On Wednesday night, the Montrea Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks played arguably the most exciting game of the early NHL season. Despite falling 6-5 in the shootout, Montreal overcame some self-inflicted penalty trouble, battling back multiple times to salvage a point in their sloppiest game of the season. A hat trick from Tyler Toffoli, plus goals from Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Brendan Gallagher, helped pace Montreal’s offence.
Claude Julien stressed that the team needs to be more disciplined and toughen up on the penalty kill going forward. Despite the loss, there were no changes to the lineup, and given their play at even strength, it’s hard to argue that there should have been any changes made.
For the Canucks, they were without Travis Hamonic, who was hurt on Wednesday night. Brogan Rafferty drew into the lineup in his place. Also missing was Alexander Edler, who was replaced by Olli Juolevi. Between the pipes it was Jake Allen for Montreal, while Thatcher Demko got the nod for the Canucks.
In need of a fast start, the Canadiens got just that as Kotkaniemi outworked Rafferty along the boards and flicked a puck into the slot. Both Joel Armia and Toffoli missed their initial swings at the puck, but Toffoli connected and fired it past Demko for the game’s opening goal, and Toffoli’s fourth in two games.
The lead was short-lived as a failed clear by both Shea Weber and Tomas Tatar made it to the stick of Tyler Myers. The Canucks defender fired a harmless looking shot toward the net, and Bo Horvat deflected it by Allen to almost immediately tie the game.
The Canadiens followed that up by getting called for a dubious hook, triggering flashbacks to the previous night. Only this time the Canadiens put up the goal on a Vancouver power play, thanks to a brutal turnover by Nate Schmidt. The defender’s pass flubbed off his stick right to Toffoli, who in turn hit a streaking Joel Armia, who fired it past Demko easily.
The Canadiens proceeded to tale another penalty, this time for slashing, and the Canucks made them pay this time. Artturi Lehkonen misread where he was supposed to be covering, and by the time he noticed his mistake, Horvat had the puck and was firing it home for his second of the game, once again erasing the Canadiens’ lead.
Despite some more looks on a power play, Montreal couldn’t break the deadlocked game, and as the horn blew to end the period Joel Edmundson buried Tanner Pearson to take a penalty for his troubles. The teams went into the intermission with two goals each, but Vancouver started the second period with a full two-minute power play.
Once again, it was the Canadiens’ penalty-killing units bringing the pain against Vancouver thanks to sloppy play by the Canucks. Elias Pettersson’s pass was knocked away by Armia, who picked out Toffoli breaking in alone toward the Canucks zone. Armia hit him in stride and with a beautiful hard deke Toffoli fooled Demko, and tucked home yet another goal.
The penalty parade on both sides continued as Myers took a penalty, and then Nick Suzuki was called for a slash. The game continued to be choppy, sloppy, disjointed, and messy, but the Canadiens kept their lead intact.
Then Montreal remembered they were the far better team at even strength and pounded in three straight goals in just over 90 seconds to suck all the wind out of the Canucks’ sails. First it was Jake Allen playing a perfect rebound out of the Canadiens’ zone to Jonathan Drouin who fed it to Suzuki. Suzuki’s shot went up in the air as Demko got a piece of it, but Josh Anderson. trailing the play. choked up on his stick and swung, drilling the puck into the net for a two-goal advantage.
Off the ensuing faceoff, a dump-in caught Demko in no man’s land allowing Paul Byron to sneak in and steal the loose puck. Byron fired his pass across the crease and Jake Evans fired his shot off the crossbar and made it a three goal Montreal advantage.
Then, just to add insult to injury, Joel Armia added one more goal before the end of the period, taking a Kotkaniemi feed and dangling around Demko and making it 6-2.
With the game more or less in the bag, Montreal was content to let the game ride out and get out of Rogers Arena without further incident. However, Brandon Sutter had to introduce Alexander Romanov to the NHL first, with the veteran putting the rookie through a spin cycle and lifting a backhand past Allen to make it a 6-3 game.
Montreal then managed an actual self-inflicted wound later in the period, crossing off the “stay healthy” part of the checklist for this game. Shea Weber fired a heavy slapshot on net, and it managed to catch Paul Byron right in the skate boot, knocking him to the ice immediately. Byron needed help to the tunnel, making it seem like it might be a serious injury. He was able to return to the bench after several minutes before then heading back to the locker room.
A late power play gave Montreal a chance to get Toffoli his second hat trick in as many nights, but a fantastic save from Demko denied him the chance.
The game wasn’t without one final horrible moment thanks to Myers. Armia was working along the boards for a puck, and Myers lifted up and into Armia’s head, dropping the Finn and earning himself a five-minute major.
The Habs scored on the ensuing power play, with Ben Chiarot netting the first man-advantage goal of his career, sealing the game for good at 7-3.
Montreal, now with potentially two massive injuries to Armia and Byron may have to dip into their taxi squad for Saturday’s finale against the Canucks. Carey Price and Braden Holtby are the expected starters for the 7:00 PM EST clash.