The Canadiens and Penguins got together for the second weekend in a row, this time at Montreal's place. The Canadiens were able to take the win (and, temporarily, the Eastern Conference lead) in the previous encounter and were seeking the same result last night.
The lineup was a bit different as Manny Malhotra was left on the shelf in favour of recent callup Christian Thomas, who was looking to make an impression in what is the final year of his entry level contract with the organization. The oldest member of the fourth line trio was joined by the five-days-younger Michael Bournival and 21-year-old Sven Andrighetto.
Cara's Line got off to a good start in the game as Bournival drew the first penalty of the contest on a Christian Ehrhoff holding call. The powerplay was unable to generate any opportunities as the Penguins stood firm at their blueline and refused to allow entry by the attacking unit.
That focus on defence was the story of the period as members of each team closely checked their counterpart and limited most offensive attempts to the perimeter. Both teams had their share of offensive zone time but were unable to get to the middle of the ice to launch anything dangerous at the opposing goaltender.
Christian Thomas was able to get a good scoring chance later in the period after a stretch pass from Nathan Beaulieu sent him in on a rush. His slap shot was handled by the resurgent Marc-Andre Fleury to keep the game scoreless.
Andrei Markov helped to turn the defence into offence near the end of the period, as he swept the puck off the stick of Sidney Crosby in the Canadiens' zone to a back-checking Max Pacioretty. Pacioretty threw the puck ahead away from danger and raced onto it to launch a two-on-one with Brendan Gallagher. After a look across to Gallagher to keep Fleury guessing, Pacioretty fired a wrist shot over the arm of the Penguins' goaltender for a late period lead.
At the end of the period, some great work by Dale Weise to pursue a dumped puck caused a situationally-unaware Robert Bortuzzo to hold him up in the neutral zone with just two seconds remaining in the frame.
The powerplay to open up the second period failed to come up with the second goal of the game, of course, but it ended with a glimpse of the future of the Habs' defence.
Beaulieu, who had played the tail-end of the powerplay, was joined on the ice by P.K. Subban once play returned to five-on-five. The two traded passes from the defensive zone through the neutral zone with Beaulieu ultimately carrying the puck over the offensive blueline and sending a shot on net. In 14:46 of shared time on ice this season, that rare duo has a Corsi-for percentage of 58%. In fact, with the exceptions of David Desharnais and new defensive partner Sergei Gonchar, every member of the team who has played at least nine minutes with the Canadiens' youngest defenceman has better possession numbers with Beaulieu than without him.
Around the seven-minute mark of the period we got snapped back to the reality of the current defensive situation as a shift that saw Tom Gilbert and Alexei Emelin confined in their own zone ended when Emelin held up Marcel Goc along the wall. The penalty kill, which has dropped to sixth in the league after giving up two goals to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, was able to kill off the minor to maintain the one-goal edge.
The Canadiens wouldn't be so fortunate with ninety seconds left to play and a combination of the inexperienced fourth line and the Gilbert-Emelin pairing out on the ice. Evgeni Malkin came on on a change and picked off an attempted pass to Thomas, taking the puck into the Canadiens' end. Moments later, Malkin's shot through the perfect screen that resulted from Emelin and Gilbert both defending the same player in the slot beat Carey Price over the glove to tie things up at one.
Montreal received its third powerplay of the game after the Penguins were caught with too many men on the ice about six minutes into the third, but once again the powerplay was unable to contribute to the offence and effect the restoration of the one-goal lead.
An icing call after the midway mark of the period, again with the on-ice personnel consisting of the young fourth-liners and the Gilbert-Emelin pairing, led to a defensive zone interference penalty called on Gilbert. With that penalty nearly successfully killed off—in part by a great windmill glove save from Carey Price on Sidney Crosby—Brandon Sutter skated around Emelin in Montreal's end, causing the embattled defender to take his second penalty of the game and join his defence partner in the box for a brief two-man disadvantage. Once again the penalty killers came to the rescue and kept the game deadlocked.
A nice play by P.K. Subban in front of the Penguins' net created a great opportunity to give the Canadiens a late lead, but Max Pacioretty's shot with Fleury completely out of position hit the side of the empty cage. That was as close as either team got to ending the game in regulation.
In the overtime period, another difficult defensive zone shift by Emelin and Gilbert led to a great chance for Pittsburgh. Emelin, who was near the net and not covering any of the opposing forwards, was in the wrong place at the right time when the shot got through the legs of Price, stopping it just before it crossed the line and firing it to the corner out of danger. The shift would end with a player jumping off the Canadiens' bench too early, and with the earlier call against Pittsburgh for that violation, the call needed to be made the other way.
Tomas Plekanec broke his stick on the ensuing defensive zone faceoff, and the Penguins capitalized on his misfortune. A game of keep-away against Montreal's stickless defender ultimately led to a cross-ice pass to Crosby, and Carey Price was unable to get across in time to stop the game-winning shot.
In the opposite situation Beaulieu finds himself in, most of Emelin's teammates play worse with him than when they play while he watches from the bench, with exceptions being Brandon Prust (equal), P.A. Parenteau and, oddly enough, Beaulieu himself. This game that had Emelin on the ice for three shots against for every one that he and his teammates got won't do anything to improve those numbers.
Montreal will have another span of three off days before playing the recently-extended Sergei Bobrovsky and the climbing Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday.