Coming off the heels of a controversial overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night, the Montreal Canadiens were handed another large dose of bad news. They would be without forward Paul Byron for at least a month, and star winger Jonathan Drouin for about two. What that means is forwards like Charles Hudon and a returning Jesperi Kotkaniemi are going to shoulder larger loads, and first up after learning their situation was a rematch against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.
The Canadiens eked out a close victory last week over the Blue Jackets at home, but now had to travel into the cannon’s home arena in Columbus to try to keep their strong run of form alive. The only real changes from Saturday’s game were bumping Ben Chiarot back to his usual spot alongside Jeff Petry, and the reinsertion of Hudon on the fourth line once again. Notably, Nick Suzuki maintained his centre position on the second line.
Brendan Gallagher broke in alone on Joonas Korpisalo just six seconds into the game, but it was the Blue Jackets who found the back of the net first. Eric Robinson dropped down low and David Savard fed him a perfect pass that he one-timed by Carey Price for his second career goal, with his first coming the previous week against Price as well.
It was up to the Canadiens’ netminder to keep his side in the game in the early going, coming across with a big glove save on Pierre-Luc Dubois to keep the deficit at just one goal.
As in most games, it was only a matter of time before the Canadiens’ top line started to make noise, and in the final moments of the period they struck. Phillip Danault brought the puck into the zone and a timely pinch from Brett Kulak kept the play alive in the Columbus zone. Kulak fired a pass to the end boards, where Danault drew in multiple Blue Jackets. This left Artturi Lehkonen all alone in the right faceoff circle, and Danault put a pass right on his stick. Lehkonen made no mistake, rifling his third of the year by Korpisalo and tied the game with less than four to play in the period.
Carey Price was called into action in the dying seconds to deny a few more Columbus chances, but the teams headed into intermission tied, with Montreal looking like they had recovered from their slow start.
The opening minutes of the second period were tentative to put it lightly, with both teams failing to put much of an imprint on the game after a high-speed first. That changed rather abruptly thanks to a great effort from Ben Chiarot along the boards in the Columbus zone. Jeff Petry fired a pass along the blue line for Chiarot, who battled up the left half boards, spinning off his defender and firing a shot toward Korpisalo. Luckily for him, Joel Armia had taken up residence in front of the net and with a deft tip he directed Chiarot’s shot by Korpisalo, putting Montreal in the lead.
Chiarot was not without his faults in the period, with a poor play in his own end resulting in a goal. He tried to corral a pass from Tomas Tatar, behind the net, but instead kicked it off his shin right to Dubois, who had no problem sending his shot by Price all alone in front.
The Canadiens didn’t have much time to recover with Jordan Weal being sent to the box for holding Alexandre Texier and handing Columbus a power play. Outside of Boone Jenner ringing a shot off the crossbar, the power play lacked any real teeth, and Montreal escaped unscathed.
The hustle of Brendan Gallagher forced Ryan Murray into taking a holding penalty of his own, giving Montreal their first man advantage of the night to end the second period. While Max Domi triggered a set play in front, Joel Armia pushed his shot wide, and that was the only good look the Canadiens really generated as the horn signaled the end of the second period.
Montreal began the third much like they did the second, slowly but surely taking control of the puck possession and stifling any sort of Columbus counterattack. Despite the strong start, the Blue Jackets took the lead back thanks in part to the flukiest of bounces in the defensive zone. A poor turnover by Cale Fleury created a breakaway for Emil Bemstrom, who had his chance denied by Price. However, the puck hit off the top off the glass, rebounding back out toward the net. Price was not able to control the high rebound and it ended up hitting off his blocker, then his chest, and into the net.
A set play off the following centre-ice faceoff led to a clean breakaway for Armia, but he was not able to lift his backhand shot by Korpisalo. Max Domi continued his streak of poorly timed, albeit debatable penalties, sending Columbus to their second power play of the night. It took all of 19 seconds for Boone Jenner to tip home a shot and push their lead to two goals.
Zach Werenski gave the Canadiens a lifeline by taking a holding penalty of his own. The power play was denied by Korpisalo, and shortly after Werenski exited the box, the Blue Jackets added another goal. Chiarot was caught out of position, leaving Dubois open to put home his second of the game.
There was no miracle comeback in the cards this time, and for the first time in seven games, the Canadiens lost in regulation, by a 5-2 score.
This loss will have little time to sink in as the Canadiens kick off a five-game homestand tonight. Waiting for them will be the Ottawa Senators, a team that regardless of quality always forces Montreal to work for their points.