After another disappointing weekend in St. Louis against the Blues, the Montreal Canadiens rolled into Pittsburgh for a third and final game with the Penguins, on Star Wars night. Montreal once again had to make some last-minute changes as Chris Wideman was unavailable due to his wife giving birth, and Jake Evans was unable to play due to injury.
So Dominique Ducharme shuffled things quite a bit, with Laurent Dauphin getting a promotion up the lineup, as did Mathieu Perreault who slid in on the left of Nick Suzuki. With Wideman out, Jeff Petry and Corey Schueneman both took warm-ups, but Petry was put into the lineup alongside Alexander Romanov. Schueneman will have to wait for his NHL debut a little longer.
Despite the depleted lineup, it was Montreal that put the pressure on Pittsburgh early as its second line pushed the Penguins back in their own zone, and Artturi Lehkonen rang a shot off the post shortly after. Jake Allen had to stay sharp even with the Habs’ bright start as an ill-timed pinch by Alexander Romanov allowed Jeff Carter plenty of space to fire a slapshot on net, but the Habs netminder batted it away safely to keep the game scoreless.
The teams began trading chances at both ends from there, as Nick Suzuki hit iron in tight, and then at the other end immediately afterward Jason Zucker rifled a chance off the crossbar. The puck seemed to be refusing to go in, but the Penguins finally beat Allen against the run of play. A swatted puck in front of the net ended up in the air with both Allen and Kasperi Kapanen going for it. Kapanen got his stick on the puck before Allen got his glove to it, and just like that the Penguins had a one goal lead.
The Habs pushed back immediately, as Mike Hoffman was the third Montreal player to rip a shot off the frame of the net, but before the sequence came to an end it was Montreal heading to the penalty kill with Brett Kulak in the box. Pittsburgh threatened a few times, but timely clears and great work from Allen kept the Penguins’ lead at just one, and that’s how the period ended with Montreal still looking for a breakthrough.
The second period started about as poorly as possible for the Canadiens as Joel Armia and Romanov took back-to-back penalties in short order to put the Habs in a three-on-five penalty-kill situation. The Canadiens managed to keep the Pens off the board during the Pittsburgh two-man advantage. They weren’t so lucky during their next penalty kill as Kris Letang teed up Evan Rodrigues to make it a two-goal Pens lead.
Montreal did answer back almost immediately though as the Dauphin-led line pestered the Pittsburgh defence in its own zone. Dauphin stormed in, forcing a turnover by John Marino that allowed his to then feed Jonathan Drouin, who flicked a backhand chance past Tristan Jarry to cut the lead in half.
In true Montreal fashion, they gave the goal right back as the Penguins mounted a strong counter-attack. With Sidney Crosby keeping the Habs hemmed in a pass was fed across to Mike Matheson and the defender fired a shot through a moving screen to make it a two-goal lead for Pittsburgh once more.
Another penalty kill put the Habs in danger of being blown out once more, but a strong kill kept the Pens’ lead at two and gave Montreal some life as the period wound down.
A change got Drouin back on the ice, and he kept the puck away from the Penguins defence perfectly, allowing Ylönen to slide into an open shooting position. Drouin put the puck right into the Finn’s wheelhouse, and Ylönen blistered a shot past Jarry for his first NHL goal, giving the Habs some life heading into the third period.
That momentum didn’t amount to much as under a minute into the third period Brian Dumoulin ripped a shot through an unintentional Ben Chiarot screen and by Allen to restore the two-goal Penguins lead.
That became three just past the midway point of the period as Chiarot was outworked by the Penguins’ fourth line along the boards. Dominik Simon forced a turnover and Brian Boyle picked up the loose puck and promptly sniped it behind Allen to all but seal the game with over nine minutes left to play.
A late penalty to Jeff Carter gave the Habs a chance to salvage something from another disappointing game, but after a strong early showing the second attempt was rather dismal. With the man advantage yielding nothing for the Habs, the Penguins were able to see out the remaining minute or so of game time to seal the 5-2 victory.