The Montreal Canadiens’ last win was a 6-2 thumping of the Winnipeg Jets, and that game was two weeks and three player moves ago for Montreal. Since then the team has lost games (all of them), players (Joel Armia and Brendan Gallagher), and added some new names to their roster. Marco Scandella made his debut in a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, but on Monday night, all eyes were on Atlanta Thrashers legend Ilya Kovalchuk.
Making his Canadiens debut alongside Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault, the experienced Russian sniper had a major task ahead of him to keep pace with the Habs’ top forward line. Behind them the defence as a whole looked to bounce back, and in net Carey Price had a mountain-sized chip on his shoulder following another frustrating one-goal loss.
Things started quickly, with the Jets attacking off the drop of the puck, and then the Canadiens’ fourth line broke in on a rush against Connor Hellebuyck. While Dale Weise missed the net with his shot, Nate Thompson clanged the rebound chance off the goal post. As for Kovalchuk, the Bell Centre roared to life the second he took the ice, and he got a wild ovation for taking a simple wrist shot toward the Jets’ net. One thing was clear: the Montreal faithful were looking forward to whatever Kovalchuk had in store for them.
Neither side really made much in terms of an attack as the period wore on. In fact, both teams looked almost tentative in their offensive games. One major moment came when Tucker Poolman hit Nick Suzuki on his blindside, knocking the rookie out of the period after a conversation with the trainer on the bench.
A quick counter-attack eventually forced Montreal into taking a penalty, with Phillip Danault sitting for tugging on Mark Scheifele’s arm. The Canadiens fought off the penalty, keeping a dangerous Jets attack off the board as the final minutes of the period approached.
After a scoreless first, the Canadiens got some good news: Suzuki was fine after the collision with Poolman. The bad news came shortly afterward. Just over a minute in, Josh Morrissey floated a wrist shot through traffic to put Winnipeg up by a goal.
The Canadiens went to their first power play of the night soon after the goal, using their new units to try to knot the game up. The exact opposite happened for Montreal, however, as the Jets picked off a Tatar pass meant for Suzuki, and Nikolaj Ehlers finished off the short-handed rush to make it a two-goal lead.
Facing a major uphill battle, Montreal didn’t quit. Artturi Lehkonen deflecting a chance just over the net, and the fourth line continuing to hack away below the goal line. It was a former Jet who finally broke through, though, as Ben Chiarot broke the shutout bid with his sixth goal of the year. Kovalchuk battled hard on the half-wall and allowed Tatar to clear the puck out to Shea Weber at the point. Weber dished off to Chiarot just outside the faceoff circle, and Chiarot wound up and uncorked a wicked shot that fooled Connor Hellebuyck and cut the Winnipeg lead down to one goal.
The Canadiens continued to swarm the opposition, but the Winnipeg netminder refused to yield at second goal in the period. In the dying minutes it was Price who had to come up big with a lunging save on Kyle Connor. Another two-on-one developed and Mark Scheifele dished around a diving Weber, forcing Price to slide across his line to deny Connor a goal.
The Canadiens were pushing heavily, but needed some luck on their side to solve a stingy Hellebuyck in the third period as they trailed by one goal after 40 minutes. Their chances continued to pile up, with Kovalchuk just missing a pass in front of the Jets’ net.
A few nervy shifts from Scandella and Jeff Petry allowed Winnipeg some long shifts in the Montreal end, but CareyPrice remained steadfast, and kept the deficit at just one goal.
Montreal nearly found their tying goal, as a Chiarot chance bounced to the front of the net, and Danault missed the rebound. Kovalchuk crashed in to try to drive the puck in, but snapped his stick and Hellebuyck made sure to halt play.
Despite the Canadiens being the better team, the Jets added another goal. It came on an odd-man rush led by Andrew Copp and his shot squeaked through Price to make it a two-goal gap once again.
Chiarot struck again, entering the Jets’ zone with speed and collecting a Tatar pass. The defenceman walked in and rifled his wrist shot right through Hellebuyck for the second time. It gave Kovalchuk his first Montreal point, a secondary assist, and cut the lead back to one.
The Jets handed Montreal a golden opportunity late in the third, with Suzuki drawing a penalty while playing with a teammate’s stick as he dangled through Luca Sbisa. Price made his way to the bench, giving Montreal another attacker on their man advantage. The push came too late, and another goal never materialized. Montreal dropped another one goal game, a 3-2 final, as they majorly outplayed their opponent yet again in a losing effort.
The team now heads into Detroit to play the Red Wings on Tuesday; a team that has the Canadiens’ number despite having an active tank ongoing.