After a Tuesday night that saw the Habs look like the team many were expecting before the season started, the team was back in action on Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets were the holders of the position that many expected to see the Habs in as they were dead last in the league. This is mostly possible due to an injured list that is similar to Montreal’s injury list of last year. While Columbus doesn’t score a ton, it is really their ability to keep the puck out of their own net that’s been the real problem so far this season. This game was dictated by the Canadiens though and so the game was mostly offensive, but a rough night for Samuel Montembeault allowed the Jackets to skate away with a 6-4 victory.
The lineup has become somewhat predictable lately and this night’s iteration was no different. Kirby Dach joined Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield on the top line, while Christian Dvorak, Brendan Gallagher, and Mike Hoffman rounded out the top six. Evgenii Dadonov and Josh Anderson joined Sean Monahan on the third line, which left Juraj Slafkovsky, Michael Pezzetta, and Jake Evans to complete the forward group. Kaiden Guhle was paired to David Savard on the top defensive pairing, while Arber Xhekaj and Joel Edmundson formed the second duo. Johnathan Kovacevic and Jordan Harris were the final pair. Montembeault got the start in the blue paint as he hoped to continue his rather excellent start to the season.
The game started with the Habs skating around the Jackets and controlling play. Anderson was the standout as he was skating and earned himself three good scoring chances within the first ten minutes of play that forced Joonas Korpisalo to be quite good early. That was unfortunate for the Habs who held an 8-1 shot advantage with 12:32 to play.
That’s when a hard dump-in by Erik Gudbranson was not stopped behind the net by Montembeault which can be excused. The puck went all the way around where Cole Sillinger fired a shot on Montembeault from a distance. The goaltender decided to deflect it in the corner instead of controlling the rebound. He did so without looking around as the puck bounced directly off Harris and into the net for 1-0 Columbus lead.
The Canadiens looked rattled from the play as Columbus started skating and Montreal started scrambling. Worse was the fact that Montembeault himself looked rattled by the play. He was not controlling rebounds, just fighting the puck in general. Columbus took control as they were able to erase the significant shot difference as the period ended with both teams counting 11 shots on net.
A second goal got by Montembeault with 3:41 to play. Evans lost a defensive zone faceoff and then didn’t follow his coverage to the net. The result was a quick cross-ice pass as Gustav Nyquist extended the lead. Xhekaj would provide a positive for the Habs in the second half of the period as he checked Liam Foudy hard, sending him into the Habs bench on the play.
The second got underway with a nice pass by Dadonov that gave Anderson yet another scoring chance that he was unable to finish. Caufield then had a good shift that yielded a few shots. The teams then exchanged posts as Dvorak rang one after a brilliant cross-ice pass by Hoffman. The Blue Jackets were playing cautiously but jumping up when the occasion presented itself.
With 12:30 remaining, Dadonov delivered a dangerous looking cross-check that earned him two minutes or less in the sin bin. The Jackets’ league-worst advantage could not bury the Canadiens further as they barely gained Montreal’s zone.
The second half of the game and period started with a brilliant Montembeault stop before Caufield absolutely took over a shift through strong puck play. Harris, who was having a rough night, managed to cut the lead. With 6:25 remaining, a strong forecheck by Slafkovsky kept the puck in the offensive zone. Suzuki got the puck in the slot and kicked it out to Harris who released a laser to the top corner.
The goal was followed by a strong shift by the top line, resulting in a holding penalty on Marcus Bjork. The power play looked good and got a second consecutive chance as Anderson drew a tripping penalty as the first advantage expired.
The second advantage looked just as sharp but still could not score before Slafkovsky took a neutral zone penalty for tripping. Columbus would never get an advantage though as Sillinger quickly took yet another penalty, this one for high-sticking. The 4-on-4 did not generate much, and then a 20-second power play for the Habs finally broke through. Gallagher helped Dvorak on the faceoff and found Anderson who finally put one home with 2.1 seconds left.
The action was not yet over as Xhekaj accepted a fighting invitation from Mathieu Olivier. While I love that the Habs have a genuine fighter, I think this one was a mistake for Xhekaj as the teams retreated with a changed focus instead of the domination by Montreal to end the period. I don’t want to be too negative about it though. Xhekaj is a beast and I’m a fan of his fighting. He’ll just learn that some of them can’t help the team momentum-wise.
The third period started with a good chance for Dadonov that forced a nice Korpisalo save. Strong shifts by the first and fourth line had the Habs in complete control, or so it seemed. Savard blew a tire on the offensive blue line. This sent the Jackets on an odd-man rush where Johnny Gaudreau found Boone Jenner to beat Montembeault and get the Jackets back in front with 13:24 to play. The Habs bounced right back with a few scoring chances, including Monahan being absolutely gifted a giveaway in the slot.
Montreal finally tied the game with 10:33 to play as Hoffman handled a tough pass to get into the zone, and found the late guy in Dvorak who followed with a masterful pass to Gallagher who had an empty net to even the game.
However, 42 seconds later, Sean Kuraly simply overpowered Harris to break into the zone and beat Montembeault to quickly restore the lead. The Blue Jackets would extend the lead with 8:51 to play when Kuraly won a faceoff cleanly in the offensive zone to Olivier who beat Montembeault high.
It appeared Suzuki was mad about the faceoff loss as he won the next one, took the puck, and skated behind the offensive one net where he found Korpisalo cheating and banked a shot in off the goaltender from behind the net eight seconds after getting scored on.
Both teams then slowed down as Columbus started clogging the middle of the ice. The Habs pulled Montembeault with over two minutes to play and an offensive faceoff. Suzuki won the draw but the puck skipped over Dach’s stick that sent Kuraly in to seal the fate of this game.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Christian Dvorak – Never the shiny player, Dvorak has been the remedy to Hoffman’s early season woes. Start to add some points for the pivot, along with some sick passing plays like the one he delivered on the Gallagher tally and he’s a player that likely deserves more praise than he gets from this fan base.
Stats – 2 assists, +1, 13:15 TOI
Stats – 1 goal, -1, 5 shots, 13:20 TOI</p?
Stats – 1 goal, 1 assist, -1, 2 shots, 23:11 TOI
Honourable Mention – Juraj Slafkovsky – I was really torn between him and Kovacevic who was all over the puck in the offensive zone on this night. I went to Slafkovsky because I am one who thinks he’s fine on the team’s 4th line. Maybe I should say “was fine”? Lately, he’s clearly finding another gear and if he continues to play this way, particularly in regards to puck possession and protection in the offensive zone, I have a really hard time seeing how the coaching staff doesn’t move him up to the 3rd line. If development is priority number one this season, shouldn’t his development come before the trade value of a Dadonov if the kid is forcing their hand?
Stats – 1 assist, 2 shots, 10:33 TOI