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Canadiens vs. Los Angeles game recap: King takes pawn

Montreal takes a game to overtime for the first time this season.

Los Angeles Kings v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

It was finally time for Phillip Danault to make his awaited return to Montreal. He did so after having a career night in Toronto just the night prior. Before puck drop on Tuesday, Danault had eight points in his first 12 games for his new employers. Meanwhile, his Los Angeles Kings had also had a promising start to the season as they found themselves in the second of two Western wild-card spots. As a matter of fact, they entered the Bell Centre on Tuesday red-hot, on a five-game winning streak; a winning streak which, incidentally, started against the Montreal Canadiens back in Los Angeles on October 30.

Tuesday’s game was naturally shadowed by Carey Price’s official statement, which was released just hours prior. Naturally, we all wish Carey the speediest and strongest of recoveries.

Speaking of strong characters who have been open with their recent struggles. Jonathan Drouin unfortunately missed his third straight game after taking that puck to the face in the victory against Detroit last week.

Christian Dvorak, who had been questionable with an undisclosed injury, was partnered with Josh Anderson and Brendan Gallagher for the opening faceoff, while Jake Allen got his 12th start in 14 games.

The game saw the Kings get off to an early lead, but only in the shot column. This can mostly be credited to an early power play after a Jake Evans tripping call, which saw Los Angeles establish pressure in the Habs’ zone.

During one of the breaks in the opening period, Danault got his rightful tribute from the spectators in the stands. The Victoriaville native looked both bewildered and moved while acknowledging the sudden change from the audience, who up until that moment had booed his every touch of the puck.

Montreal grew into the game gradually, avoiding high-danger scoring chances in their own zone by instead creating pressure offensively. For a defence as porous as the Canadiens’, this really is the only solution; keep the opponents as far away from the net as possible, by instead swarming into the offensive zone and peppering the opposing goalie with shots from every possible (and impossible) angle.

With 15 minutes played, Montreal had taken the lead in the shot column as well as in the scoring sheet. Ben Chiarot and Artturi Lehkonen managed to pinball the puck back and forth onto Cal Petersen’s body parts until finally the former could get the better out of the netminder and fire home his third goal of the year. It was well-deserved as well. During that first period, Chiarot was attributed five(!) out of the Canadiens’ 13 shots on net.

This also meant that the 6’3” defenceman, who last year had one measly goal in 41 regular season appearances, now is tied for second on the team in scoring. Let’s cross our fingers and hope he can keep this pace up, especially with his defence partner Jeff Petry currently out of sync with the scoresheet.

What was more worrisome for Dominique Ducharme was that Cédric Paquette had to leave the game during the opening period with an undisclosed injury. He would not return for the remainder of the night, leaving the home side’s forward corps one man down for what turned out to be 40-plus minutes.

The Kings tied the contest up five minutes into the second period. Claude Lemieux’s son, Brendan, decided to play the part of Ghost of Christmas Present by scoring his very first goal of the season at a crucial part of this game. Coming off the rush, Lemieux fired it high toward the near post and hit the bullseye just as Montreal got back up to even strength following a penalty on Michael Pezzetta.

One could absolutely discuss whether Allen should have been quicker in his reactions here. However, it is understandable that a goaltender has trouble staying sharp when he has played 700 minutes since October 14.

He certainly got his vengeance on the Kings’ forwards later in the period, when he pulled out his best Carey Price impression and slid across the crease to stop a one-timer from the Ghost of Christmas Past, commonly known as Phillip Danault, with his toe.

Minutes later, during the home team’s third penalty kill of the evening, David Savard tried his best to help the Kings out, redirecting a point shot toward his own net before finally being able to clear the puck off the right post. Montreal managed to hold on and not concede while being a man down this time as well; a huge improvement from previous games.

Los Angeles had increased their control during the latter half of the second period and the feeling was that the guests had momentum and were on the hunt coming into the third.

That feeling instantly proved to be correct, since it took merely six seconds for them to turn their momentum into a lead. Savard was late to the party as Alex Iafallo, unbothered, could skate into the attacking zone and blast a slapshot into the Canadiens’ net.

Lemieux had been teasing Pezzetta all night long with minor annoyances, and as we approached the midpoint of the third period, the Montreal winger had had enough. He cross-checked his opponent looking for a fight of some sort, but getting a dive instead, with both players spending a couple of minutes in the box shouting and screaming at each other.

As soon as they came back out onto the ice, Pezzetta went after Lemieux again, which only ended with a second consecutive minor penalty for the Laval hothead, while L.A.’s equivalent went unpunished by the referees.

These sequences seemed to fire up both the crowd and the home team, which suddenly found signs of life after gasping for air ever since the Kings’ equalizer. Alexander Romanov added to the frenzy by using his entire body weight to make young forward Rasmus Kupari his latest victim with a savage but clean hit.

Montreal was pumping up, and this was the moment when Jake Evans decided to take matters into his own hands. Silkily smooth, he turned Kings defenceman Tobias Björnfot inside-out before splattering the puck up in Petersen’s far corner. It was a pure beauty of a goal, demonstrating just how quick momentum can change in a hockey game. Up until Pezzetta started picking a fight with Lemieux, there were few signs of the Canadiens making a comeback this night. After Evans’s equalizer, Los Angeles all of a sudden seemed to vaporize, leaving Montreal to pick up whatever pieces they wanted.

Tyler Toffoli, Mike Hoffman, as well as Gallagher and Suzuki all had opportunities to score the game-winner, but to no avail. This game would be decided in overtime.

Once again, momentum would eventually shift. It seemed like Montreal had the three-on-three under control, creating the majority of the chances and keeping track of the puck.

Then, Adrian Kempe isolated Evans and managed to squeeze by him to get a one-on-one against Allen. The Swede made no mistake and instead made sure that his Kings could look ahead to Ottawa with six straight wins in the bag.

For Montreal, this was by all means a step forward compared to five of the six periods against the Islanders and the Golden Knights. Unfortunately though, the team’s first overtime experience of the season ended in a 3-2 loss.

In two days, Montreal will certainly have to bring their A game if they want any chance of upsetting the Calgary Flames and their red-hot goalie, Jacob Markström, in the final game of the homestand.