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Canadiens vs. Blackhawks game recap: Late pushback not enough to keep win streak alive

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Corey Crawford’s heroics gave the Habs their first loss since November 4.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Chicago Blackhawks Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens had a quick turnaround ahead of their game on Sunday. They travelled to Illinois after their 5-0 win on Saturday to prepare to play the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks for their fourth game in six days.

Since he played the night before, Carey Price was given the game off, and Al Montoya got the call for the first time since allowing 10 goals versus the Columbus Blue Jackets almost two weeks prior.

Andrew Shaw and Phillip Danault, in their first game back to Chicago since their trades to Montreal last season, were in the starting lineup, and they got the first shot of the game right off the opening draw.

After that point, the first period belonged to the Blackhawks.

20161113 5v5SA Corsi Image credit: HockeyStats.ca

The Canadiens were once again playing their prevent defence with Montoya between the pipes, and were often hemmed in their own end while Chicago worked the puck around the perimeter and found the odd path to the net.

The pressure lasted for the majority of the first third of the period, until the Habs could regroup at the first TV timeout. They got things restarted, finally getting some time in the offensive zone, but it was undone by one more good shift from the Blackhawks.

With Chicago established in Montreal’s end, Gustav Forsling took a shot fom the point, and it got past Montoya and into the net for the game’s first goal. The Habs’ netminder was initially calling for goaltender interference, but a replay showed that it was actually Joel Hanley who had clipped his skate, and no challenge was launched.

Unhappy with the current state of affairs, Daniel Carr took matters into his own hands to start the second, bursting into the zone and getting in on Crawford before a slash from Duncan Keith prevented him from getting a good shot away. He did draw a penalty with the individual effort.

On the power play, Shea Weber got the puck and carried it around the boards, sending a weak shot on net in hopes of a rebound. The plan went even better than expected, as the puck beat Crawford to tie the game. It was Weber’s sixth power-play goal of the season (seventh overall), and didn’t even require one of his patented slap shots.

Just over a minute later, Montreal got another goal from a defenceman. Andrei Markov accepted a pass from Alex Galchenyuk, and walked right down the middle of the ice before placing a perfect shot by Crawford’s ear where his flashy glove hand couldn’t get to it.

It looked like Montreal was turning things around from their play in the first, with a few shifts in the Chicago zone after taking the lead, but then the momentum shifted entirely in the Blackhawks’ favour.

After a prolonged period around their own goal, Alexei Emelin was called for tripping, sending the Blackhawks back to the power play. Chicago didn’t score in the two minutes he was serving in the box, but Marion Hossa did pounce on a Montoya rebound to the side of the net just nine seconds after Emelin’s release.

The ‘Hawks didn’t relent, continuing to get shots toward the Canadiens net even after tying the game. The Habs got possession of the puck on one offensive foray from their opponents, and Shaw and Danult flew the zone anticipating an outlet pass, but Pacioretty’s attempted pass was cut off by Jonathan Toews, and the Habs were caught in a poor defensive position.

Patrick Kane took advantage of the situation, breaking in toward the goal, splitting the defencemen as they tried to recover into their proper spots, and scoring on a great shot to give Chicago a 3-2 lead.

As has often been the case this year, Michel Therrien put out the duo of Alex Galchenyuk and Alexander Radulov to turn the tide immediately after surrendering a goal. While they did get some time in the offensive zone, nothing dangerous came from it, and Montreal went to dressing room with a rare deficit after two periods of play.

After looking like they had nothing to fight back with through the first few minutes of the third, the Canadiens amped up their energy, and jumped on a team attempting to preserve their one-goal lead.

Leading the charge was Shaw, who was determined to get a win in his first game against the team who traded him away. He was dogged in his attempts to tie the game, winning battles along the boards in Chicago’s zone. He had one excellent chance to tie the game up, but Crawford shut it down with a spectacular toe save.

The Habs emptied the tank in the final minutes with Montoya pulled for an extra attacker, but in the end Crawford as able to turn their last chances aside and help his team survive for a 3-2 home victory.

Thoughts

  • Andrew Shaw played his best game of the season, focusing his energy in all the right places to help his team win, save for a hit in the offensive zone late in the game that probably should have been an interference penalty. He even led the team in possession, with a Corsi-for percentage of 60.7%, and being one of very few players with a positive even-strength shot differential. That’s the kind of effort the team was expecting to get when he was acquired in a draft-day trade this summer, and hopefully we’ll see it again in key games versus the league’s top teams in the future.
  • It was another tough night in the defensive zone for the Habs with their backup behind them. They’re so focused on keeping pucks from getting to the net that they can’t get possession to even clear the zone. Montoya’s steady stream of rebounds doesn’t help matters much, and the players can never be sure where they puck will end up after an opposition player shoots it. The tying goal was the direct result of one of those rebounds, and probably wouldn’t have happened with Price in the net to absorb the initial shot and get a whistle. It might be better for the defenders to step back a bit and worry more about clearing the rebounds than stopping the initial shots, but right now the team doesn’t have enough confidence in their backup to let him deal with the opposing shooters.
  • The Habs’ win streak was halted, but if you’re going to lose, you might as well lose a game that doesn’t mean much of anything for your playoff aspirations. That seems to be the thinking of the coaching staff who used Price against a weaker divisional opponent in Saturday’s game. The Habs did have a good response in the third as they tried to tie things up, and they can be happy with the pushback they showed in their third game in four nights.

The Habs get one day off before getting right back at it. They host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday for their fifth game in eight nights before getting a brief respite.