The Montreal Canadiens were back on the ice for the first time since a dismal performance in the NHL 100 Classic on Saturday. They were offered a chance to get back on track Tuesday night against a Vancouver Canucks team that has also been struggling to get above a .500 points percentage.
The Canadiens were intent to put the bad performance behind them with a good start, and nearly got on the board in the opening moments. A perfect cross-ice pass from Paul Byron found his linemate, Max Pacioretty, but the captain was robbed by an incredible desperation save from Canucks goaltender Anders Nilsson.
The theme of burying the memory of their last game continued a few minutes later as Jonathan Drouin picked the puck up behind his own net, and build up speed to exit the zone with control. It was the same play that went horribly wrong in the outdoor game, leading the 2-0 goal that sealed the loss for the listless Habs. Drouin made it quite apparent that he was ready to jump right back on the horse and play the type of game that benefits his skill set.
The Canadiens received another good chance to open the scoring while Jakub Jerabek was sitting in the penaly box. Tomas Plekanec led a two-on-one with Byron, and opted to fire a shot on net, but Nilsson had cut down the angle and snagged the shot with his glove.
The missed chances came back to bite the Habs just after the midway point of the period. With the Canucks on the man advantage once again, the Canadiens seemed disinterested in defending the front of the net. After Thomas Vanek initially had time to stickhandle from his backhand to his forehand right in front of Carey Price, he was one of two Canucks to be left alone right near the blue paint moments later, and was able to easily bat a puck into the net to open the scoring.
The pressure to score from the Canadiens players manifested as low-percentage slapshots for the majority of the period, as players tried the brute-force approach to getting the offence going.
It was actually one of the softest shots attempted on Nilsson that turned into the tying goal. At the tail end of the Canadiens’ first power play of the game, David Schlemko tossed a puck toward the net with traffic in front, and Daniel Carr was able to get a piece of it to tip it up and over the Vancouver goaltender and make it a 1-1 game.
Neither team was really able to get anything going in the second period until Jeff Petry grabbed the bull by the horns. Retrieving the puck in his own end, he brought it up the ice and weaved his way through a few Vancouver defenders before handing it off to Byron Froese. Froese took the puck right to the net before zipping a pass across to Nicolas Deslauriers, who deposited it into the back of the net to cap off an impressive play.
The lead didn’t last long as the Canucks were able to win a board battle and came away with a three-on-one in the zone. Facing three attackers, Petry attempted to block the shot, but Alex Biega had too many options, and simply dished to Vanek at the side of the net for the former Hab’s second of the night.
It was the fourth line that helped Montreal bounce back, after some quick movement from Petry and Karl Alzner in the defensive zone advanced the puck to Daniel Carr. Carr sent a long pass across the ice to Deslauriers, and the most recent call-ups combined for Deslauriers’ second of the night.
Some back luck at the other end undid all that good work as Tomas Plekanec lost his footing while trying to defend his man, falling into his goalie and leaving the net open. Daniel Sedin took advantage, scoring his seventh of year.
Another strong shift by the fourth line resulted in a penalty call on the Canucks, and it took the Canadiens just four seconds to capitalize. After winning the faceoff, Andrew Shaw went to the front of the net, disrupting Nilsson’s sight as Petry blasted home the go-ahead goal.
Just 1:37 into the third, the Canadiens made it a two-goal game. Similar to the Canucks’ goal near the end of the second, Paul Byron had time and the goaltender at his mercy, and easily put the puck in the net.
The Habs had the chance to put the game out of reach with another power-play chance, but they were unable to connect on a few passes that would have set up difficult shots, and the penalty expired with no damage done.
The odd defending reared its ugly head on a penalty kill right afterward. All four Canadiens went to the boards in an attempt to win the puck, leaving them scrambling to cover when the puck was won by the Canucks and sent to the opposite side of the ice. Reinforcements didn’t arrive in time, and Brock Boeser was untroubled as he picked his spot and beat Price with an accurate wrist shot.
Four minutes later, the two-goal lead was restored when Phillip Danault found Alex Galchenyuk on his way to the net, and the American stickhandled in front of Nilsson before finishing the play off with his eighth goal.
With just two-and-a-half minutes remaining, it seemed like that would be enough, but Vanek’s third of the game with one minute remaining gave the Habs a bit more to do.
The work was completed by Pacioretty getting the puck to Danualt with an empty-net, the centreman finishing the play to cap a 7-5 victory.
- The Canadiens allowed 39 shots on the night, and the Canucks had several good chances from lapses in coverage. The issues are particularly glaring on penalty kill, with the Habs surrendering goals on two of the three occasions they found themselves short-handed.
- Luckily the offence was coming from all sources, so the Habs were able to outscore their errors. It’s not a recipe for success as the season continues, and eventually the defensive situation will need to be assessed, but seeing the puck being distributed as it was is an encouraging sign on that front.
- The fourth line has been playing their energy role effectively, and last night it was able to contribute on the scoresheet as well. For three players who spent significant time in the AHL this season, it’s nice to see Carr, Deslauriers, and Froese finding success with the big team.
The Habs have a few days off before wrapping up the pre-holiday leg of their road trip with back-to-back games. They next play on Friday night versus the Calgary Flames.