The Montreal Canadiens were still mired in a woeful start to the NHL season, and still missing a number of the key players including Jonathan Drouin and Joel Edmundson, both of whom were recovering from injuries. The Habs had a new face in the lineup as Ryan Poehling was called up from Laval to replace the injured Cédric Paquette.
Poehling slid in between Michael Pezzetta and Alex Belzile, while the rest of the lineup remained the same after a 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night. Jake Allen once again took the starter’s role, and Jacob Markstrom got the call for the Calgary Flames.
It was the red-hot Flames who got on the board early with what looked like a harmless shot from distance. Brendan Gallagher wasn’t able to clear the puck from the zone and it rimmed around the boards to Trevor Lewis above the faceoff circles. Lewis let his shot go and Mikael Backlund freed himself from Chris Wideman to redirect the shot by Jake Allen and open up the scoring.
The early goal against appeared to have woken the Canadiens up a bit and their top six went to work on make life difficult for Markstrom. First was Nick Suzuki getting a puck from Tyler Toffoli and forcing Markstrom into the splits to make a great pad save. Then, with Mike Hoffman holding the puck at the point, he fired a shot on net that Toffoli got a piece off to flip it up over Markstrom. From there it was Ben Chiarot charging in from his spot, startling a statuesque Milan Lucic and getting to the net to poke the puck home for his fourth goal of the season.
The tie wasn’t built to last though, as the Flames found a great counterpunch to the Canadiens’ top line late in the first. After Toffoli and Hoffman misfired at one end of the ice, the Flames were able to transition back the other way quickly. A feed from Sean Monahan to Andrew Mangiapane was defended well enough that Mangiapane wasn’t able to one-time the chance, however, the Flames forward was able to pull the puck to his backhand and flick a shot past Allen to restore the Calgary lead.
The Habs’ bottom six threatened late in the period, but Joel Armia was a step slow to Jake Evans’s crossing pass, allowing the Flames to keep their one-goal lead intact as the game headed to the first intermission.
The second period started with a golden opportunity for the Canadiens as Calgary was caught with too many men on the ice, giving the Habs the game’s first power play. The man advantage struggled to generate much momentum, and outside of one backhand pass to the slot from Suzuki to Jeff Petry, it didn’t generate much trouble for the Flames either.
The failed power play didn’t deter the Montreal attack though, as the team began to consistently put together passes that stretched on the Calgary defence. First was Artturi Lehkonen getting a partial break, but firing just high and wide. Following that it was Josh Anderson who snuck behind the defence, but Erik Gudbranson was able to pull him back a bit to prevent a clean scoring chance. Finally, Pezzetta broke free into space, forcing Blake Coleman to physically grab his jersey to slow him down, putting the Habs back on the power play.
Then, all hell broke loose.
The first power play unit got itself set up as Hoffman fed a pass to Chris Wideman at the point. Wideman blistered a shot off the post behind Markstrom, and with it rattling around, Gallagher jumped in and chipped it home for a power-play goal. He was then cross-checked in the chest by Gudbranson, who was then cross-checked from behind by Tyler Toffoli, kicking off a massive fracas.
At the end of all things, the officials sent Toffoli and Gudbranson to the box, and somehow allowed Chris Tanev to leave the box despite him repeatedly attacking Wideman in the scrum following the goal.
The nonsense didn’t end there, however, as on the following shift, Pezzetta pushed Andersson from behind, and was mugged by three Flames immediately, but was the only player sent to the box for his transgression.
Allen and the Montreal penalty-killers were busy as the Flames went to their first advantage of the night, but the best overall chance landed on the stick of the Habs. Suzuki and Evans teamed up, but a great read by Markstrom denied Evans the short-handed marker.
Before the already crazy period hit its end, the Canadiens drew a holding the stick call, giving them a third crack at the power play and a chance to grab the lead. It was just more chaos as the Habs gave up a short-handed rush that led to a Flames player wiping out Allen, and at the other end Gudbranson got away with a board on Suzuki as the period came to a close.
The abbreviated power play to start the third failed to produce a third goal, but the Canadiens still kept the pressure on as all four lines pressed the Flames back and forced Markstrom to make a number of tough saves. The fourth line eventually drew another call as Gudbranson was caught out of position and high-sticked Ryan Poehling while attempting to recover.
The power play didn’t last long, however. Gallagher lost body position against Blake Coleman and hooked the Flames forward down to the ice, sending play to four-on-four. That also didn’t for long as Chiarot drew an interference call, allowing the Habs a very brief four-on-three power play chance.
That power play, and ensuing four-on-four yielded no goals, but when the play returned to a traditional five-on-four setup, the Canadiens finally struck paydirt. Suzuki took a feed in stride from Hoffman, and blew past a bewildered Gudbranson. Suzuki broke in on Markstrom, turning to circle the net, then pulling back and banking his shot off of the goaltender’s pad to give Montreal a late lead.
The Flames pushed, but Allen repeatedly slammed the door shut to keep the Habs’ lead intact. Even with the Flames’ net empty, the Habs defence and Allen gave them nothing, and an Evans empty-net goal sealed a hard-fought 4-2 win for Montreal.
The Habs are back in action on Saturday night, as they travel to Detroit for a final showdown with the Red Wings at 7:00 PM.