Now that the season is a lost cause, the focus has turned to getting NHL time for the young players in the Montreal Canadiens organization.
Morgan Ellis was one such player, making his NHL debut on the road versus the Anaheim Ducks. That first game started well, as he unloaded a bomb from the point on his first shift, and had a very solid first period of NHL action. In fact, he finished the opening 20 minutes with a Corsi-for percentage of 87.5%, not looking a bit out of place versus one of the league's toughest teams.
Greg Pateryn put on his best Alexei-Emelin-versus-the-Boston-Bruins impression, getting under the skin of several Ducks players, but keeping his cool and not engaging back. While the Ducks were focused on the physical game with Pateryn, he was busy making key contributions to his team's efforts, and, along with partner Emelin, had a perfect 100% shots-attempts-for percentage in the first.
Stefan Matteau, acquired at the trade deadline for Devante Smith-Pelly, also made his first appearance for the Habs. His tenure got off to a more inauspicious start, as he got caught on the wrong side of the puck twice on his first shift, and was flagged for an infraction on the second occasion.
Fortunately for Matteau, the Canadiens were able to survive the Ducks' power play. Part of that was thanks to some aggressive play by P.K. Subban, but the attention paid by the Norris Trophy-winner to his defensive duties bordered on crossing the line throughout the penalty kill.
It seemed that Subban was trying very hard to prove that leaving him off the World Cup roster was a mistake, and he wasn't playing the game that has allowed him to have the kind of success he's enjoyed in his career.
Once the penalty kill was done, Michael McCarron and Alex Galchenyuk went to work and got the cycle going below Anaheim's goal line, with the puck coming out front for a great scoring chance, but John Gibson was there to thwart the duo.
The Canadiens got a power play of their own soon afterward, when Kevin Bieksa cross-checked Sven Andrighetto from behind when the Swiss rookie had yet to touch the puck. The power play looked much better than we've become accustomed to, with quick puck movement, if not player cycling, that looked dangerous but was unable to score.
They finally got rewarded for their good play in the game four-and-a-half minutes into the second frame, when a perfect pass from Andrei Markov at the blue line found Galchenyuk wide open in the right-side circle, and the player, not quite good enough to rank among the top 16 under-24 NHL players, wired one past Gibson to put the Habs on the board.
The night-long battle between Pateryn and the Ducks' forwards boiled over near the eight-minute mark, as Andrew Cogliano hit him from behind into the boards, forcing Pateryn to head to the locker room for repairs. Despite the injury, no penalty was called on the play, but Max Pacioretty was given a roughing minor for coming to his teammate's defence.
Michel Therrien, understandably upset that his team would be the one short-handed after seeing one his best players in the game head off with an injury, took a bench-minor for his protestations to the officiating crew.
With the teams already at four-on-four, that meant Montreal was set to be a man down for several minutes. The penalty kill came through once again, and the many Habs fans in attendance at Honda Center applauded their team's work.
The precedent set, the game descended into chaos for the rest of the second period, with Mike Condon taking a slash from Corey Perry after making a save, and, near the end of the period, Lars Eller taking a high hit from Bieksa after losing the puck in his feet.
That last transgression prompted McCarron to drop the gloves, and he and Bieksa had a bit of tussle that was more a wrestling match and than a pugilistic bout. It was a commendable act by a young player to defend his teammate, but hopefully it doesn't become a trend for McCarron, whose big frame could be put to much better use for his team.
The Ducks didn't relent with the rough stuff after the fight, as Ryan Garbutt ran through the Canadiens crease and over top of Mike Condon in the process. The referee decided to book that infraction, and the Canadiens went back to the power play with just over a minute left in the second period.
Despite some success gaining the offensive zone with some controlled entries, the power play went scoreless on both sides of the intermission
Shortly after the penalty expired, Galchenyuk took a pass from Subban just inside the Ducks blue line, walked it into the slot, and unleashed his great wrist shot to score his second goal of the game and give the Habs the lead once again.
At about the halfway mark of the third, Ellis caught Garbutt with a hit into the boards. Perhaps they read up on the rules during the intermission, as this time the refs made a boarding call, sending the Ducks to the power play.
Correy Perry scored on the man advantage to tie the game up. It was the first power-play goal surrendered by Montreal in six games.
The final half of the period played out as physically as the rest of the night had gone, though no further scoring occurred, and regulation came to an end with the teams tied at two goals apiece.
Galchenyuk was once again the standout star of open-ice three-on-three period, controlling the play whenever he got a shift. The best chance for the Habs to win it happened when he drew all the attention of the Ducks defender to him before throwing the puck across the ice. Eller received the pass with a gaping net in front of him, but his shot missed the net by a significant margin.
The shootout was executed very poorly by the Canadiens, with the speedy Paul Byron taking his attempt at a glacial pace, eventually running out of room before he could fire a shot. After having success with his wrist shot throughout the game, Galchenyuk decided deking was the way to go to tie things up on his penalty shot. Gibson's pokecheck to deny him in the second round proved that it wasn't. Pacioretty went third, needing to score to extend the game, but his shot was gloved by Gibson, and Montreal fell by a score of 3-2.
The Canadiens head to Los Angeles tonight, where they will wrap up their trip to California with a game versus the Kings