Off to one of their hottest starts in recent memory, the Montreal Canadiens headed to visit their westernmost division foes for the first time this season. The Vancouver Canucks had not enjoyed the same type of start, coming in at 1-3 and badly needing a win to get things going in the other direction.
After getting a with with Jake Allen in Edmonton on Monday, they elected to turn back to Carey Price for the first contest of a back-to-back. Braden Holtby was in line for the Canucks, so one may have expected a lower-scoring affair, but one would have been disappointed if they held such an expectation.
The Habs have had some penalty trouble so far this year, which plagued them again in the first period. They took two minor penalties within the first 11 minutes, with Tomas Tatar and Ben Chiarot taking turns visiting the sin bin. The second of those ended up burning them, as Bo Horvat would get one through Carey Price to make it 1-0 for the home side.
Montreal came out flying to start the second, trying to get the equalizer, and their efforts would be rewarded. Jesperi Kotkaniemi found a wide open Tyler Toffoli at the offensive blueline, and the latter made no mistake tying the game on the breakaway.
But the equalizer was short lived. Jeff Petry jumped into a rush trying to get the lead for his team, and it sent the Canucks on an odd-man rush the other way. Tyler Motte was patient, and ended up beating Price to restore his team’s lead at 2-1.
The Habs finally got their first power play chance of the game shortly after Motte’s goal. They’ve been deadly, and that continued as a gorgeous Nick Suzuki pass permitted Toffoli to get a tap in for his second of the night to make it 2-2.
But shortly thereafter, the officials called an absurd unsportsmanlike penalty on Kotkaniemi for daring to mention to them that they missed two trips by the Canucks. Of course, the Canucks capitalized on this gift from the officials, this time with Brock Boeser again restoring their one goal lead at 3-2.
They’d call yet another absurd holding penalty against Brett Kulak, but Montreal would thankfully kill it off. After that, they were playing angry, and Tomas Tatar came screaming in on the left wing before finding Brendan Gallagher out front for an easy 3-3 goal.
Early in the third, Montreal continued their parade to the penalty box. This time with Josh Anderson being penalized for delay of game, a mistake that cannot be charged to poor officiating. Bo Horvat found the net for his second of the game, and just like that the Canucks were back up 4-3.
Kotkaniemi clearly drew the ire of the refs on that previous unsportsmanlike penalty, as he got clotheslined in the third while one of them stared at it but called nothing. He obviously took that to heart, as he turned up his pressure, and was able to get a deflected shot through Holtby to tie the game at four.
And that lit a real fire for the Canadiens, as they began to put on their best pressure of the game, albeit later than they would have liked. None other than Tyler Toffoli would take the lead for his team, scoring his first hat trick as a member of the Canadiens.
Like all leads in this particular game, however, it was short lived. Boeser unleashed a vicious one-timer to tie the game at five, and solidify this game as a true barn burner. Gallagher came close to getting a very late regulation goal, but alas they would head to some three-on-three action.
Though it was quite the eventful overtime frame, it was all for naught, and they would head to a shootout to decide who would get the extra point. While Nick Suzuki was able to pull off a beautiful deke, it was all the Habs had for Holtby, and the Canucks walked away with the victory with two of their own on Price.
- The unsportsmanlike penalty against Kotkaniemi was terrible. Players chirp the refs all the time for calls and it rarely results in that type of measure, particularly when they did miss two clear trips by Vancouver right before that. That they ignored blatant roughing against Kotkaniemi later in the game suggests they kept his number, which is just flat out unprofessional.
- That being said, not all of the calls were of that absurd variety. For example, Anderson’s delay of game was the third the team has taken in only four games. The Habs need to make a concerted effort to stay out of the box, because as good as the penalty kill has been, last night showed that you can only hold off so many. They can’t afford to be giving opposing teams anywhere from 5 to 8 chances every night.
- Tyler Toffoli has been great, and this game was an example of him finally being rewarded for being in the right places. It felt like through the first few games he was just fighting it, and getting no puck luck. If he keeps being as well positioned as he has been, things will keep happening for him, and he’ll keep making Marc Bergevin look very smart for that acquisition.
- Don’t look now, but Brendan Gallagher is heating up. If you had to pick who would lead the team in goals this year before the season started, most would probably have picked him, and he appears to be finding his groove.
As bad as the officiating was, the Canadiens can’t sit around feeling sorry for themselves, and they shouldn’t. This was easily their worst overall effort of this young season, so even if they deserved better from an officiating standpoint, they didn’t do themselves any favours.
Hopefully the questionable officiating lights a fire under them, as they’ll get a chance to make up for all of this in less than 24 hours, right back in action in Vancouver tonight.