The Montreal Canadiens had a couple of days to think about their first back-to-back regulation losses of the season. The coaching staff had that time to consider the makeup of the lineup, and weigh a few different possibilities for changes. In the end, Claude Julien decided to leave his forward lines intact, with his only alterations coming on the back end. Mikey Reilly bumped Brett Kulak from the blue line, while Ben Chiarot moved up to the second pairing.
With a familiar top line and defensive unit out for the opening faceoff, that established chemistry allowed Phillip Danault’s line to mount some pressure right off the bat, forcing the Toronto Maple Leafs so far back that the Habs were able to change on the fly with the play still in the attacking end.
On the next few shifts, it looked like Montrel believed they were still playing the suffocating neutral-zone trap of the San Jose Sharks, icing the puck with some inaccurate stretch passes, giving the Leafs a brief moment of play in the offensive zone. The home team quickly realized that the Leafs weren’t nearly as committed to defending their own blue line as Thursday’s opponent, and began to gain the zone with much more ease.
Given how they had started the game, it was no surprise when the Danault line found the game’s first goal. The centreman won the puck back to Reilly, who changed his shooting angle just slightly to get around a screen to get the puck on target. Tomas Tatar, who had been in front of the net, raced to the rebound that Michael Hutchinson had allowed, and swept it over to Brendan Gallagher. Gallagher had his first shot denied, but followed up with a second to put his team in the lead.
Some aggression from the Canadiens at their own blue line resulted in a second goal minutes later. Rather than collapsing right back to the slot as forwards have often been doing this season, Jonathan Drouin and Joel Armia put pressure on the Leafs’ forwards trying to gain the zone. Drouin got in position to prevent a pass back along the blue line, and sprinted down the ice when he saw that Armia had created a turnover. Armia made a great backhand saucer pass that allowed Drouin to maintain his stride through a gaping hole in the Leafs’ defence. With the space to glide in on goal, he deked a few times, then sent the puck through Hutchinson’s legs on the backhand for a 2-0 lead.
The Canadiens kept pressing even with the two-goal edge, and were able to draw a power play moments later, getting a chance to really put the Leafs in a hole. They had sustained pressure and got a few shots on net, but a third goal didn’t come.
Despite being significantly outplayed, the Leafs needed just one real chance to get themselves on the scoreboard. On the first prolonged possession in the offensive zone, Mitch Marner carried the puck from below the goal line toward the top of the zone, drawing the attention of all six players in Canadiens jerseys. When Marner’s pass went across to Jake Muzzin, there was no one in position to cover him, and the defenceman sent to puck past a scrambling Carey Price.
The Canadiens were looking good with a 19-4 shot edge and a 2-0 lead with 16 seconds to go in the opening frame, but the late Leafs goal seemed to have deflated the Habs’ spirit somewhat when play resumed in the second. The confident puck movement and assertive blue-line defence gave way to a panicked attempt to control the opposition to begin the second period. The puck was mostly in Montreal’s end as they were unable to get ahold of it and settle things down. To the Leafs’ credit, they looked much more composed than they had to begin the game, and started to take over the flow as a result.
After six minutes of that pressure, Toronto got a tying goal as Montreal ran around in their own end trying to get a stick on the puck. Cale Fleury, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Nick Suzuki ended up in front of Price trying to prevent a scoring chance, but Andreas Johnsson turned away from the net to free up his stick and sent a quick backhand shot off the goalie’s blocker and into the net.
Montreal got things somewhat settled after the tying goal. They weren’t their high-flying selves from the first, but they did finally get some shots toward to the Leafs’ net in the second half of the period.
Despite staunching the bleeding, the Habs risked surrending the go-ahead goal when Drouin got called for knocking the stick out of Alexander Kerfoot’s hands. The penalty-kill units were different from what we’d seen in previous games, with Shea Weber and Jeff Petry stepping on the ice to deal with the Leafs’ first wave. After the two right-handed defencemen went back to the bench, lefties Ben Chiarot and Victor Mete jumped on. The Leafs’ best players were unable to test that pairing’s work around the net because Mete simply shut down access to the zone at the blue line, turning the Leafs back on a few occasions and helping Montreal get through their only man disadvantage of the night unscathed.
With the puck in the Leafs’ zone with a minute to go, Max Domi got crunched into the boards from behind by Kerfoot. Domi got up, dropped his gloves, and threw a punch in Kerfoot’s direction, but the only penalty on the play was Kerfoot’s boarding minor. The minor was split by the second intermission, giving Montreal a bit of time to work with after going scoreless in the first minute.
The Canadiens didn’t even need to get set up at the start of the third period, because the power-play goal came just seven seconds in. The Leafs won the draw, but the puck just slowly trickled away from the dot. Cody Ceci was forced to tie up Suzuki, while Jake Muzzin was tasked with stopping Armia. After pulling the puck around his man, Armia couldn’t be contained as he got into the zone, and Suzuki made sure to stay engaged with Ceci all the way to the net; a sustained pick that gave Armia enough room to cut across the top of the crease and put the puck past Hutchinson for his sixth goal of the season.
After eight minutes of play going slightly in Montreal’s favour, another good bit of work at the top of the defensive zone gave Montreal another chance. With Armia and Drouin once again keeping the blue-liners under pressure, it was Drouin this time who took advantage of a bobble to collect the puck himself and race away. With similar room to what he enjoyed on his first nreakaway goal, Hutchinson waited to see which way Drouin would go this time, and was caught by surprise when the forward just fired a quick shot instead.
Montreal bullied the Leafs’ defence one more time around the 12-minute mark of the final period. An attempted change from the Leafs as Kasperi Kapanen tried to dump the puck in was timed with a takeaway from Nate Thompson. It created a two-on-one with Thompson and Suzuki, and the latter netted his third of the season to put the game out of reach at 5-2 as the Habs got back into the win column.
Playing what was just their second game since last Sunday’s matinee in Minnesota, the Canadiens will have a few more days off before they play next. That game will be the first in a three-game Western Conference road trip that starts off against the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday.
- Cale Fleury is the only player on the 23-man roster without a point, but that shoudln’t be the case for much longer. He shows good confidence in the offensive zone, and makes sure he has a lane before sending either a slapshot or wrist shot toward the net, which will start resulting in assists. His first point could very well come on a delayed call. He has been moving up to play the role of a forward in that situation, and got a one-time shot (maybe not such an accurate one) right at the side of the net as a result. Eventually he will get rewarded for that effort.
- On Armia’s goal to open the third, along with occupying Ceci, Suzuki also gave a double-tap with his stick to the ice near Armia’s right foot. Whether it was to let Armia know he was there with him, or to tell him he had open space on that side, there was a message there for his linemate that may have helped create the game-winning goal.
- Remember that guy who had Drouin ranked 10th in this summer’s Top 25 Under 25? I’m glad he was wrong.