It’s not often that the sixth game of the season is considered a must-win, but for the Montreal Canadiens who are mired in the worst franchise start in almost three decades, that is exactly the situation they were in. Five straight losses, with just four goals total to their name, had left them as the only NHL team without a point in the early season.
Dominique Ducharme threw the line blender on for last night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, with Mathieu Perreault taking the third-line centre role between Tyler Toffoli and Cole Caufield. Jake Evans played between Finns Joel Armia and Artturi Lehkonen on the fourth line, while Mike Hoffman moved up to the top trio.
On defence, Sami Niku made his debut next to Brett Kulak after missing almost all of the pre-season with a concussion. Ben Chiarot took a spot next to Jeff Petry, while Alexander Romanov and David Savard formed a new-look third pair.
It was a bright start for the Canadiens who managed a ton of zone time and puck control while the Red Wings tried their best to keep the Habs to the outside. However, as has been the case all season, a penalty call shifted control of the game back into the opponent’s hands early on. Detroit did not need much time at all on its power play. Just seven seconds into Ben Chiarot’s tripping minor, Dylan Larkin snapped a shot off the post and in to make it a 1-0 game.
The Canadiens followed that up with a shift on which they failed to clear their lines on multiple occasions, giving the Wings another huge chance to add to their lead, but some strong stops from Jake Allen kept the deficit at just one.
Then Jonathan Drouin’s quick feet drew a tripping call, giving the Habs a chance to tie the game up on the power play. The power play unsurprisingly looked disjointed and failed to record a shot on goal. However, Chiarot was able to atone for his earlier penalty, thanks in part to a brilliant seam pass from Drouin. The Habs winger had a pair of options, to either dump the puck around or to feed a pass back toward the point. Drouin opted for the latter, hitting Chiarot in stride and the big defender wired his shot past Thomas Greiss to tie the game at one goal apiece.
After a disastrous first power play attempt, the Canadiens’ second one went much better. Hoffman missed the net with his first try, but was able to corral the rebound along the boards. He then circled outside the faceoff circle and uncorked a laser beam that Greiss never saw to put Montreal in the lead with their first two-goal game of the season.
They also earned a third straight power play afterward, but some fancy stickhandling from both Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki failed to find another goal on the advantage. Nevertheless, Montreal entered the first intermission with a one-goal lead.
The Habs came out firing on all cylinders to start the second period, with Hoffman leading a three-on-one rush and testing Greiss with another heavy wrist shot. It hinted at the offence that was about to come.
The goals started flying fast and furious, thanks to a bit of luck and Marc Staal’s skate. The second line rocketed into the zone after Kulak bumped the puck ahead to Drouin. He fed it back to Christian Dvorak, who dropped it off for Niku. The puck was returned to Dvorak, who tried one more pass, but it deflected off Staal’s heel and past Greiss.
The relentless neutral-zone pressure then resulted in a turnover by Carter Rowney, which Perreault picked up. The newly minted third-line centre had all kinds of space in the Detroit zone, and opted to call his own number as he snapped his first of the year past Greiss to make it a three-goal lead.
It wasn’t long before Perreault found the back of the net again, this time thanks to more pressure from the forwards. Caufield corralled a loose puck, walked into the slot, and fired a shot off Greiss’s glove. The rebound dropped right at Tyler Toffoli’s feet, and he slid a blind pass across the crease to Perreault, who easily chipped it home to push the Montreal lead to four.
The Habs did have to end the period killing another penalty, with Allen having to come up big to close out the second period and keep that four-goal lead intact.
Following the remaining Detroit power play time to open the third, the game became rather sloppy as both teams seemed content to just turn the puck over back and forth and run out the clock. However, after Givani Smith shoved Tyler Toffoli back into the Habs bench, Montreal went back to the power play.
With the obvious intention of getting him a hat trick, most of the man advantage was spent filtering pucks in to Perreault. Despite some solid looks from range, the Canadiens did not add to their lead.
The Wings decided an aggressive goalie pull was their best chance to get into the game with well over six minutes remaining. Chiarot collected a loose puck, launching it ahead but missing the net. Perreault was there to pick it up and deposit it into the empty net to complete his natural hat trick.
Jake Allen made a few big saves as the Red Wings pushed to try to find any kind of silver lining in the loss, but the Montreal goalie stood tall to finally earn the Habs their first win of the season.
Final Score: Montreal 6, Detroit 1
Next up for the team, is its annual trip to the American West Coast, starting with a trip to Seattle for the first ever meeting with the Kraken at 10 PM ET on Tuesday night.