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Canadiens vs. Blue Jackets game recap: Carey Price shines in shootout win

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The Habs dominated play at five-on-five, but struggled to generate offence. Carey Price made sure that didn’t matter.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

After alternating wins and a loss in their previous three games, the Montreal Canadiens took to the ice for an important contest at home on Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Important, because a win would actually push the home team ahead of Toronto in the Atlantic division, while the visitors were looking to start climbing out of the basement of the Eastern conference.

After a close call against the lowly Los Angeles Kings in their previous outing, the Habs needed to put forth a more convincing effort against a statistically inferior team.

It certainly didn’t start the way you’d expect based on the two teams’ respective places in the standings.

Despite two early tripping penalties against Shea Weber, the Canadiens near league-worst penalty kill held strong, thanks largely to some stellar Carey Price goaltending. Unfortunately, Eric Robinson found himself alone in front of the Habs’ net late in the period — not on the power play, suprisingly — and could not be denied his first NHL goal.

To say the officiating was one-sided in the first would be an understatement, but at any rate the end result was a 1-0 Columbus lead after one.

In the second, the refs did award the home side their first opportunity with the man advantage, but they struggled even more to generate anything close to a scoring chance. They were afforded a second such opportunity later in the second after Tomas Tatar was hooked on an odd-man rush, but again the power play was but an exercise in futility.

Throughout the second, the Habs had some glaring issues breaking out against a heavy Columbus forecheck. Despite this, they continued to dominate possession at even-strength, and held a whopping 63.3% of shot attempts at five-on-five through 40 minutes. Alas, they went into the final intermission still down by a score of 1-0.

Needing to find the back of the net, the tricolore immediately began pressing to start the third. They did find the back of the net early in the frame, but unfortunately Max Domi’s stick was about three feet above the cross-bar when he knocked it in, so it was justifiably waved off.

But they kept their foot on the gas, thankfully, and Brendan Gallagher tied it up with a long shot that was at least slightly deflected by a defender en route to the back of the net. 1-1 and the home side seemed in control of the game.

Unfortunately they slowed down a little after the tying goal, and Columbus gradually began to push back with some shots and scoring chances of their own. If the ice was tilted in Montreal’s favour for most of the game at even-strength, the latter parts of the third period saw them sit back as if relieved to have tied the score.

Then Zack Werenski walked in and beat Carey Price to restore the one-goal lead with just under two minutes to play in the game. Yet another late-period goal allowed by the Canadiens, and this one really took the air out of the Bell Centre.

But Claude Julien immediately pulled Carey Price for the extra skater, and the Habs began to put a hellacious pace on the opposition to look for another tying marker. Enter Nick Suzuki, who put an absolutely gorgeous cross-ice pass on Tatar’s stick, and just like that we had a tie game... Again.

Early in the overtime period, all three Canadiens skaters found themselves too deep after a rush, leading to a near two-on-zero rush for the Blue Jackets. Victor Mete, however, completed a ridiculous backcheck to thwart the chance, but took a holding penalty in the process.

A penalty in overtime is usually a kiss of death, but it was the most entertaining penalty kill you could ask to see. Nate Thompson almost scored on a rush after stealing the puck, then Shea Weber had a chance, then Carey Price made a windmill glove save to help the Habs escape the danger.

And they turned it on in a big way for the final moments of overtime, pressing hard for the game winner, but it ultimately went to the shootout.

First up was Paul Byron, who tried to go glove side but was met there by Elvis Merzlikins. Then Cam Atkinson seemed to get the better of Price, but he ran out of race track and hit the post. Jonathan Drouin then stepped up, and showed exactly what kind of skill he has with the puck.

Price took it from there, and sealed the deal for his team. It was much closer than you might like against an Eastern Conference bottom-feeder, but they managed to get it done for a big two points, which of course pulled them ahead of Toronto for second place in the Atlantic.

Thoughts

  • Carey Price was unbelievable. The team in front of him put forth a performance that should usually get him more run support, but it didn’t matter that the goals didn’t come. He was there when he needed to be, in particular during the outings for the much maligned penalty kill. For the last few games we’ve been seeing things from him that I’d argue are reminiscent of his Vezina and Hart trophy-winning season. Price being at his best is of immeasurable value to this team, and he’s been there consistently of late.
  • Nick Suzuki’s pass to Tomas Tatar was absolutely, jaw-droppingly gorgeous. I won’t go off about that, but I will advise anyone who agrees with me to stay tuned, as we’ll have more on that today at EOTP.
  • At even-strength, the Habs were at 58.7% Corsi-for, 53.49% Scoring chances-for, and 53.85% high-danger chances for. Columbus did a good job limiting the quality of chances, and Elvis Merzlikins did his part as well, but the Habs were the far better team at five-on-five. That is what you’d expect, however, so there is something to be said for their lack of finish.
  • Max Domi played incredibly well last night, and probably deserved a couple of goals at least. I did, however, feel that he was getting dangerously close to taking penalties while trying to get some very unwilling Blue Jackets players to fight him. That being said, he was dominant, and if he keeps playing the way he is, the flood gates will open.