Seven losses in a row, no home wins in nearly a month, and piling up injuries like they were going out of style, it’s a rough time for the Montreal Canadiens. The team was within a goal in each of those losses, remaining competitive while missing many key parts of their forward core. They got a huge piece back against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night with Brendan Gallagher returning from his concussion after four games out. His return bumped the suddenly resurgent Ilya Kovalchuk down to a line with Max Domi and Nick Suzuki.
His return also coincided with the loss of Ben Chiarot, who was injured against the Detroit Red Wings earlier in the week. That allowed Brett Kulak to slide back to the left, and brought Cale Fleury into the lineup again. Carey Price took the net, facing the ever bewildering Mike Smith for the Oilers.
Montreal was given a chance on the man advantage just over two minutes in with Alex Chiasson being called for holding the stick. The power play failed to establish itself, and the only real scoring chance to come out of that series of events was Chiasson exiting the box and opting to not pass to Connor McDavid on the ensuing two-on-one rush.
The Oilers had a chance of their own when Jeff Petry was sent to the box for hooking, but an aggressive Artturi Lehkonen helped to fend off the formidable attack and keep the game scoreless.
The top line came to life with under half the period to play, Petry collected the puck after Kulak blew a tire in the neutral zone. Petry fed a pass to Tomas Tatar who laid it off for Phillip Danault, Danault fired a shot that Smith kicked right back to him, and Danault had no problem roofing the rebound to make it 1-0.
Montreal continued to own the flow of play, with the Oilers’ offensive time being extremely limited. In that short window McDavid nearly set up a goal for James Neal, but Neal botched the shot, pushing it harmlessly through the crease.
Ryan Poehling pulled off a slick bit of trickery, attempting a between-the-legs shot in front of the Oilers’ net, yet he didn’t get enough to lift it over Smith, who came up with the stop. Smith had to be sharp one last time in the period as Gallgher burst in off the wing, leaving Ethan Bear behind and nearly tucking his shot through the five-hole. All in all, a good opening 20 minutes for Montreal ended with them up by a goal.
The strong play carried over to start the second period as the Canadiens doubled their lead just over two minutes in. Lehkonen continued to be a nuisance for the Oilers as he corralled a Kulak stretch pass. The forward then picked out Jesperi Kotkaniemi in the slot, and the 19-year-old his sixth goal of the year by Smith for a 2-0 Montreal lead.
The Oilers found their legs a bit following the Kotkaniemi goal, and some quick passing by their fourth line freed up Riley Sheahan in the slot. Sheahan turned and ripped his wrist shot high and past Price to cut the Montreal lead in half.
That was the last of any really threatening attack from the Oilers in the period, but the Canadiens nearly increased their lead twice before the intermission. First, Jordan Weal went in on a breakaway, but a strong defensive effort from Bear kept him from getting a shot off on Smith. Then just before the end of the period, Gallagher fought through three defenders, then launched a feed onto the stick of Nate Thompson. Thompson broke in alone, dangled around Smith, and caught only the post with his backhand attempt, keeping Montreal’s lead at just one at the end of 40 minutes.
A hooking penalty on Danault put the Oilers on an early power play in the third as the centreman held up McDavid coming through the neutral zone. It didn’t take long for McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to spread out the Canadiens’ penalty-killers and open up Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to slam home a goal as he was left open in the slot, tying the game at two goals apiece.
The Canadiens never seemed to get their legs back after the goal as the Oilers continued to dominate possession at even strength, and any Montreal attack was one-and-done in the Oilers’ zone. So, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable third Edmonton goal happened, and a slick redirection by Chiasson made it so, putting the Oilers up just before the midway point of the period.
Kulak drew a call on Sheahan to give Montreal a chance to tie with just over nine minutes remaining after brutal start to the third period. The power play again failed to make much of an impact, leaving the Canadiens with around six minutes left to avoid an eighth straight loss.
As is the current tradition, there was no miraculous tying goal, or even any semblance of urgency as Josh Archibald hit the empty net. The 4-2 loss marked the second losing streak of eight games this year for the Canadiens, and more or less dealt the final blow to any playoff aspirations.
The team plays Ottawa on Saturday night, when they will try to prevent this run from reaching nine.