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Canadiens vs. Predators game recap: Every line contributes in offensive explosion

Struggling to score three goals all season long, the Habs post six on a normally stingy Nashville team.

NHL: NOV 20 Predators at Canadiens Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A couple of days after a 6-0 loss the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Montreal Canadiens were taking on a team less likely to reach that level of production, but just as capable of shutting down their offence. The Nashville Predators were a top-10 defensive team coming into the game, and decided to go with their Vezina Trophy-calibre goaltender, Juuse Saros, to boost their prowess.

Montreal started the game with one good shift as they looked ready to take on the challenge of such a strong team, but it wasn’t long before the Predators got ahold of the puck and started playing in Montreal’s zone. They almost had an early goal as the Canadiens failed to secure the puck on a five-man rush up the ice, leaving Ryan Johansen all alone in front of Samuel Montembeault when the turnover was made, but the goaltender turned the point-blank shot aside.

That massive save gave Montreal the confidence to attack up ice with numbers once more, and a sequence of passes eventually got the puck to Artturi Lehkonen right in front of Saros. He couldn’t score on his first attempt, but stuck with the play and banged his rebound into the net for the first goal of the game.

Nashville responded with an aggressive offensive attack of their own, actually running Montembeault on a couple of occasions in their bid to force the puck into the net. The goalie maintained his composure and kept scrambling to keep the puck in front of his goal line despite being knocked out of position.

After the Predators had had a tying goal waved off because it had been punched into the net, they nearly got one in a legal fashion when Mikael Granlund caught all of Montreal’s defenders flatfooted. He was uncontested as he pulled the puck right across the top of the crease, but Montembeault made the save.

As the horn sounded to signal the end of the period, shot were 15-9 for Nashville, with high-danger scoring chances 7-3 in their favour. Thanks to Montembeault the Canadiens held a 1-0 lead, but that same level of play wasn’t going to cut it with the long change in the second.

Someone got that message across in the intermission, because Montreal came out of the dressing room looking much better. Just over a minute in, Jonathan Drouin knocked down a clearing play out of mid-air, and the Habs took advantage of the early turnover that Nashville couldn’t in the opening period. Drouin got the puck to Josh Anderson, who raced right across the slot to draw the attention of the defence and Saros, then quickly sent the puck back in the opposite direction to Christian Dvorak. The goaltender had no chance to change his direction of movement, leaving a gaping net for Dvorak to hit.

It was the third line’s time to take the ice after the goal. A great bank pass from Lehkonen landed on Jake Evans’s tape while he was in stride, and Nashville was forced into a penalty to prevent a two-on-one. That power play lasted just nine seconds, as another perfectly executed passing sequence saw the puck go from Tyler Toffoli behind the net, to Drouin at the top of the circle, and then immediately to Brendan Gallagher’s stick in the crease. Once again, Saros couldn’t keep up with the puck movement, and it was a tap-in goal.

Ryan Poehling didn’t actually have a line to play with as Dominique Ducharme opted to go with 11 forwards and seven defencemen, but he was more than happy to play with top-form Lehkonen around the midpoint of the period. The work of Lehkonen and Joel Armia to win board battles all around the offensive zone won the puck to Chris Wideman, and a Predators unit trying to stop the cycle around the perimeter was in no position to check Poehling on the opposite side of the ice. He had time to line up his shot, and cleanly beat Saros from the circle.

He didn’t mind when Toffoli joined him on the ice on the next change, either, because 37 seconds after the puck was dropped, Poehling had his second goal of the shift on a similar open look from close range.

With time winding down in the second and a five-goal deficit on the scoreboard, the Predators tied to mix things up around Montembeault, and Mathieu Olivier soon regretted participating in the melee as he was served a steady diet of Anderson’s right fist in a spirited fight.

Holding a five-goal lead, the Canadiens tried to replicate the performance of the Penguins from the previous game; not forcing the play but still taking the shots open to them. It turned out that just trying to play a clean period and see out the clock was the wrong strategy for such a fragile team, because the Predators began ramping up their play without a matching increase from the Canadiens.

Toffoli was called for a hook six minutes into the period, and while he was in the box, he watched Matt Duchene, who’d clearly been looking at Connor McDavid highlights, waltz right through Montreal’s defence to break Montembeault’s shutout bid.

One of the opportunities Montreal did receive fell to the stick of Lehkonen, but the hockey gods smited him for having the audacity to try for a second goal in the game, and his stick snapped in half just as he tried to take the shot.

The puck deities weren’t quite done with the poor Finn, as right afterward he got hit in the mouth with a puck in his own end, dropped his stick to clutch his face, got up to find his man trying to get that puck, and was called for holding when he laid a (perfectly clean) bodycheck in the corner. He didn’t even get a moment to recuperate in the box, because Duchene added his second power-play goal of the period eight seconds into the advantage, sending a wave of nervous energy through the Bell Centre crowd.

That wave was tinged with panic when Duchene completed the hat trick a few minutes later with plenty of time remaining for his club to add another two goals.

Fortunately for Montreal, the final goal of the game went to them, when Toffoli completed a three-point night with an empty-net tally to relive the pressure, and secure his team a 6-3 win.

A victory prevented the Canadiens from slipping to a .250 points percentage before the club gets a three-day break. That number is still only .300 with the playoff spots likely too far out of their reach, but the least they can do is string together more displays of passing and skill like we saw from every line last night.

Their next challenge will be to go on the road to Washington and outscore a team led by Alex Ovechkin, who is laser-focused on rising to the top of the all-time goals list in the final seasons of his NHL career.