After Thursday’s overtime loss in Philadelphia, Claude Julien threw his lines into the blender, and out came a Montreal Canadiens team looking vastly different from anything we have seen so far this season. Brett Kulak was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch for six straight games, replacing Mikey Reilly as Cale Fleury’s partner. Jonathan Drouin took the spot left of Phillip Danault on the team’s starting unit, demoting Tomas Tatar to third-line duties. Centring that same third line last night? Nick Suzuki, getting another opportunity to display his abilities in the middle, and dropping Ryan Poehling to the former’s fourth-line-winger role. Lastly, Paul Byron joined Max Domi and Joel Armia on what was listed as the second unit.
The Los Angeles Kings entered the game with hopes of finishing their Canadian road trip with at least one win, coming into the night on a two-game losing streak.
Nine minutes into the first period, Jeff Carter got called for hooking Drouin, and Montreal went on the power play for the first time since the win against Boston on Tuesday. The home team created pressure on the man advantage, and a long sequence in the offensive zone led to a shot opportunity for Shea Weber after he was set up by Domi and Drouin. After getting blocked the first time, Weber got the puck back, and with great hand-eye coordination managed to strike it in mid-air, getting plenty of juice on it to beat Jonathan Quick for the lead. It was Weber’s 100th career power-play goal; something you could see meant a lot to him.
Fifteen seconds later, Tomas Tatar found his new linemate Artturi Lehkonen behind the goal. Lehkonen looked up and saw that Mr. Fu Manchu himself, Nate Thompson, was free in front of the net after botched coverage by Adrian Kempe. There was no mistake made from Thompson, who, with a one-timer, got his very first of the season.
The next penalty was called against Suzuki, but the Kings were not as efficient as Montreal when executing. Instead, what followed was basically a repeat of the first goal. Austin Wagner tripped up goal-scoring machine Victor Mete and Canadiens went on the power play for the second time of the night. A locked-up draw forced Nick Cousins to help get the puck back to Drouin on the blue line. Drouin quickly set up captain Weber for the slapshot. Quick got beat again, and Montreal was up three with less than 17 minutes played.
The period ended with yet another effortless power play by Los Angeles after Nick Cousins had drawn an interference call with two minutes left. Seventeen shots on goal and efficient special teams play were surely what Julien was after with the lineup shakeup.
Jeff Petry was the next player to visit the box, receiving a tripping minor in mid-ice a minute into the second. The third time was the charm for the Kings as Anze Kopitar put them on the board from a centred position, assisted by Alex Iafallo.
Los Angeles got energized by their early goal and showed promise approaching the midpoint of the game. Then penalties got the best of them again. First, Carl Grundström got a two-minute minor for high-sticking Drouin. As soon as it was killed off, Kyle Clifford got a double minor for hitting Petry in the chin with his stick.
Unfortunately for the Habs, the efficiency from the first 20 minutes was nowhere to be seen. Joel Armia had a shot from the slot on which Quick got to show his reflexes, and Weber had a couple of opportunities to become the first Canadiens defenceman in eight years to score a hat trick. However, three shots on goal are just not enough during a four-minute man advantage. With the Grundström penalty added, this was six minutes of possibilities to move into a three-goal lead.
Montreal came out in the third period with the same frenzy as during the first, immediately putting pressure on Quick. It was bend-but-don’t-break defence for the guests as their goaltender denied Lehkonen, Domi, and Armia.
With a little over seven minutes left, the Kings overcrowded the crease and Carey Price had to save his team with several sticks poking at the puck. Just as the home crowd was chanting and saluting Price’s last effort, Los Angeles got another, similar chance in front of the net. This effort went all the way through as Blake Lizotte pounded the puck in from mid-air; the young forward’s first NHL goal.
What should have been a safe and sound victory was now a fragile one-goal lead with 6.56 left. The Kings removed their goalie to go on a six-on-five with 1.26 left, trying to extract the same effect as they had two nights earlier in Ottawa when they tied it up late and forced overtime. A dubious icing call on the home team, where Jeff Carter did not look remotely interested in skating after the puck before it crawled over the line, increased the frustration and jitters on the home bench, but Montreal and Price held on. Saturday night ended on a high note with a bounce back 3-2 victory after Thursday night’s loss against the Flyers.
The last five games have come with zero consistency. Every win has been followed by a loss. Let’s hope for a different outcome on Tuesday when the Columbus Blue Jackets visit the Bell Centre for the first time this season.