The Montreal Canadiens put together a solid 65 minutes, but couldn't score enough in regulation, overtime or the shootout and ultimately fell 3-2 in a shootout to the Nashville Predators at the Bell Centre on Saturday night.
Right from the outset, it was P.K. Subban in the spotlight as the chants of his name rained down from the fans in the Bell Centre, Nicolas Deslauriers however was unmoved and threw a pair of heavy hits on the Nashville defender.
Despite typically starting slow in recent games, the Canadiens jumped all over the Predators in the opening half of the period. The combination of Max Pacioretty and Charles Hudon created the best chance on a 2-on-1, but in what would be a theme on the night Pekka Rinne’s glove was right there to snag the shot. Not long after the Habs headed to a power play, looking to capitalize on their early momentum.
Even a penalty to Karl Alzner was handled with ease by the Habs. Following a disastrous outing in Philadelphia, the Canadiens penalty killers were much more solid against Nashville. The first period was not without its chippy moments, especially after the whistle with a scrum breaking out after the Habs took umbrage with a shot on Carey Price after the whistle. Then in the dying minutes, Alexei Emelin was boxed for an ugly looking knee on knee hit with Nikita Scherbak, unfortunately Montreal’s power play couldn’t find a breakthrough.
Much like the Flyers game, the combination of Scherbak and Alex Galchenyuk nearly struck early, with the youngster being no worse for wear after the Emelin collision. The kid line nearly struck late in the dying seconds of the first period, with a massive pile of bodies in front of the net, yet it was Rinne again holding the line against a heavy Montreal onslaught
With the Habs buzzing, it was the resurgent Artturi Lehkonen who nearly broke the scoreless tie after cutting to the middle of the ice and firing a shot that Mattias Ekholm had to deflect out of play. The offensive pressure continued with Max Pacioretty carrying in, then splitting the gap between Subban and Alexei Emelin, but was stopped cold by Rinne.
The momentum came to a slight stop as a questionable too many men on the ice call sent the Habs to another penalty kill. Nashville never truly got their man advantage clicking as Paul Byron had the best chance for either side as he corralled a loose puck and broke in uncontested on Rinne, who made a fantastic pad stop.
It was then Lehkonen who created Montreal’s opening goal of the game. Filip Forsberg slowed up entering the neutral zone, allowing Lehkonen to force him off the puck and out of the play. Brendan Gallagher picked up the loose puck, had his first shot blocked by Subban, and then collected the rebound and fired home his 20th goal of the year, and gave Montreal a well deserved lead.
Scherbak continued his strong NHL play, this time putting the puck between Ekholm’s legs, and turning on the jets to drive the net for a prime scoring chance, but Rinne was up to the task.
Like so many times this year, the Canadiens were dominating their opponent, with the Predators failing to string much offence together against the Montreal defence. Ironically it would be Rinne again who was the catalyst, as his breakout pass caught the Habs napping defensively. Some nice interplay between Scott Hartnell, Roman Josi and Nick Bonino led to Hartnell tapping home the tying goal.
The tightly contested game would continue into the final 20 minutes, right down to the shots, with each team registering 13 on net. It was Scherbak again acting as a catalyst for Montreal, and his play with Jonathan Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk gave the Predators fits, especially Subban who struggled to contain the young forward all game.
Nikita Scherbak's confidence is sky high, he outworks Subban on the boards, then nearly scores on a pass from Drouin. pic.twitter.com/5UCPDpejqA— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 11, 2018
In a trend that has been all too familiar this year, the hard work of the offence was soon undone by poor defensive coverage. A scramble around the net saw Ryan Johansen get the puck around a sprawling Carey Price, right to Kevin Fiala who was left all alone by Jordie Benn and the Swiss forward rifled home his 18th goal of the year.
Instead of folding and allowing a follow-up goal like so many prior games, the Canadiens put their foot down and pushed back hard against Rinne and the Preds. The Finnish netminder was in top form, turning away everything that came his way, even as his teammates struggled to get in gear to grab an insurance goal.
With Carey Price on the bench for an extra attacker, the red hot Jeff Petry set up Drouin for a last gasp equalizer. It was the relentless hustle from Lehkonen that started the play, as the young Finn jumped on a loose puck near the blue line, where he fed it across to Petry. The Habs defender dished off to Drouin who walked in from the point, and uncorked a laser-guided shot over Rinne’s shoulder and into the net to tie the game with 1:14 remaining.
In overtime, Claude Julien opted to go with speed and skill to start overtime with Paul Byron, Drouin and the rookie Victor Mete. While the first unit performed well, the unit of Scherbak and Alex Galchenyuk nearly ended the game a half dozen times in less than a 30 second span. Galchenyuk was in peak form, ducking and weaving through the elite Nashville defence, but Pekka Rinne stopped all 10 shots he faced, a new overtime record, sending the game into a shootout.
After the excitement of an end to end overtime, after 60 minutes of tightly contested hockey, ending this game with a shootout was almost criminal. The Predators would need just one goal to seal the win, with Ryan Ellis throwing Price a changeup instead of a fastball, while Byron, Drouin and Pacioretty weren’t able to beat Rinne.
Despite not getting both points, Montreal was miles better than Nashville tonight, firing 49 shots on Pekka Rinne, and likely deserving more than just two goals overall. The young players shined bright once again, and if there’s anything to take away from this game it’s that.
Ignore all the post game drama, the best players on the ice for the Canadiens tonight were all under 25 years old, save for Jeff Petry who continues to flourish as the top defender in Montreal. This season might be a wash, but there’s plenty to look forward to in the future.