The Montreal Canadiens headed down south for a rematch with the Nashville Predators, a team they bested at home just two weeks ago in a wild 6-3 game at the Bell Centre. Since then, the Predators had alternated wins and losses in spite of their reunited top line thriving. The Habs obviously went through a massive change as they fired most of their front office and began the steps toward a change in direction.
The Canadiens’ lineup had been wildly altered since the teams’ last meeting as well, namely with Josh Anderson and Jeff Petry out long-term. However, returning to the lineup for the Habs on Saturday was Mike Hoffman, and the team hoped he might solve their drastic power-play woes.
Hoffman’s return to the lineup started about as unfortunately as it could as he was whistled for a trip inside the opening 30 seconds. Jake Allen fought off some strong looks by the Predators’ power play and allowed Montreal to escape the penalty kill unscathed.
That still didn’t stop Nashville from finding the first goal thanks to a timely deflection by Eeli Tolvanen. Mattias Ekholm carried the puck into the Habs’ zone and pulled up to fire a shot from the blue line. As it headed toward the net, Tolvanen caught a piece of it, lifting it past Allen to open up the scoring.
In response to the Predators’ opening goal, the Canadiens took another penalty as David Savard blatantly shoved a Nashville player headfirst into the Montreal net behind Allen. The penalty-killers and their goaltender again teamed up to keep the Preds’ seventh-ranked power play off the board once again, and shortly after drew a penalty of their own.
With the units in a state of flux, the one with Ryan Poehling and Cole Caufield brought some kind of life back to Montreal’s offence. Poehling teed up Caufield for a clean look from the left circle, but Juuse Saros read it the whole way, swallowing up the hard shot without allowing a follow up opportunity. There was little momentum gained from that play, as Nashville went right back to dominating the game at even strength, once again leading to the Canadiens taking a defensive-zone penalty in the final minute of the period.
The Habs did well to fight off the late power play, including Tyler Toffoli creating a short-handed breakaway, but instead of passing it to a wide open Christian Dvorak, Toffoli took the shot himself, and it was stopped by Saros as the period ended.
The Canadiens’ penalty-killers kept a perfect record intact to start the second period as they easily dispatched the remaining 42 seconds of the power play. Then the game had it’s first fight after an extremely physical first period, and it featured none other than Michael Pezzetta. The rookie forward buried Matt Benning in the Predators’ zone and for his troubles had to throw down with Mark Borowiecki in a spirited fight.
Following the fight, William Carrier was called for holding the stick, and this time the Habs power play clicked. Caufield drew the defenders to him as he dipsy-doodled with the puck before feeding Chris Wideman, who in turn slid the puck to Nick Suzuki. The young centre walked into the faceoff circle, loaded up his shot, then ripped it over the shoulder of Saros to get the Canadiens on the board.
Suzuki’s goal brought some life back into the Canadiens’ offence, and with some excellent hustle Christian Dvorak had the Canadiens back in the lead. A long lob from Savard was destined to be an icing until Dvorak hustled down the ice to negate it and create a chance of his own. The puck was fed back to Savard at the point whose shot was batted down by Saros, but Dvorak pushed off his man to swat home the rebound to give Montreal its first lead of the night.
John Hynes challenged for goaltender interference, but the official review saw no such thing and the Habs headed to another power play thanks to the failed challenge. On that power play, Mathieu Perreault took a stick to the face, making it a five-on-three advantage for Montreal. The Habs promptly squandered the key chance as their two-man advantage failed to test Juuse Saros and the play returned to five-on-five with the Canadiens nursing just a one-goal lead.
In the final minutes of the period, Nashville finally found a second goal as a point shot from Ekholm was tipped home by Tanner Jeannot. It was initially believed to be a high stick, but a quick review said otherwise and the game was tied.
Montreal wasn’t able to get to the intermission without another Hoffman penalty giving Nashville a power play to start the third. Montreal’s penalty-killers handled the power play, and the team used that momentum to take the lead back once again.
Alexander Romanov won a puck battle that allowed Caufield to start an odd-man rush up the ice. Caufield wisely held the puck before fluttering a pass int to middle of the zone to a charging Brett Kulak, who snapped it under Saros’s glove to give Montreal the lead back.
After Kulak fought Luke Kunin following the next faceoff, it became the Jake Allen show once again as the Habs failed to clear their lines. After an icing, it was Allen sprawling all over to keep the Predators from tying the game up. The Habs failed to get their legs going from there and in a scramble around the net it was Kunin who was able to chip it by Allen who was searching for the loose puck in his crease.
A too-many-men penalty put the Habs back on the penalty kill again, and once more they managed to deny Nashville as the game entered its final minutes. Artturi Lehkonen nearly found the late go-ahead goal, but his breakaway chance was denied, and after a flurry of pad saves at the other end, Allen had forced the game into overtime.
The three-on-three frame was a wild affair, and it looked like the Habs might have pulled a rabbit out of the hat with a pair of set plays. Jake Evans won a draw forward right out of the zone, setting Hoffman off after the puck, creating a breakaway opportunity but Saros denied. They nearly accomplished the same thing on the next defensive-zone faceoff on the opposite side of the ice.
The Preds eventually caught the Habs napping just long enough to score the winner. Filip Forsberg lost his stick in the corner as the puck transitioned to the other side of the zone. As his teammate held it, Forsberg retrieved his stick and slid in behind the defence and easily converted the pass to secure a second point for Nashville.