Montreal got back on the winning track Saturday night, to some fans’ joy and others’ dismay. Regardless, the win against Ottawa was largely Carey Price’s doing, with him reaching a level of play that has been missing in recent times. On Monday night, Price and his team faced a tougher opponent than the Senators when the Calgary Flames entered Québec for a visit. The Flames had lined up five straight wins and were sitting on top of the Pacific Division.
It was a big night for Nick Cousins, celebrating his 300th NHL game. Claude Julien chose to mark this occasion by promoting him to third-line duties. Jordan Weal took Cousins’ place next to Nate Thompson, replacing Matthew Peca in the lineup after being sidelined the game before.
This game also would see the return of Ben Chiarot, back on the ice after sitting out the last two with an injury. Meanwhile, Calgary chose to start David Rittich over Cam Talbot in goal.
Montreal started the game on fire, piling up nine shots during the first five minutes to Calgary’s one, making it clear for Rittich that he would have to work his tail off for a potential shutout. The trend continued when Derek Ryan got tagged with a minor penalty for slashing in the offensive zone. The Canadiens pressured and had all the momentum, leaving Price idle in goal. Toward the end of the eventually scoreless power play the shot statistics showed 12-1 in the home team’s favour.
During the power play, it became apparent that Habs fans have a new darling favourite. As Ilya Kovalchuk stepped on the ice for the man advantage, the fans roared in similar manner to when he had his very first shift just over a week ago.
It can be difficult for an unoccupied goaltender to remain awake for when he is finally needed, but Price did just that when he stopped Johnny Gaudreau from the slot as he fired Calgary’s second effort on goal mid-period.
These first 20 minutes were some of the Canadiens’ best this season. The Flames had to fight for every inch on the ice and could not get anything going on offence until the last few minutes. Meanwhile, no unnecessary penalties were taken and all four Habs lines contributed on both sides of the ice.
Just as you began to wonder if all the effort would be for nothing, Montreal scored the first goal of the night. Marco Scandella drove the puck through the centre, taking a defender with him in the process. After a Nate Thompson dump-in was blocked, Dale Weise broke up a pass behind the goal and found Jeff Petry skating forward from the point. Petry took a turn around the net and his failed attempt to shove the puck in from behind turned in to a perfect pass for Weal, who himself shoved it past Rittich with a low, slow attempt from the left. Montreal was on pace for a 50-shot night, and the only thing missing from that first period would have been more goals to show for it.
The Canadiens started the second in the same frenzy, peppering Rittich with shots. Calgary had to rely on the occasional breakaway from the counter-attack, as well as almost scoring from a Montreal blade when Price had left the net during a delayed penalty call as the puck went all the way back and just beside the empty net. The ensuing penalty, a Mark Giordano tripping minor, did not create enough pressure to double the lead. Instead Price had to come up clutch to prevent an equalizer when Tobias Rieder was left alone in the slot.
There was a new chance to play at five-on-four minutes later, when 2014’s fourth overall pick, Sam Bennett, got called for high-sticking. Jesperi Kotkaniemi had the best chance to score on this third man advantage of the night, but Rittich stopped his attempt from the crease.
Calgary received their first power play soon afterward. Their efforts turned out to be just as fruitless as Montreal’s. So just as on Saturday, the Canadiens would enter the last period of play with a 1-0 lead.
Once back on the ice, Victor Mete went to the box for hooking. The home team’s resurrected penalty kill did their job and kept Calgary scoreless.
What Ryan Poehling adds on the penalty kill in positioning and smarts is worthy of superlatives, considering his lack of routine. And maybe he will get his offensive production going from now on as well. Because right as the clock was approaching the halfway mark of the third period, Poehling finally scored his first goal of the season.
Kotkaniemi lost an offensive-zone faceoff against Bennett with the puck going to captain Giordano. Giordano misjudged the pass, sending it right into the slot where Poehling was positioned. With patience, the rookie moved into the crease and waited for Rittich to lay out to cover the bottom of the net to then thread the puck around and above the wriggling netminder.
Speaking of rookies, Cale Fleury had a field day making the Flames’ senior players face the ice on several occasions with his physical style of play. The newly bleached Milan Lucic looked bewildered on the bench wondering what had just happened after he had ended up sliding into the boards after coming together with the hard-hitting youngster during one of his shifts.
Rittich left the net with three-and-a-half-minutes left to play in a final effort from Geoff Ward to extend their win streak to six, but the Habs and Price would have none of it. Montreal got outshot 15-5 during the last 20 minutes and were nowhere near the earlier dominance, but that did not matter. Price got his second shutout of the season and the Canadiens got their second win in a row, showing this team does not lack competitive spirit.
Next, Montreal will face the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks will be coming off a Tuesday night battle in Ottawa, meaning that the Habs could take advantage of having Tuesday off to rest and stretch their legs.