that Detroit wanted a penalty on and didn’t get one.  Compounding their frustration was that seconds later, Simon Edvinsson’s past attempt from behind the Red Wings net hit Evans and bounced out front to Gallagher who was completely uncovered.  He knocked it down and picked his spot, giving the Habs a three-goal advantage.  Good things happen when you go to the net and that’s what happened on that one.

7) Undeterred, Detroit’s second line went right back to work.  On a zone entry, Montreal shifted their focus to David Perron who had skated it in.  Perron floated a pass across the middle that made it past several players right to Compher and he made no mistake, sending it past Montembeault just 33 seconds after the Gallagher goal.  That’s a pass attempt that has a low success rate but it worked this time and helped offset the lucky break on Montreal’s marker seconds earlier.

8) The third period saw the Habs fall back to the tried and true ‘hold on for dear life’ approach that they love to employ when they’re ahead.  It rarely worked then and it didn’t work here.  After a mid-period octopus break, the Red Wings executed a faceoff play perfectly with Gostisbehere sending a pass to an open DeBrincat.  Not the player you want to leave open for a shot and they paid for it.

9) Detroit continued to up the pressure and the Canadiens were completely overmatched.  With Lyon pulled, the defence was running around in panic mode, giving the Red Wings several opportunities.  After a cross-bar and a near-rugby scrum, the puck got over to Raymond.  He had some room, skated out, and wristed it past Montembeault to tie it up, sending the game to overtime.  I know Montreal has a young back end but at some point, you need to see some improvement in late-game defensive situations.  They have not improved at all in that situation this season.

10) The overtime was mostly all Detroit, as expected, with much more on the line for them.  They hit the crossbar twice before Montreal arguably got their best opportunity, coming from Hutson, no less.  He skated to the slot and got a decent shot off that Lyon stopped.  That sprung the Red Wings on a two-on-one with Larkin and Raymond.  Hutson was hustling to get back but couldn’t quite do so as Larkin set up Raymond for the winner, setting up a very meaningful rematch on Tuesday in Montreal.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Brendan Gallagher – It’s definitely a case of too little, too late, but the veteran is having a nice end to his season.  And look at where his goals came from, right in front of the net both times.  That’s a skill that doesn’t go away with age and as long as he’s willing to take the punishment that comes with it, he can still play some sort of depth role at least on this team moving forward.

Stats: 2 goals, -2 rating, 3 shots, 2 hits, 13:44 TOI

2nd Star: Jake Evans – Evans didn’t stand out for anything significant but when there was a smart play to make, he made it time and time again.  That’s about the quietest three-point game you’ll see from a forward but also one of the more efficient ones.  Unfortunately, his game didn’t end on a good note as he was banged up in overtime.

Stats: 3 assists, +2 rating, 9/15 faceoffs, 17:54 TOI

3rd Star: Lane Hutson – I could probably go with a couple of different players here but let’s talk about Hutson.  As expected, the offensive game didn’t look out of place at all and he set up some good chances that didn’t go in as well.  Defensively, there were some iffy moments (again, as expected) but for the most part, he didn’t look out of place.  And while he was listed as being on the third pairing, his usage would suggest otherwise as he had the third-most minutes on the team (without any power play time at all, no less).  A pretty good debut for the youngster.

Stats: 1 assist, -1 rating, 1 shot, 21:51 TOI