The last night of a three-game road trip saw the Montreal Canadiens with a reasonable opportunity to return to Canada with a Western Conference sweep. Standing in the way of such an occurrence were the Dallas Stars, coming in on a hot streak of their own, having won their previous two.
The Stars have split their goaltending evenly this season, and dealing with a heavy workload on Friday, Anton Khudobin got some breathing time on the bench with Ben Bishop taking his place between the pipes. Blake Comeau was back in the Stars’ lineup as well after being reactivated off Injured Reserve earlier in the day.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi had not fully recovered from his injury earlier this week, meaning that Nick Suzuki got another chance to anchor the third line, and that no lineup changes were made except for Carey Price retaking his usual spot, having rested on Thursday.
Former Canadiens forward Alexander Radulov cross-checked Ben Chiarot three minutes in to start the game off, but the power play ended prematurely when Joel Armia got called with a questionable interference penalty only 50 seconds later. These would not be the last penalty decisions in the game.
Montreal outshot their opponents 9-4 during the first eight minutes of the contest and things were looking bright. Jamie Benn hooked up Paul Byron when the latter was moving in toward the net to meet a pass from Suzuki, resulting in a second, eventually fruitless, power play of the night.
Ben Chiarot cross-checked Jason Dickinson with 4:37 left, giving Dallas their first full shot at playing the man advantage. Just two seconds later, Radulov decided to show his quick release to break the tie against his former team, assisted by Tyler Seguin right off the draw.
Radulov saw the need to cool down for a while after his goal and therefore decided to spend yet another two minutes in the penalty box. Another decent chance for Montreal to use the Stars’ second-worst home penalty kill to tie things up. However, this was not a night that reflected the clubs’ respective special-teams statistics.
Montreal tried to find their stride early in the second by attacking Dallas with pace, but the home team looked to have done their homework for the game. Instead, the Stars came close to extending the lead when a long, sweeping pass from Taylor Fedun reached Tyler Seguin and gave him a one-on-one versus Price. Shea Weber did well to help his goalie, hindering Seguin with his stick from getting a shot away.
Yet another power play opportunity for Montreal came when John Klingberg hooked Max Domi from behind on a breakaway. Jonathan Drouin tried to beat Bishop with a wrister while the latter was screened by Gallagher, but the man advantage continued to struggle throughout the night.
The ending minutes of the period instead saw Dallas bombarding Price with shots from all angles, setting up the Montreal goalie to add to his highlight reel by denying veterans Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry, as well as Denis Gurianov on two occasions. The latter of those chances was created a one-on-one against the Habs’ star goaltender with the two closest Habs players, rookies Nick Suzuki and Cale Fleury, trailing. Gurianov was awarded with a penalty shot after being contacted by Suzuki, and with no other disturbances around him, the Russian youngster managed to outwit his world-class opponent.
Dallas entered the last period with a two-goal advantage and a distinct possibility of a weekend grand slam.
Andrew Cogliano tripped up Mikey Reilly just a minute into the third, giving Montreal their fifth chance with a man up to break the zero in the goal column. Once again, the power play looked sloppy and out of rhythm and did not create any kind of pressure around Bishop. Instead, Dallas looked like they were the team down by two, continuing to pressure Price and the Canadiens’ defence.
Jordan Weal got a two-minute minor halfway through the last period when his stick tripped up Gurianov. Dallas came into the game with a power-play percentage of 9.52%; less than half of the league average rate of 19.48%. This night they managed to score twice being a man up, with this second one effectively killing the game. Yet again, Gurianov was right in the centre of the action and outfoxed Price with a one-timer set up by Roope Hintz’s backhand pass.
This game felt lost early on. It was not so much the deficit in goals, but the lack of quality scoring chances and offensive effort. Out of the 35 saves Bishop had to make, few of them saw him get thoroughly challenged. Claude Julien went all-in with a six-on-five with more than five minutes left, but all that did was cement Dallas’s win. Radek Faksa should probably have been called for a penalty, catching Brendan Gallagher in the face in the face with his stick after a draw, but no call there meant an open cage for Miro Heiskanen, who showed precision from deep in his own zone.
Four goals down, Montreal netted one to take some positive news back home. The scorer, Artturi Lehkonen, has continued his low shot percentage from last season. Let us hope that this goal can bring him some more confidence around the net. The goal was well set up by Suzuki, who got his sixth point of the young season.
Julien removed Price once again to create some extra pressure, but to no more luck than Jeff Petry getting to serve two minutes for stopping Hintz from an open goal with an obvious interference infraction.
It was a game to forget for the Montreal Canadiens, who will return to the Bell Centre to face the long-time rival Boston Bruins for the first time this season on Tuesday night. Let us all hope for a better outcome then.