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Canadiens @ Islanders game recap: Habs hold their nerve in 6-2 win

Montreal got out to a four-goal lead, and ended the night with a four-goal victory.

Montreal Canadiens v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In typical Montreal Canadiens fashion, the team got off to a good start on Thursday night. Despite a chance for Jordan Eberle in the opening seconds, and an even better one for Mathew Barzal later in the frame as his speed caught Shea Weber flatfooted, Montreal was the team to score first, and they scored often.

As they had in the first game of the season series, the forwards simply drove through the coverage the Islanders have been known for this season, getting right to the top of the crease to make life difficult for Thomas Greiss. Brendan Gallagher took that one step further on the opening goal not just disrupting the vision of the Islanders’ goaltender, but getting his stick on Ben Chiarot’s point shot to deflect it in for his 22nd of the season, tying Tomas Tatar for the team lead.

With Phillip Danault sliding across Greiss’s field of view two minutes later, Jeff Petry put a shot through his legs to make it 2-0. Charles Hudon didn’t need any such help on his first of the season before the period came to a close. He simply moved into the zone as his teammates contested a breakout and unleashed the shot that has led to great success in the AHL, ringing the puck off the post and in before the goalie could even react.

That tally capped off a very strong first period in the first game of the road trip. The Habs now have 69 opening-frame goals in 2019-20, with only the high-flying Edmonton Oilers above them, at 70. It also meant they would start the final 40 minutes with a multi-goal lead, and that’s been a recipe for disaster.

Tatar wouldn’t get his chance to retake sole possession of the team goal-scoring lead. He missed much of the first period after being knocked into the end boards, but was feeling good enough to return for the final minutes of the first period, without actually taking a shift. In the intermission, the team decided to just shut him down for the night. Fortunately, Claude Julien doesn’t believe it’s anything that will keep Tatar out of action for an extended period.

With their three-goal lead, Montreal once again played a fairly passive game to begin the second, and that eventually led to the game’s first power play of the night when Max Domi tripped Cal Clutterbuck in the defensive zone. Instead of the Islanders getting the deficit down to two and forcing Montreal to face the prospect of another blown lead, the penlty kill sdded to the offence.

Joel Armia stole possession of the puck near the New York blue line, and a quick burst of acceleration from Paul Byron gained him a lane to the net after an onside pass. With a man on his hip preventing him from going to the forehand, Byron swept the puck to the far side and past the second option head coach Barry Trotz had tried in goal to stop the onslaught, Semyon Varlamov. The Habs only had five shots in the period, but Byron’s proved to be a big one.

The Islanders thought they had gotten themselves on the board mere seconds into the third period, but instead the NHL may have its new reference video to send to teams and officials to show what a “distinct kicking motion” looks like. Unable to get his stick on the puck, Anders Lee thrust his skate blade at it instead, and though the referees seemed to take more time on the review than necessary, they correctly refused the goal.

After having his shutout bid restored, Carey Price wiped it out mostly of his own accord with six minutes played. He went behind the net to stop a rim-around, but lingered behind the goal a bit too long looking for an option. His eventual pass attempt was intercepted by Josh Bailey, and the Isles forward found Brock Nelson in front of the vacated cage for an easy goal.

Finally getting his first goal of the season, Hudon used the third period to make a different kind of impression. He held the puck along the boards at the Islanders’ end of the rink, killing off several seconds. It was a tactic he used on two other occasions in the final frame, doing his part to prevent another late collapse.

With five minutes to play, Jordan Weal put the game to bed. On a two-on-one with Artturi Lehkonen, Weal kept the puck to himself, and fired a wrist shot to give Montreal a four-goal edge once again. Ryan Pulock scored an inconsequential goal late for New York, Armia added a superfluous empty-netter to get it back to a four-goal difference, and Montreal flew off to Tampa Bay with a comfortable 6-2 win.

Thoughts

  • It’s good to see Byron getting back to his usual self. After the concussion issues and a rough start to this season, the three years remaining on his deal were beginning to become a concern. His play after sitting out for three months has alleviated any fears entirely.
  • The Canadiens are scoring plenty of goals again, and that’s good news as they head into Florida. The two losses in late December to the Lightning and the Panthers were tough to take because of the implications in Montreal’s playoff drive, but a repeat of those same results now would at least provide some entertaininment in these final games.
  • Lehkonen’s bad luck is well documented, but it seems there is some good fortune coming the way of Johnny Boychuk after Lehkonen’s skate caught the Islanders defeneman in the face. Boychuk has a deep laceration, but reports suggest his eye was not affected: