Back-to-back wins against Western Canadian teams gave the Montreal Canadiens a little bit of breathing room coming into Edmonton on Saturday night. Claude Julien chose to stick with the same lineup that had beaten the Calgary Flames in overtime on Thursday, meaning Mikey Reilly stayed paired up with Cale Fleury, while Riley Barber and Ryan Poehling flanked Nate Thompson on the fourth line.
Standing between Carey Price and a third consecutive win? A top-heavy Oilers team led by the league’s most dynamic duo Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, a team currently placed third in the Pacific, with their hopes set on a playoff run. Edmonton has chosen to split the goaltending duties between Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen this year, with Koskinen getting the nod last night from coach Dave Tippett.
Montreal emphasized before the game how important it was to not attract unnecessary penalties. The Oilers rank second in the league on the power play, with a scoring efficiency which borders on 30%. A duo like McDavid and Draisaitl doesn’t need additional help, considering how difficult they are to stop already at five-on-five.
Less than two minutes into the first period they demonstrated exactly how difficult they are to stop even at full strength. A breakaway in the neutral zone led to a two-on-two opportunity against Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot. McDavid served Draisaitl right on the blade, the puck found its way in behind Carey Price, and Montreal was down a goal early.
The first penalty of the game was dispensed to Jordan Weal when his stick unfortunately got stuck between the legs of an Oilers defenceman, resulting in a tripping call. It was an opportune moment for the home team to double its lead, but the Habs’ penalty kill made one of their best efforts of the season, not only stopping Edmonton from scoring but actually refusing to concede a single shot against Price during the two minutes. Instead, Artturi Lehkonen had a good chance to tie it up after a line change gave him free space in the offensive zone. Koskinen was able to make the save that time after an initial flub, but overall the penalty kill showed a positive sign for the Canadiens.
That joy was, however, shortlived. Near the middle of the period, Max Domi lost control of the puck as he was trying to bring it out into the neutral zone. His team was also on the move, causing major problems on defence. Chaos erupted in the Montreal crease. The defenders were unable to clear the puck which eventually found its way out to Ethan Bear. Bear shot it back in toward the net where Josh Archibald had his blade in the right place to beat Price.
Half a minute after the 2-0-goal, Phillip Danault got called for holding right after a faceoff and things were looking mighty bleak for the guests from Québec. This time, surely the stars would align and provide a third goal of the night.
On cue, a third goal was about to come. But not of the kind we were expecting. Former Oiler Jeff Petry took care of a mistimed cross-ice pass and took off in the offensive direction. Being a three-on-one, most people, including Koskinen, were expecting Petry to move the puck over to either of his teammates. Instead, he released a quick wrister toward the far post that Koskinen let in beneath his glove.
With the short-handed goal, the Habs were right back into a game which had felt lost for most of the first period. But that is the beauty of this Montreal team: they never quit.
Montreal picked up their game toward the end of the period, fueled by their goal. Momentum continued into the second, where they held Edmonton without a single shot on net for the first eight minutes.
Nick Cousins drew a penalty on Caleb Jones, when the latter held the former up against the boards behind the goal. During the power play, their first of the night, the Canadiens would tie the game up at two. Petry, traded from Edmonton to Montreal for a bag of peanuts in March of 2015, showed his true value once again when he blasted one from the blue line into the havoc in front of the Oilers’ net. Danault got the goal, his eighth of the year, steering Petry’s shot past Koskinen in mid-air. Both of Montreal’s goals thus far had come on special teams; one each on the penalty kill and the power play.
In an effort to get his team to wake up, Zack Kassian picked a fight with Ben Chiarot, ending with both of them sitting out the following five minutes. Once their punishment was over, Weal got sent to the box for a second tripping minor of the night. This time, Connor McDavid got his chance and he took it. Weber tried to clear the puck by passing it up the zone. Once the pass was intercepted, Draisaitl found McDavid in the neutral zone straight in front of the net. Neither Danault nor Weber could keep up with McDavid’s pace, and once alone with Price he made no mistake.
The Canadiens ended the period with massive pressure against the Oilers’ defence, spending the vast majority of the last two minutes well established in Edmonton’s zone. Unfortunately, the pressure did not lead to a change on the scoreboard, meaning that the home team would enter the third period with a 3-2-lead.
That lead would not last for long. Lehkonen found Max Domi on a surge forward. Demonstrating silky smooth hands, Domi pushed himself and the puck in between Bear and Darnell Nurse before snapping a wrister past Koskinen. The Habs had bounced back from a late-game deficit once again. The second assist went to Petry, thereby registering his third point of the night.
Next up: another tripping call against Montreal and Cale Fleury. Just as the penalty was ending, a shot from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was tipped by Price back up toward his own goal. First, the referee signaled that the puck had gone in off the deflection and the Edmonton fans cheered. The following replay proved a clear ricochet off the crossbar followed by a Price recovery. The goal was revoked and Montreal’s fans cheered instead.
Edmonton would eventually get their fourth goal of the night, as a strange backspin bounce gave Archibald and Riley Sheahan a two-on-one against Brett Kulak. Sheahan got the score, giving him only his third of the year but his second this week.
Montreal did their best trying to tie it up for a third time, but Sheahan’s goal would prove to be the decisive one. It also did not help having to play an additional two minutes on the penalty kill, after Cousins had been called for interference behind his net on breakout. The Canadiens fell for the first time on their road trip, a 4-3 defeat.
The Habs will now have to reload and recharge for their last outing before Christmas, facing off against the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place on Monday night.