After kicking off the season with a three-game road tour, the Montreal Canadiens skated out on home ice for the first time this season. Their opponent, the Detroit Red Wings, lost their last game against Anaheim, but have otherwise started this season on a high note, beating both Nashville and Dallas.
Carey Price retook his place in goal after having his first night off this year, while Christian Folin and Mikey Reilly got another chance to prove themselves on the third pairing. Detroit chose to give Jonathan Bernier a chance at redemption after posting an ugly .864 mark in his first game against the Stars.
There was a special moment before the game for rookies Cale Fleury and Nick Suzuki, getting their first ovation from the home crowd after making the team this pre-season.
Both teams got off to a hesitant start when the puck dropped, feeling each other’s pulse without creating major scoring chances. Andreas Athanasiou got the first real possibility halfway through the first on a two-on-one break, but Price responded with a routine save.
The Red Wings took the lead after having played a little over 13 minutes, when a blue-line shot deflected off Folin’s skate and went straight to Darren Helm, who slapped it past Price for his first of the season. This was the start of a few fiery minutes for Helm, who had two more quality scoring chances right afterward in a bid to increase the lead, but the Habs’ goalie managed to get his immediate revenge.
The goal was the beginning of five minutes where the Canadiens looked sloppy both on offence and on defence, showing an inability to clear the puck or establish pressure in the offensive zone. Price had to save his team once again when Taro Hirose turned up in front of the net and met a pass from behind.
With a few minutes left in the first period, Brendan Gallagher, in an act of pure Gallagher-esque willpower, lit a spark in the Habs’ offensive game when he drove straight toward the goal from out wide left, getting rammed into Bernier in the process. After this, Jordan Weal, who earlier had left the game to be treated by the medics, returned and managed to create two quality chances with his speed and hockey sense. On the first one he set up Paul Byron, whose shot went just wide, while the second opportunity saw his own shot getting stopped by the Detroit netminder.
An offensive-zone faceoff with less than a minute to go gave Claude Julien the chance to pair up his most consistent faceoff specialist with Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia. Phillip Danault won the faceoff, Drouin stopped up the puck and left the initiative to Armia, who slapped a shot from the high slot past a possibly screened and certainly stunned Bernier.
Just when everyone was getting ready for an 18-minute break, yet another unlucky bounce in front of the Montreal goal gave Tyler Bertuzzi a semi-open net. Todd’s nephew said “many thanks” and pushed the puck past a wriggling Price with 23 seconds left to play to instantly restore the lead.
The first power play of the game went to Montreal when Anthony Mantha got two minutes for high-sticking nearly three minutes into the second period. After a power-play goal in each of the first three games, the Habs used these two minutes to extend that streak to four. Offensive-zone pressure culminated in a Jeff Petry slapshot, which bounced behind and then back over the net, got deflected off an unaware Bernier, and Max Domi wrestled in his second of the season to tie up the contest yet again.
Just two minutes later, the Habs went on the man advantage again. This time Patrik Nemeth got called for tripping Joel Armia. Captain Weber slapped his missile of a shot twice and Brendan Gallagher got a nice opportunity in front, but deflections and efficient blocking hindered further development.
Tyler Bertuzzi continued to annoy the home defence after his earlier strike and would have had his second of the night mid-game if not for the combined effort of Price and Weber. The Habs’ goalie also managed to rob Athanasiou, before a slashing call on Suzuki sent the home team on the penalty kill for the first time on the evening.
In a similar fashion to Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel from the last two games, Anthony Mantha managed to create something out of nothing when he drilled a one-timer past a screened Price for his sixth of the season.
Going into the last period, Montreal was trailing once again. However, this last week has given us hope that this team can bounce back from absolutely everything. A one-goal deficit should be a walk in the park, right?
Folin got two minutes in the box for elbowing fellow Swede Christoffer Ehn two minutes in. The Canadiens showed better physical presence on this penalty kill, and even managed to create a few characteristic takeaways, which resulted in a Nate Thompson shot from the right and Lehkonen going head first toward the boards when he tried to steer in a pass from Danault. Ben Chiarot also got to show off his strength and physicality, blocking Red Wings players from disturbing Price in the crease.
With three minutes left, the goalie had to take on his all-too-common role of saviour when Helm came in all alone from mid-ice. What could have been a game-defining save another night unfortunately didn’t factor in on the result this time.
Julien gambled with an extra attacker during the last two minutes and even got a chance to play six-on-four for the final 25 seconds when Mantha got called for delay of game. However, by that time Detroit had already sealed the deal with an empty-netter from Luke Glendening.
With this result, Montreal received their first regulation-time loss of the year, and will certainly have to improve their act if they want to have a chance against the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Saturday.