Following a tough loss to one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams in the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, the Habs looked to rebound against the worst team in the NHL. Much like Montreal to start the year, the Coyotes aren’t as bad as their record indicates, so it was a game that Montreal would have to come out and put in a full 60-minute effort.
It was not a smooth start however, as Zac Rinaldo pressured Karl Alzner who responded by throwing the puck out of play just 25 seconds into the game. The Canadiens penalty kill was more than up to the task, clearing the zone easily, and also carrying the puck deep into the Arizona zone to kill off the delay of game minor.
From there the Habs’ offence kicked into gear and put the pressure on Antti Raanta and the Coyotes defenders. Just past the midway point of the period Charles Hudon collected a puck in the neutral zone, and then weaved his way through the defence and into the offensive zone. From there he feathered a perfect pass to Brendan Gallagher who was breaking in from the wing. Gallagher made a nifty move and with a slick backhand finish bested the Coyotes goalie for the opening goal.
Just three minutes later the Habs would strike again, and in shockingly similar fashion to their first goal. Jonathan Drouin dished off to Alex Galchenyuk who carried into the offensive zone. Galchenyuk fed a gorgeous pass to the suddenly hot Paul Byron, and the speedy winger buried his fifth of the year past a sprawling Raanta.
With a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission, the Canadiens seemed in control of the game, and should have likely cruised to an easy victory against a hapless Arizona team. After Nicolas Deslauriers and Zac Rinaldo had a meeting of the fists, which seemingly resulted in some sort of injury to Deslauriers hand, the Coyotes took over the game.
Andrew Shaw, whose play has been very good of late turned the puck over in a bad spot in the defensive zone. Brad Richardson scooped up the errant clearing attempt, passed off to Alex Gologoski, who sent the puck back to Richardson who wired one five hole on Lindgren. Then five minutes later a hectic scramble during the penalty kill led to Karl Alzner losing his position in front of the net. With the lane open Christian Dvorak picked up the loose puck from an Anthony Duclair shot and tied the game just as the penalty expired in the second period.
In credit to the Canadiens, they pushed back, with Charlie Lindgren and Joe Morrow being the unlikely catalyst in the third Montreal goal. Tobias Reider broke in alone behind the Habs defence with less than five minutes remaining, and was stoned cold by Lindgren. The puck went the other way with Brendan Gallagher likely getting a bit of luck to not be called for interference. Tomas Plekanec held the puck deep into the Arizona end, then dished to Joe Morrow who uncorked a missile of a shot to put Montreal back on top.
Then things took a nosedive straight into pure insanity in the final minute of the second period. A late push from the Coyotes put the pressure on Lindgren and the Habs defence, Reider originally kicking off the whole fiasco with a harmless shot. An ensuing scramble kicked the puck back to the faceoff circle, where Reider collected it and scored his fourth goal of the year to knot the game up again. Once again though the Canadiens blue line, and wily vet Tomas Plekanec charged right back to take the lead. Claude Julien made it very clear that on a late faceoff that Plekanec would need to win it directly back to a waiting Shea Weber. That is exactly what he did, and Weber picked a perfect shot and put home his fourth goal of the young NHL season.
This is where the good news stops for Montreal, the third period was an unmitigated disaster on every single level. From the outset Derek Stepan got not one, not two, not three, but four high danger chances against Lindgren to start the period. The last came on the power play and resulted in another goal for the Coyotes. Jordie Benn went to cut a pass off from the corner on the penalty kill, unfortunately the puck fell right to Stepan who made the Habs penalty kill pay once again.
Tobias Reider then burned the Habs and sealed their fate midway into the final period. He collected puck and broke in uncontested again. To prevent a possible goal Shea Weber was forced into taking a slashing penalty. The penalty killing units then once again failed to contain the Arizona man advantage, as Christian Fischer was in front of the net all alone and swatted home a Brendan Perlini shot to put his side in the lead 5-4.
The Habs had a brief moment of hope late in the game when it appeared Andrew Shaw had tied the game on a greasy goal in the crease. Jordie Benn let a shot fly, and it drilled Shaw square in the wrist and slowly fell towards the net. As Shaw fell either in pain or in an act he swiped at the puck with his skate and according to the officials, kicked the puck into the net after a short review process. That was all she wrote for Montreal as they become the first team to fall in regulation to the NHL’s worst team so far this season.
The game was not without it’s ugly moments however, including Deslauriers injuring his hand in his fight with Zac Rinaldo. Then late in the game Jordan Martinook hit Brendan Gallagher up high, stunning him and leaving him in a vulnerable position. Zac Rinaldo then decided to blindside him in the head as well without the puck.
Concussion spotters pulled Brendan Gallagher after this pair of hits pic.twitter.com/jH8pgBK1sS— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 17, 2017
Martinook was given just two minutes for checking to the head, and Rinaldo got nothing. Gallagher was then pulled for most of the period by the NHL’s concussion spotters to be checked out for a possible head injury. Gallagher did return to the game, which means for the time being he was okay to play, but it would be wise for the Habs medical staff to keep an eye on him for the next few days.
It was an ugly affair in Montreal last night. The offence generated some great chances and scored four goals. The defence and penalty kill, however, continue to be an anchor of epic proportions for this team. With the high-powered Toronto Maple Leafs on the docket for Saturday, and Dallas looming next week the Canadiens coaching staff needs to figure out something to get this ship righted soon.