The Habs were back at home on Tuesday for a matchup against San Jose before heading out West. However, their struggles against them continued as they fell 4-0, their third straight time being blanked by the Sharks.
Martin St. Louis made a couple of changes from Friday’s victory in Chicago. Jake Allen was back between the pipes after a pair of strong outings from Samuel Montembeault while Jordan Harris returned to the lineup in place of Arber Xhekaj who was a healthy scratch as the defensive rotation continues. The team lined up as follows:
Caufield – Suzuki – Dach
Dadonov – Dvorak – Gallagher
Armia – Monahan – Anderson
Pezzetta – Evans – Slafkovsky
Matheson – Savard
Edmundson – Guhle
Harris – Kovacevic
Slow starts have been a problem for Montreal lately and that continued. Just a minute and a half in, Alexander Barabanov blew by Kaiden Guhle (who looked a little flat-footed on his off-side) and wrapped the puck around the net. Allen made the stop but couldn’t hold the post, allowing Matt Nieto to stuff home his fifth of the year as he beat Joel Edmundson to the puck. The Canadiens challenged for offside and while it was really close (probably no more than an inch), the call on the ice stood so San Jose had the lead and an early power play.
The good news is that the Habs were able to kill it off without much fanfare. The bad news is that just as it was expiring, Johnathan Kovacevic’s clearing attempt sailed over the glass which sent the Sharks right back to the man advantage. San Jose had a lot of zone time on this opportunity but their shots were from the outside and Allen was sharp. They killed that one off as well but were down 7-0 early in the shots. Just after that kill ended, Michael Pezzetta had a good chance off the rush following a strong setup from Christian Dvorak but Kaapo Kahkonen made the stop.
Then it was Montreal’s turn with the power play as Radim Simek cross-checked Nick Suzuki at the 6:29 mark. The Sharks don’t have a good record but one thing they have is a good penalty kill as they came in with a 90.3% success rate, 6% higher than Boston who sits second. The Habs didn’t muster up much. They got another man advantage four minutes later when Nick Cicek was called for delay of game but again, the Canadiens weren’t exactly getting scoring chances.
Their best chance came with less than two minutes left in the period when Brendan Gallagher and Evgenii Dadonov were on an odd-man rush. Gallagher decided to keep the puck and take the shot. He beat Kahkonen but not the crossbar. San Jose was held without a shot for more than 14 minutes to end the period but they still held the 1-0 lead at the buzzer while Montreal was up 8-7 in shots.
The Habs had a good passing play two minutes into the second period that saw all five players touch the puck in a matter of a few seconds with the end result being a good pass from Dadonov to a trailing Harris but Kahkonen was square to the shot. Two minutes later, Barabanov came in on a two-on-one and opted for the shot but Allen made the glove stop.
On the next shift, the Canadiens briefly looked like they tied it up as Gallagher sent a cross-ice feed to Dvorak who beat a down and out Kahkonen. However, there was a reason that Kahkonen was down and out as Dadonov pushed Cicek right into him; the penalty wiped out the goal. San Jose could only muster up a single shot on what was a strong kill from Montreal.
Then the Habs picked up a pair of power plays. First, Oskar Lindblom slashed Guhle but all Montreal could muster up was a weak outside shot from Suzuki. Not even two minutes after that one ended, Jeffrey Viel hooked Jake Evans, creating another man advantage for the home side. To their credit, the first power play wave moved the puck around quite well. Unfortunately, that puck movement didn’t yield a single shot as the power play struggles continued.
Speaking of struggles continuing, Joel Armia forced a turnover in the neutral zone with five and a half minutes left and skated in with numbers. He opted to keep the puck (a reasonable decision) but his shot wasn’t exactly close to the net. The search for his first of the season continues.
The penalty parade continued late in the frame. David Savard had a good shot block and not long after that, he skated around the net and was tripped by Timo Meier. The first half of the power play was completely ineffective but with a second and a half left, Jaycob Megna fired the puck into the crowd. If you’re keeping track, that’s three puck-over-glass penalties and four delay-of-game calls in 40 minutes. That penalty created a 55-second carryover two-man advantage for the Habs heading into the third. The shots on goal in a very dull second stanza were six apiece.
With that carryover advantage, the Habs did nothing. They attempted one shot on the five-on-three, a Cole Caufield one-timer that was blocked. Frankly, they played without any sense of urgency which carried over to the back half of the Megna penalty as well.
That would prove quite costly as soon after that one expired, Mike Matheson turned the puck over. San Jose got set up and the end result was Kevin Labanc sending a touch pass to Tomas Hertl who redirected the puck up and over Allen.
A minute later, a long stretch feed from Matt Benning sent in Logan Couture on a clear breakaway. He didn’t get a great shot off but it just squeaked through Allen’s pads to make it 3-0. Off the ensuing draw, Guhle set up Josh Anderson for a breakaway of his own but Kahkonen got a glove on it.
The fourth line had some good chances just before the seven-minute mark of the frame. Pezzetta had a pair of good looks while Juraj Slafkovsky had a two-on-one and opted to throw a blind pass instead of driving the net.
Then it was San Jose’s turn to go back to the power play. First, Savard tripped Meier and partway through that, Matheson’s shot was blocked and then in the aftermath, he tripped up Nieto, giving the Sharks a 33-second five-on-three. Allen made a strong cross-crease stop on Meier and the penalty killers took care of the rest.
With a little over seven minutes left, Gallagher did well to get a quick feed over to Dvorak at the side of the net but Kahkonen’s glove got in the way again. Three minutes later, Gallagher once again kept on the odd-man rush but couldn’t get the Habs on the board.
St. Louis decided to pull Allen in the hopes of getting at least one goal for the home fans. It didn’t work as seconds later, Meier got behind everyone, overcame several hooks from Monahan, and basically skated the puck into the empty net. The shots in the final frame were 14-11 for the Habs.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Christian Dvorak – He had a hand in several of Montreal’s better chances in this one, some from his own shots, others off of setups. Add that to a solid three-plus minutes on the power play and that’s good enough for the top spot in a game that didn’t see the Canadiens generate much in the way of quality offence.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 3 shots, 2/5 faceoffs, 13:50 TOI
2nd Star: David Savard – It feels like we only hear about Savard when things aren’t going well for him while quietly efficient games like this one get overlooked. He made some strong defensive plays, logged heavy minutes on a penalty killing unit that did its job well, and was only on for two shots against at even strength. The Habs will take this kind of performance from him any night.
Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 3 shots, 2 takeaways, 17:50 TOI
3rd Star: Michael Pezzetta – I’m not one that often calls for Pezzetta to get more playing time but he should have been used a bit more than he was in this one. He had three high-quality scoring chances and played with some energy on a night when a lot of the Habs looked lethargic. I get that it’s counter-intuitive to play a fourth-line checker who doesn’t score much when you need goals but this would have been a night to try to sneak him an extra shift or two.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 2 shots, 2 hits, 6:26 TOI
Honourable Mention: Brendan Gallagher – I have to admit, I thought he played more than he actually did as he seemed to be involved in the play quite a bit compared to several other of Montreal’s attacking forwards. Like Dvorak, he was involved in a few chances, some by shots, others by passing while San Jose didn’t have a single shot when he was on the ice. A quietly efficient performance from the veteran.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 2 shots, 12:04 TOI