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The Habs kicked off the final month of the season on Tuesday with a visit from the Panthers.  They have struggled against Florida lately but not in this one as they picked up the 5-3 win.

Martin St. Louis opted to make just one lineup change for this one.  As expected, it came on the back end with Kaiden Guhle returning.  Johnathan Kovacevic was a healthy scratch.  The rest of the team lined up as follows:

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

Matheson – Guhle
Xhekaj – Savard
Struble – Harris

10 Thoughts

1) One of the things that has hurt the Habs this season is inconsistent adherence to defensive principles.  We saw an example of that on Florida’s first goal.  Jayden Struble had his guy covered and poked the puck away although it went right to Anton Lundell.  Josh Anderson thought there would be a switch but didn’t appear to say anything.  He assumed wrong, allowing Lundell to skate right by unimpeded and he was able to deke and lift a shot past Montembeault.  If you want a switch, the defensive player needs to call for it; saying nothing usually doesn’t end well.

2) The Habs did well to bounce back, something they haven’t done much of against the Panthers lately.  Within a minute of Florida taking the lead, it was all tied up.  Alex Newhook drew two defenders before sending a quick pass to Michael Pezzetta.  Anthony Stolarz stopped his shot but kicked the rebound out to Joel Armia.  Armia was in the perfect spot and tapped in the freebie.  Earlier in the game, Juraj Slafkovsky was battling hard in front as it seemed like there was a game plan to try to get in front of Stolarz.

3) Back to the lack of consistency defensively.  Vladimir Tarasenko had the puck in the corner and Mike Matheson was covering him.  The problem is that the other four Habs on the ice were also watching Tarasenko.  That allowed Aleksander Barkov to slip in behind everyone unimpeded.  He accepted the pass from Tarasenko and made a quick move to beat Montembeault.  Two pretty goals from the Panthers, ones that Montembeault didn’t have much help on.

4) The Habs got a great opportunity to tie it up late in the first when Kevin Stenlund and Eetu Luostarinen took penalties a minute apart, giving them a one-minute two-man advantage.  They didn’t do much with it, however, as their power play inconsistency continued.  This is one area that definitely needs to be shored up next season if Montreal is going to try to stay in the playoff race a while longer.

5) After the Canadiens didn’t score on the carryover advantage, there was something we don’t see very often.  It turns out, miscommunications weren’t just limited to Montreal in the defensive end in this one.  On a jam play, Brendan Gallagher nearly squeezed it by Stolarz.  After review, it was announced that the puck completely crossed the goal line.  However, moments later, the official went to the mic a second time, stating that there was a miscommunication and that the puck didn’t completely cross the line.  Lost in that fiasco was that had the goal stood after review, Florida likely would have successfully challenged for goalie interference anyway.  But what an odd sequence of events.

6) A few minutes later, the Habs tied it up for real.  Tarasenko broke up a Montreal transition play, causing a turnover.  However, Dmitry Kulikov put a perfect pass right on the tape of Nick Suzuki in the slot and he made no mistake.  That was the type of pass a high-quality player like Suzuki could only dream of and the perfect pass winds up coming from an opponent.  Go figure.

7) Montreal got another power play a little past the midway mark of the second when Sam Reinhart was called for interference on Caufield.  This time, the man advantage was able to get set up and that proved to be fruitful as Suzuki tipped home Mike Matheson’s point shot.  It’s overly simplistic to say that improving on zone entries will cure the power play inconsistency but boy, would it ever help.  The Habs then killed off a Florida advantage with five minutes to go, capping one of their best all-around periods in recent memory.

8) The Panthers are one of the better third-period teams in the league and the Canadiens, well, aren’t a particularly good team statistically in any period.  So I was curious to see how Montreal would fare.  Pretty well, it turns out.  On the opening shift, Slafkovsky took a hit to make a play, sending a quick pass to Caufield.  Stolarz was thinking he’d shoot off the rush but instead, he wrapped it around and stuffed it home.  Score one for Caufield’s reputation coming into play.

9) For all the ice time that Jake Evans gets shorthanded, it was a bit surprising that he didn’t have a shorthanded goal on the season.  That’s no longer the case.  He won a 50/50 battle with Brandon Montour at the Montreal blueline, rushed in on a partial break, and beat Stolarz to basically put the game out of reach.  Evans has played some good hockey lately without much to show for it so it was nice to see him get one.

10) Florida has a reputation for getting into the rough stuff and once it was clear they weren’t coming back, it picked up.  The end result was nearly 40 minutes in penalties and a long Montreal power play, including a lengthy two-man advantage.  I don’t like when teams put the top units out for long stretches with a big lead and I didn’t like it here.  The top unit played nearly three minutes in a row and frankly, they didn’t do much with it other than passing the puck around.  Somewhat fittingly, Sam Bennett scored soon after the penalties expired although it didn’t matter much at that time.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Nick Suzuki – I seem to be picking him a lot in these postgames but it’s hard not to give it to him here.  Two big goals and a good defensive game as well.  I don’t know if he’s going to get to a point per game but his hot streak to end the season will make it worth following down the stretch.

Stats: 2 goals, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 6 shots, 22:04 TOI

2nd Star: Cole Caufield – I think he was the quietest of the three on his line but I liked his all-around game so I’ll give him the nod over Slafkovsky.  His goal stood as the winner and it’s nice to see one finally go in; it was just his second in the last 20 games.

Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 2 shots, 21:24 TOI

3rd Star: The Penalty Kill – While the Panthers were without Matthew Tkachuk and Carter Verhaeghe, they’re still a pretty threatening offensive team, especially with the man advantage.  But they couldn’t get much going at all in nearly eight minutes of power play time, all killed off while Evans potted a rare shorthanded marker as a cherry on top.  Nice to see from a unit that has started to play better lately.

Stats: 0 GA in 7:55, 1 SHG