For the first time this season, the Montreal Canadiens would have a different starting lineup than the 18 guys who began on the main roster. Due to Joel Armia’s concussion, veteran acquisition Corey Perry was called up from the taxi squad to replace him.
Paul Byron left the previous game early and was questionable for Saturday, potentially giving an opportunity for Victor Mete to get his first game of the year. In the end, Byron was cleared and joined the team on his normal spot on the fourth line beside Jake Evans.
This game would mark the end of the six-game road tour which has started off the Canadiens’ season. With a point or two here, the Habs would still be undefeated in regulation and without a doubt travel home for their four-day break brimming with confidence.
The Vancouver Canucks and head coach Travis Green made a significant number of lineup changes to get his team going after Thursday’s collapse. Adam Gaudette, Jalen Chatfield and Brogan Rafferty made room for Zack MacEwen, Alexander Edler, and former Hab Jordie Benn in the lineup. Green also shuffled up every forward line so they would have a different appearance. Meanwhile, both teams chose to return to their veteran goaltenders who started in Wednesday’s matchup.
During the pre-game warmups, Joel Edmundson gave Tyler Myers a quick nod to let him know what was waiting once they were both on the ice at the same time. Said and done, less than five minutes had passed before the former dropped his gloves at mid-ice, inviting the 6’8” counterpart to join him with bare knuckles. Myers, knowing better than to give Montreal additional reasons for anger, let Edmundson do most of the punching before the referees called off the fight and sent both big men to the box for five minutes.
After surviving a two-minute penalty kill for a Josh Anderson interference call without conceding a shot on net, Montreal took the early lead. Brett Kulak took a walk up the wing and deliciously served Nick Suzuki with a backhand. The young centre got a piece of the puck to steer it past a bewildered Braden Holtby.
Corey Perry introduced himself to the new NHL season by receiving a two-minute minor for skating into Brandon Sutter while the latter was already off-balance. It was a head-scratching penalty call which could have cost Montreal dearly, as Elias Pettersson hit the post with one of their few chances of the period.
Montreal came out flying in the second period, creating heavy pressure in Vancouver’s zone for minutes on end. Tyler Toffoli should have scored when Perry served him an open goal after a Holtby rebound, but the sharpshooter inexplicably missed the net from less than a metre away.
Just when the Canucks had started to claw their way back into the action, Jake Evans hit the post on a short-handed breakaway which eventually ended with Toffoli ramming Holtby in search of his sixth goal in three games.
Olli Juolevi hit the post on the opposing goal a while later with Carey Price working fast to clear his crease of potential rebounds. His swift reflexes sparked a Canadiens counter-attack. Coming in three-on-one-and-a-half, Perry decided to pass cross-ice to an open Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The puck however wanted a different outcome, and went into the goal under Holtby’s pad. Things are certainly bouncing the Habs’ way right now. We should definitely enjoy it while it lasts.
Earlier this weekend, Jared Book and myself posed the question whether there is any reason to worry about the form of Carey Price at the start of this season. Yesterday evening, he responded with a resounding ‘No.’ His diving save on Jake Virtanen’s near tap-in was both acrobatic and important.
A better angle on Price's save: pic.twitter.com/ylkX0Fvi1r— Patrik Bexell (@Zeb_Habs) January 24, 2021
Elias Pettersson has struggled mightily to start the season. Minutes before the period break, he fell down near the point with the puck in his possession. This gave Kotkaniemi an interstate to the net, where Holtby unfortunately got the better of him. Pettersson should thank both his lucky star and his goalie that his blunder didn’t result in another Montreal goal.
The thing is though, it only takes one lucky bounce for a star to regain some of his confidence. On the Canucks’ first shot in the third, the same Pettersson finally got his first goal of the year. Quinn Hughes slapped it from the blue line and Petey went borderline high-stick to redirect the puck past Price.
Minutes later, Vancouver’s second Swede tied the game at two. Ben Chiarot ended up screening Price just enough to make him visually impaired as Nils Hoglander took a chance with a backhand through traffic.
This feels like a common concept dating back to previous years; the Canadiens’ inability to close down games which are all but in the bag. Three minutes earlier, there were few signs of the Canucks making a comeback in this game. Now it was all of a sudden a tied contest, entirely up for grabs.
This year, the Canadiens seem to have an ability to shrug these things off and continue on pushing forward. Perhaps due to the very fact that they have become accustomed with games neverendingly swinging back and forth.
Brendan Gallagher pushed Montreal ahead once again with a one-timer off a pass from his linemate Tomas Tatar. Vancouver decided to challenge for offside, but thanks to the fact that the puck had left Tatar’s stick and technically was up for grabs when the possible offside occurred, there was no reason to change the initial verdict of a goal. The unsuccessful challenge meant that coach Green had to send Hoglander to the box to serve the team’s delay-of-game penalty.
Right now, the Vancouver Canucks are handing out breakaways like a girl scout hands out cookies. With seven minutes left to play, J.T. Miller became the latest in a long row of culprits. His attempted pass was intercepted by Josh Anderson just as the only defenceman left on the home team was moving into the offensive zone. Anderson took a few strides forward and gave linemate Jonathan Drouin an eriksgata to the net. Drouin made some filthy moves to spook Holtby before putting the puck through the five-hole for his opening goal of the season.
Yes, it had been unnecessarily close for a few minutes, but the Canadiens came up strong when it mattered and took care of business. Travis Green removed his goalie with four minutes to go, which led to yet another opening goal by a Montreal off-season acquisition. Joel Edmundson demonstrated biathlonesque precision when he lobbed the puck into the opposing net from a position in front of his own goal.
The Canadiens end their road trip with 10 points out of a possible 12; a truly exquisite start to the season. Now they get to recharge for their home opener, which takes place on Thursday night at the Bell Centre against the Calgary Flames.