The New York Islanders rolled into Montreal having won their last two games, taking on a Canadiens team in need of wins to maintain their weakening grasp on the Atlantic Division lead. Carey Price stole the show against the Rangers on Tuesday, and the Habs got more of that performance to give their offence a chance to come back to life.
Early on, the puck was moving quickly from one end of the ice to the other, with both teams playing fast and passing well. The Canadiens generated some action in the Islanders’ zone but failed to come up with many threatening shots on net.
Five-and-a-half minutes in, Sorel-Tracy’s Anthony Beauvillier completed a beautiful pass from Brock Nelson with a short-side snipe on Carey Price. It was Beauvillier’s sixth goal of the season, and to have it happen on his first shot taken at the Bell Centre, against Price, will be a cherished memory forever.
The goal sucked some life out of Montreal, but the Habs would got a reprieve from the crowd thanks to a a pause in action, during which the a warm ovation was given to Claude Julien, who was coaching his 1,000th game.
At the halfway mark of the period one, Phillip Danault was called for a slash on John Tavares. As was the case in the game against the Rangers, the Habs’ penalty kill came up big, playing in a box formation and being quick on the puck to force snap decisions from the Islanders. One minute after a successful kill, the Islanders took a penalty of their own, when Bracken Kearns held Nathan Beaulieu.
Much like the PK, the Canadiens’ power play looked refreshed, maintaining and cycling the puck waiting for good options. The highlight of the two-minute advantage was regrettably a highlight-reel save by Thomas Greiss at the expense of a Shea Weber slapshot.
The rest of the period finished without much incident. Canadiens played relatively well, showed excellent execution on special teams, and got burned by one mistake. 1-0 Islanders after twenty minutes.
The second period looked pretty good for Montreal; much better than the first. The team’s first big chance of the second was a two-on-one featuring the unlikely twosome of Michael McCarron and Alexei Emelin. Emelin’s shot was never a threat to beat Greiss, and one the Habs’ best chances went for naught.
As if to remind Habs fans of his earlier stunt on Shea Weber, the Islanders’ goaltender then robbed Jeff Petry on a solid shot.
New York doubled their lead after a broken defensive play in Montreal’s end. Josh Bailey cut through the zone, drawing the attention of both Emelin and Weber, neither of whom noticed Anders Lee sneaking around them. Bailey shuffled the pass to Lee who was wide open behind the defenders, and Price was beaten up high with a quick shot.
The Canadiens maintained their strategy of moving the puck into the Islanders’ zone and cycle it around the boards, but failed to get any cross-ice passes and generate any actual offence.
As the middle frame wound down, the Bell Centre was shaken back to life as Alexei Emelin crushed John Tavares as he was cutting through the middle of the ice. The hit was a sign of life; a statement bodycheck and, best of all, a clean hit. However, Emelin followed this up by shadowing Tavares into the corner, where he took down the Islanders’ captain before he had played the puck. Emelin earned a two-minute minor for the infraction, and an additional call for roughing in the ensuing scrap.
Alexei Emelin drills John Tavares pic.twitter.com/DjlltfSC4M— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) February 24, 2017
The Habs’ PK kept New York off the board through the end of the period and killed off the balance to start the third. Montreal seemed a bit lethargic after returning to full strength, and the Isles were able to get away with playing a more risk-averse style, increasing the challenge for Claude Julien’s squad.
As the team became desperate for a goal, the Canadiens appeared to get one, but it was immediately called off. A review showed that the puck was touched by a high stick, though it was inconclusive whether it was Paul Byron’s or Tomas Plekanec’s.
Play resumed after the call on the ice was confirmed, and the Habs rushed right back up the ice and put another puck into Greiss’ net, only to have that one called off as well. Artturi Lehkonen busted in and found himself with space in front of the Islanders’ net, took a shot, and then punched his own rebound out of the air into the net. His body language suggested he knew right away it wasn’t a legal goal, though it was still an impressive drive to the net for a rookie who could use a goal to put himself back on track.
This momentum-crushing double goal rejection proved to be the final breath of life from the Canadiens, who weren’t able to threaten afterward. Price was eventually pulled to try to turn the tides, but the only result was a John Tavares empty-netter, leaving Montreal with a 3-0 loss to digest.
This marks the Canadiens’ fourth shutout loss in their last eight games, and the fans showed their discontent in the final minutes of play.
- There is hope. Montreal played very well on both the power play and penalty kill, and they did look more organized in their zone exits and entries. They also failed to force their way into high-danger areas and generate scoring opportunities, and they got burned by two defensive lapses.
- Julien has his work cut out for him, but this team is better than it currently looks, and he’s the man for the job.
- Onwards and upwards, to an important division game in Toronto on Saturday night.