As the early season in the North Division begins to take shape, the Montreal Canadiens have hit the ground running, dashing out to a 5-0-2 start and showing little sign of slowing down. Saturday night represented another tough task for the club as the Calgary Flames returned to the Bell Centre for their final game of a two-game series.
In the early meeting on Thursday night, Montreal used special teams to grab three goals en route to a 4-2 victory. While they struggled a bit at even strength, they found a way to break down the Flames’ defence and goaltender David Rittich to secure two points in the standings.
Saturday night was another chance to keep pace with the division-leading Toronto Maple Leafs, as Montreal trailed just behind them with two games in hand. The lineup remained almost fully intact from Thursday’s victory, save for Jake Allen giving Carey Price a rare Saturday night off. Opposite of Allen was the Flames’ typical starter, Jacob Markstrom, who was looking to snap Calgary’s three-game losing streak.
The start was not the most cohesive for Montreal as the team struggled to clear its zone on multiple occasions, which allowed the Flames to roll their lines in the early going. Even when Montreal did get the puck out the Flames countered immediately, not allowing Montreal any chance to get their offence in gear.
A Brett Kulak interference penalty only worsened the opening struggles, and a missed assignment on the ensuing power play allowed Johnny Gaudreau plenty of space to fire a goal over Jake Allen’s glove for an early Calgary lead.
The Canadiens grew into the game after Gaudreau’s goal, with the fourth line in particular making the most of their matchups. Paul Byron had a great look on Markstrom that was gloved down, and Jake Evans threw a pass to the crease that was kept out only by a mess of Calgary sticks and skates from a scrambling defence.
After Alexander Romanov came to the defence of Corey Perry, kicking off a four man kerfuffle, the Canadiens managed to take another penatly, this time called on Phillip Danault. A slew of lost sticks resulted in Jake Allen using Jeff Petry’s stick and Petry using Joel Edmundson’s who in turn took Paul Byron’s, who then rushed to the bench to get one for himself. After playing musical hockey sticks, Montreal was able to shut down the Flames’ man advantage, keeping the deficit at just one goal.
Montreal had their chances as the final minutes of the period ticked away, but they weren’t able to solve Markstrom. However, thanks to a poorly timed roughing penalty on Andrew Mangipane the Habs started the second period with most of a two-minute power play in front of them.
Montreal’s man advantage couldn’t find the back of the net, as the best look resulted in Jusso Valimaki taking a Shea Weber slapshot off the wrist, leaving him in some distress. The Canadiens continued to grow back into the game, with the Danault line harrassing Markstrom right on his doorstep, but the Calgary netminder still kept it a one-goal game.
Rasmus Andersson was drawn into taking a roughing call on Brendan Gallagher later on, allowing Montreal another power play, but some slopyy play resulted in a Tyler Toffoli penalty, forcing the play to four-on-four. Then an abbreviated Flames power play after that was cut short as Joel Edmundson drew a high-sticking call to shift it back to four-on-four once again.
Things began to unravel in a fast and furious manner. Jesperi Kotkaniemi circled behind the net and Dillon Dubé took advantage to leave his skates and deliver a high hit to Kotkaniemi’s head. As the Finn left the ice, Shea Weber went to grab Dubé and in the process ended up with the only penalty on the play. Montreal then took another dubious penalty as Derek Ryan skated into Jonathan Drouin’s stick and fell down, drawing a tripping call.
Montreal fended off the Flames’ power plays, then pushed back in a big way, but Danault’s shot flew high over the net on a three-on-one rush, ensuring Montreal ended the period still trailing by a goal.
Kotkaniemi was back to start the third period as Montreal stormed out of the gates, but were still stonewalled by Markstrom. The speed and pressure of the Canadiens attack drew a holding call on Josh Leivo as Kotkaniemi hustled in the offensive zone. The formerly red-hot power play struggled to get any sort of meaningful attack going, returning the play to even strength with Montreal trying desperately to find a breakthrough.
Allen hadn’t had much to do after the first period, but with just over half the period gone he was called into action. He kicked out a puck from Joakim Nordstrom, but the Flames forward wrapped around the net, forcing Allen to dive and deflect the puck under his body and away from the goal line. Brett Kulak took a penalty trying to prevent the Flames from scrumming one over the line, but it didn’t matter as the Canadiens penalty killers took care of business once more.
Late in the game, Dubé had a chance to put it out of reach as he broke away from Ben Chiarot. Allen coolly fended off the chance, keeping Montreal down by a goal before he left for the extra attacker. Montreal wasn’t able to find the tying goal, and despite Tomas Tatar’s furious backcheck to save one empty-net tally, the Flames popped one in shortly after to make it 2-0 and hand Montreal their first regulation defeat of the season.
Despite a dominant five-on-five performance where Montreal controlled nearly 60% of the shots, the Canadiens couldn’t solve Markstrom. Now as the Habs await an update on Josh Anderson they’ll prepare for a two-game series against the Vancouver Canucks, trying to get back in the win column.