The Montreal Canadiens had a few chances early in Thursday’s contest versus the Los Angeles Kings, but once L.A. got a lead they were able collapse into their usual configuration and close down the transition game Montreal relies on. It was a frustrating night for the team in its home opener, and ended without them scoring any goals.
The Canadiens were eager to change their fortunes on Saturday night, welcoming an opponent they had already soundly defeated this season. The Pittsburgh Penguins had rebounded after that loss with a 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights, and were primed to have a better outing in Montreal.
Speed and forechecking pressure were once again the hallmarks of the Canadiens game in the opening minutes, and their neutral-zone pace earned them plenty of entries beyond Pittsburgh’s blue line. A net-rushing mindset earned them a few shots on goal, but it also led to most of those being one-and-done chances, and didn’t allow much opportunity for setting up anything more than a hopeful pass to the slot.
The aggression bit Montreal in the first 20 minutes. As one of the last men back, Phillip Danault lunged forward in an attempt to steal the puck, but instead ended up turning a two-on-two into a two-on-one in the Canadiens zone, and the Habs were unable to regain their positioning before Dominik Simon deposited the puck behind Antti Niemi to open the scoring.
Noah Juulsen’s attempt to stick-handle his way into the zone versus the Penguins’ top line didn’t go as smoothly as it had in his head, and Sidney Crosby raced back the other way on a breakaway. The game stayed at its 1-0 score thanks to a patient effort from Niemi to stay with him as he got in on net, closing down the hole Crosby was aiming for.
That score wouldn’t hold for the remainder of the period. Phil Kessel displayed the benefit of making a creative play, fooling the Canadiens defenders who were expecting him to just rush the puck straight at the net by stopping inside the circle and passing it back to Kris Letang. With the Canadiens following Kessel’s momentum, Letang was uncontested as he fired the puck from the slot to make it 2-0.
Coming out of the intermission, the line of Danault, Brendan Gallagher, and Tomas Tatar attacked the zone with speed once again and worked the puck to the goalmouth. It took just 11 seconds from the drop of the puck to get on the board. After being turned away from the net slightly by a Penguins defender, Tatar reached to his side and whacked a loose puck past Casey DeSmith to cut the lead in half.
Seven minutes later, the same line erased the deficit altogether. Tatar won a board battle to get the puck back to Jeff Petry, and the defenceman’s low point shot left a juicy rebound at the side of the net. Gallagher pounced, and backhanded into the net.
Earning a power play seconds after the next commercial break, the Canadiens sent out some of their top offensive options. The Penguins never got established on the shift, as Jonathan Drouin got the puck to the net, and Tatar was right on the doorstep to bang it in and give the Canadiens the lead for the first time.
The Canadiens couldn’t hold the advantage for long, however. The Penguins got a power play of their own as Jordie Benn went to the box, and there was no containing Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kessel, as each registered a point on Kessel’s fourth goal of the year.
A glorious chance fell Montreal’s way later in the frame as Carl Hagelin shot the puck out of play while his team was already down a man, and Montreal had 119 seconds to make it a 4-3 game. They just didn’t have the killer instinct necessary to take advantage of the situation, playing too far on the perimieter and being hesitant to try a creative pass, and the horn sounded with the game still tied.
With no scoring happening in the third, the game went to overtime. The Canadiens had yet another power play in the additional frame, but were unable to convert, as they finished the night one-for-six with an extra man.
The best chance came right near the end of the five-minute period, as Jonathan Drouin drew all the attention before whipping the puck to the other side of the ice. Max Domi accepted the pass, and had all of the net to shoot at, but the part he managed to hit was made of iron, meaning a shootout would be required to decide it.
Paul Byron went first, and froze DeSmith just long enough with a deke to open up the far side of the net, where he deposited the puck to put some early pressure on the visitors. Malkin tried a series of dekes at the other end, but Niemi wasn’t biting, and in the end the forward deked himself right out of a scoring position and never got a quality shot off.
Drouin was up next, and his shot gave Montreal a two-goal edge. It was up to Crosby to keep it going, but on his second breakaway of the night, he was once again bested by Niemi, as the backup netminder secured his first win of the season.
- While the Canadiens were playing with energy and speed in the first period, little of the effort was actually resulting in dangerous chances. The play was largely along the boards, and the players were working hard without it resulting in anything productive.
- The Danault line’s energy was spent getting the puck not just in the zone, but around the net, and that made the difference as Montreal turned what could have been another frustrating loss into a victory.
- Jeff Petry is on pace of 82 points. Thought it was important to point that out.
- Scoring just once on six power play chances, Montreal made the game more difficult than it needed to be. We’ll have more on that aspect of the game later today.
- Montreal gets one day off before they welcome the Detroit Red Wings to the Bell Centre. No team is allowing more goals against per game than the division rival, so a typical effort from the home side could lead to another good outcome on Monday night.