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Canadiens vs. Penguins game recap: Habs leave a point in Pittsburgh

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Canadiens drop a third-period lead and fall to the Stanley Cup champs in OT.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Habs looked to end 2016 on a positive note as they rolled into Pittsburgh after taking three out of four points in Florida.

Kris Letang made his return to the Penguins lineup after missing the last seven games with injury.

The first period began with the kind of fast-paced hockey we’ve come to expect from these two teams. Right from the first shot — a save by Marc-Andre Fleury off Brian Flynn — the teams were engaged with a little scrum in front of the Penguins’ netminder.

The Daniel Carr-Michael McCarron-Chris Terry line created some havoc in Pittsburgh’s end causing Fleury to have to make a number of quick saves. The Penguins immediately returned the favour when a dogpile in front of Carey Price gave Pittsburgh an opportunity to open the scoring.

Shortly after, Shea Weber and Alex Radulov crossed up the Penguins’ defence as they rushed up the ice. Fleury overcompensated for the cross-ice pass from Paul Byron allowing Radulov to snap the puck past him and give the Habs a 1-0 lead.

The Penguins replied with some pressure in the Habs’ end, leading to a Phil Kessel scoring chance and a tripping penalty taken by Jeff Petry for upending Sidney Crosby.

The Pittsburgh power play managed a few good looks, including a shot by Conor Sheary that would have gone in if not for the impressive acrobatics of Price, swiping at the puck in mid-air, above and behind him, to preserve the Canadiens’ lead.

The Penguins went back on the powerplay when the Canadiens were called for delay of game after Tomas Plekanec knocked the puck over the glass on a clearing attempt at the benches. The Penguins made some pretty passes but forced Price to make just three saves to kill off the man advantage.

Finally back at even strength for a bit, both teams managed some good looks at either goaltender and one more little meeting of the minds after the whistle, this time in front of Price.

Phillip Danault was called for slashing when he and Bryan Rust connected along the boards and the Habs went back to work on the penalty kill for the third time in the first period. Once again, the Canadiens managed to tempt fate but emerge unscathed.

The Penguins put on some pressure in the final five seconds with bodies flying and a number of quick chances coming close but the first period ended with the Habs up 1-0.

20161231 5v5SA Corsi Image credit: HockeyStats.ca

Early in the second, a good defensive play by Kris Letang stopped a Brendan Gallagher chance and the ensuing Penguins rush allowed Evgeni Malkin to get the puck past a sliding Weber to Patric Hornqvist. All Hornqvist needed was a quick tap in to a wide-open net and the game was squared at ones.

A good defensive play by Olli Maatta and Carl Hagelin sent Kessel rushing past Ryan Johnston. Johnston’s speed was no match for Kessel’s, and the Pens winger made no mistake in on Price all alone, giving the Penguins the lead for the first time in the game.

Halfway through the second period, Pittsburgh continued to pour the pressure on in the Canadiens’ zone, winning races to the puck. The Canadiens answered back with some offensive attack of their own, leading to a Hornqvist penalty for boarding on Nathan Beaulieu. The Penguins killed it off with ease, not allowing a single shot on goal, leaving associate coach Kirk Muller looking less than pleased.

Radulov was bumped behind the net by Fleury out to play the puck, allowing the Penguins to send Crosby on a partial break that was stopped easily by Price.

Trevor Daley took a high-sticking call on Torrey Mitchell, sending the Canadiens back on the power play with four minutes to go in the second period. The Habs got a good chance off a Barberio point shot but the ensuing clearing attempt went past him and led to a not-so-dangerous short-handed attempt by Pittsburgh. The Penguins penalty killers were on top of their game, stopping the Canadiens from getting set up and gaining any momentum for the rest of the man advantage.

Then, as the period ticked down, a Jeff Petry point shot was deftly deflected by Byron in front of the net to tie the game at two as we headed into the third period.

The Canadiens opened the third with some pressure in the Penguins’ end, propelled by the speed of Brendan Gallagher. A misplayed bank pass in the Penguins end found its way onto Flynn’s stick. His shot from the hash marks hit the goal post and the rebound somehow managed to miss Fleury, hit defenseman Chad Ruhwedel’s skate and slide back in behind Fleury to give the Canadiens a one-goal lead.

Crosby and Alexei Emelin tangled behind the Canadiens net, leaving space for a beautiful stretch pass giving Gallagher a partial breakaway. Fleury was patient on the shot though, making the save, and his defence managed to clear the rebound to leave the score at 3-2 Habs.

The Penguins poured on the pressure with Price making an easy save on a shot by Hornqvist who picked up his own rebound. Price followed the play behind the net and no one picked up Malkin standing all alone at the top of the blue paint. To quote Bob Cole, “Carey Price... well, he’s Carey Price” and he somehow managed to stop the point-blank shot, preserving the Canadiens’ lead.

The speed of Max Pacioretty led to another partial breakaway when he managed to get in behind the Penguins’ defense and although there were a flurry of chances, the Penguins’ netminder managed to flail appropriately and keep the puck from crossing the goal line.

Another Canadiens’ two-on-one looked like a sure goal for Gallagher but Fleury managed to get across his crease just in time to snuff out the scoring chance.

A Crosby shift late in the third led to some extended zone time for the Penguins but the Habs held on, not allowing any dangerous scoring chances.

A phantom Paul Byron holding call gave the Penguins a chance to tie it up on the powerplay with just three-and-a-half minutes to go in the game. A fantastic save by Carey Price led to a Plekanec short-handed chance but no goals.

Then, with the penalty killed off and less than a minute left, a point shot by Justin Schultz deflected off Sheary at the side of the net to tie the game at three, sending the Canadiens to overtime for the third straight game.

The teams traded chances at 3-on-3 until the Canadiens got a bit of a break when the refs blew the whistle on a Penguins two-on-one rush for a Canadiens’ too-many-men penalty. The Penguins immediately had a good chance but Price made a phenomenal mid-air save on a Crosby shot from the top of the blue paint. It was all for nought, however, as just after, the Penguins got the puck to Malkin at the hash marks, and he would not be denied a third time. His high snap shot hit the net and the Penguins won in overtime, 4-3.

Thoughts

  • The Canadiens defensive pairings had trouble staying coordinated and communicating in Pittsburgh. The Penguins had a good many chances coming off odd-man rushes because of misplayed coverage, like Weber left alone on the Penguins’ first goal and Johnston left alone versus Kessel on their second. This trouble communicating was highlighted in this game because of the Penguins’ speed. Speaking of...
  • The Canadiens — who are known for their speed — were beaten to a lot of pucks at both ends of the rink by the speedier Penguins. Pittsburgh won their fair share of puck battles as well. Winning a faceoff doesn’t mean much if you lose the puck along the boards immediately after.
  • But you know what? Habs. Don’t. Quit. This isn’t last year’s team that crumpled in the face of adversity. They’ve had injuries and dropped leads, but they soldier on and are doing so admirably. They had chances to put this game away. A lucky bounce is all that sent them to overtime.
  • The Habs have 14 of a possible 24 points since Alex Galchenyuk went down. Without him, David Desharnais, and Andrew Shaw. Without Andrei Markov and Greg Pateryn. They’re owning the possession stats over those games too. Guess what? The Habs are actually good.
  • Happy New Year, Habs fans. Here’s to winning something shiny in 2017.