The Montreal Canadiens were hoping to end their difficult road trip with back-to-back wins on Tuesday night, and iced a virtually-identical lineup from the night before, with the exception of Ben Scrivens, making his first start for the team since being acquired for Zack Kassian.
The game started poorly for the Tomas Fleischmann less than a minute into the game. Scrivens, however, gave Habs fans something to be positive about, by making several spectacular saves in the early going, keeping Florida off the board., with a high-sticking penalty going to
Montreal would get their own power-play opportunity when Dmitry Kulikov failed to drop a broken stick. The usually suspect special teams unit looked very dangerous, and eventually broke through. P.K. Subban found Max Pacioretty in the middle of the ice, and the latter ripped one over Roberto Luongo. For the second time in as many games, the Habs actually scored first.
A Lars Eller holding penalty shortly thereafter provided the perfect opportunity for Florida to equalize. While Scrivens made several good saves to keep the Panthers off the board, he couldn't do everything. and, eventually, Aleksander Barkov tied things up on a hard shot through a pretty difficult screen.
Late in the first, Subban took exception to a high hit from Derek MacKenzie, and the pair decided to drop the gloves. While the prospect of Subban fighting a player like MacKenzie would typically terrify most Habs fans, he luckily got a takedown early, and no damage was done.
Early in the second, while Subban was still serving his five-minute major, the Panthers grabbed the lead. Jaromir Jagr came down the wing, and absolutely undressed Scrivens to put his team on top. By this point in the game, it was becoming very clear which team held the balance of play, and it wasn't Montreal.
The Panthers had all the momentum early in the second, and dominated the entire period. If not for some timely saves by Scrivens, and one painful block by Dale Weise, they may well have run away with the game. They gained the offensive zone with ease, while the Canadiens struggled both in evicting the Panthers from their end, and attacking at the other.
Logan Shaw was called for high sticking Greg Pateryn in the third, providing a major opportunity for the Habs to flip the script. Unfortunately, shortly into their power play, Subban was called for tripping after the puck jumped over his stick at the blue line, and he had to make a desperation trip to stop a clean breakaway. It was a forgivable penalty, but Barkov was able to take advantage of the open ice the ensuing four-on-four created, potting an easy goal to put Florida up 3-1.
The Canadiens pulled their goalie with 2:30 left in the third, but the extra man did not lead to the desired result, and the advantage ended when Subban took another minor penalty for tripping, breaking up a rush that likely would have led to a Panthers empty-netter. Florida couldn't score on the power play, but they didn't need to in order to take the game — and reclaim first place in the Atlantic Division — from Montreal.
- Ben Scrivens had to make some very solid saves on the night, and looked quite good in his debut. While there could be some criticism of his rebound control and tracking, he didn't have the slightest of chances on any of the goals. He gave the team a chance to win, and they didn't take it.
- Unfortunately, the ongoing narrative of letting in too many goals, and not scoring enough of their own continues to be the downfall of the Canadiens. Both are equally responsible for their current predicament, and need to be addressed somehow by the organization.
- The Panthers were by far the better team on Tuesday night, and their top line was utterly dominant, eclipsing the Desharnais line which struggled to contain them all game. It wasn't a case of bad puck luck for the Canadiens. The Panthers outclassed the Canadiens, and the score could easily have been worse.
- Daniel Carr is making a strong case to remain on the Habs roster permanently. The Canadiens controlled nearly 60% of even-strength shot attempts when he was on the ice, and he was tenacious in the offensive zone. He had a few good scoring chances, and put three shots on goal. As far as silver linings go, Carr is about the best you can find on the Canadiens in December.
Montreal will look to avoid this being the first game of a new losing streak as we transition to 2016 when they'll face the Boston Bruins at Foxborough for the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. And we'll have to wait and see if Ben Scrivens impressed Michel Therrien enough to earn the nod for the marquee game this year.
The annual outdoor spectacle will have more significant implications for the Atlantic Division standings than one might have expected one month ago.