“Tumultuous” may not even scrape the surface of the Montreal Canadiens’ last week or so. Shea Weber was originally ruled out on IR, then potentially having his career cut short, before somehow beating the medical odds and a sprained ankle to play in Detroit. Claude Julien was fined $10,000 for being very correct about recent officiating, and Brendan Gallagher was told off by an official — before missing Tuesday’s game with a lower-body injury.
Defenceman Marco Scandella was shipped to St. Louis just before game-time for picks, and the defence resumed its more normal shape with Weber alongside Ben Chiarot and the Jeff Petry-Brett Kulak tandem backing them up.
Also drawing in for the first time in several months was Paul Byron on the fourth line, and Jonathan Drouin also returned after missing the Dallas game. In short, minus Gallagher, this was the most complete Canadiens roster since opening night, and their bogeyman, the Detroit Red Wings, stood in the way of making the most of it.
The healthy Canadiens lineup finally looked like it should against a mostly hapless Red Wings squad to start. Drouin and Jeff Petry nearly found an opening goal just a few minutes in when Drouin spun off his defender to find his defenceman wide-open, but the defender’s shot was blockered away by Jonathan Bernier.
It was a returning player who sparked the opening goal though, as Byron picked the pocket of Andreas Athanasiou as the Red Wings forward tried to leave his zone. Byron dished it to Nick Cousins, who in turn slid a pass across the crease to Nate Thompson for the opening goal of the game.
A big sliding block from Brett Kulak denied the Red Wings their best chance of the period. Then a perfectly threaded pass by Nick Suzuki to Joel Armia led to the latter drawing a penalty as he wove through multiple defenders.
The Canadiens’ power play finally managed to find some power in the final seconds of their advantage. Suzuki kicked a pass out to Petry at the point, and the Michigan native walked along the line and wired his ninth goal of the year over Bernier’s shoulder to put Montreal up by a pair of goals late in the first.
That two-goal cushion took the teams into the intermission, with the Canadiens firmly in the drivers seat after 20 minutes.
The second period start was far less kind. The Red Wings scored under 90 seconds into the frame with Robby Fabbri beating Carey Price for his 13th of the year. Besides cutting into the Montreal lead, the early goal took the wind out of the Canadiens’ sails, requiring Price to be sharp as Detroit looked for a second goal.
The Habs didn’t have long to enjoy being mostly healthy. That changed in the second period with Mete hobbled in front of the Canadiens net. Alex Biega let a slapshot fly, and Mete took the full brunt of it on the inside of his foot or ankle, instantly dropping to the ice. After play stopped with a frozen puck, Mete needed the help of multiple teammates to get to the bench, then to the locker room.
Another highlight-reel penalty draw, this time by Max Domi at the expense of Gustav Lindstrom. Again the power play clicked, with Jordan Weal being the catalyst. Tomas Tatar fed Weal at the side of the net, and he then slid a backhand pass over to Suzuki, who uncorked a laser of a shot by Bernier to restore a two-goal lead.
With 21 seconds left in the second, Nate Thompson was sent to the box for tripping, and while Montreal escaped the period without surrendering a goal, they had to fend off another 90 seconds of power-play time to start the final period.
Dylan Larkin nearly cashed in on that abbreviated power play when a blocked pass trickled to his stick in front of the net. Larkin fired it at the open net, but a combination of Carey Price’s pads and Ben Chiarot’s skate denied the Red Wings’ star a sure goal, and kept the two-goal lead intact.
Detroit refused to go away quietly as Andreas Athanasisou used his speed to separate himself from a trailing Armia. Athanasiou then split the defenders and roofed his backhand shot over Price, suddenly making it a one-goal game with plenty of time left to play.
As it has gone in the games versus Detroit, another Red Wings goal seemed inevitable, and they proved that feeling correct again. Petry and Kulak both misplayed a puck, giving Mike Green a breakaway chance. While he fanned on his shot, it fooled Price enough to squeak through the five-hole and tie the game.
Montreal chose to follow up that goal by taking a tripping penalty, forcing them to kill another Red Wings power play. They managed to kill it off, but a turnover by Suzuki created a Tyler Bertuzzi break. Bertuzzi flung the puck to the front of the net, and Athanasiou chipped it in for the home side’s first lead of the night, completing another Canadiens collapse.
A late power play was negated by an Armia roughing penalty, and the best chance to tie things up went by the wayside as an inept Canadiens team lost for the fourth time to the historically bad Detroit Red Wings, a fifth consecutive defeat for the club.
The Habs play again on Thursday when maybe they will get our hopes up only to dash them in stunning fashion once more.