The arrival of Jeff Gorton has brought a positive breeze back to the most decorated franchise in hockey. Three days ago, we saw him make his very first move since Geoff Molson hired him as the new Vice President of Hockey Operations, claiming former Los Angeles Kings defenceman Kale Clague off waivers. Clague went straight into the team for Tuesday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, getting paired with Brett Kulak for his Habs debut.
Another player who has been waiting considerably longer for his first game in a Canadiens uniform is Laval sharpshooter Laurent Dauphin. “Flipper,” as he’s known around the NHL, was acquired from the Nashville Predators in a one-for-one switch for Michael McCarron 23 months ago. Since then, he has racked up 47 points in 64 games for the Laval Rocket with the current season being his very best in the AHL. Dauphin was placed on the fourth line, playing next to his former Laval teammate Michael Pezzetta and former Lightning player Cédric Paquette.
At this point in a lost season, you look for glimmers of hope, whether it be in playing style, offensive ideas, or young players taking baby steps forward. With that in mind, the opening 10 minutes of this game were not too shabby to watch. The Habs managed to forecheck high up in the offensive zone and disturb Tampa Bay’s build-ups admirably. It was an even game with some decent looks for Montreal on offence, and Jonathan Drouin could have had the opening goal when he whiffed on the puck in a tangled situation near the crease.
Instead, Gorton’s first acquisition unfortunately made headlines for the wrong reasons. Speaking of “whiffing,” Clague wanted to clear the puck from behind his own net, but fanned on it to send it straight to Patrick Maroon, who pounced and broke the deadlock.
Montreal tied things up early on in the second period. Suzuki intercepted a pass from Boris Katchouk, starting a breakaway. Drouin, placed wide to the left, found a surging David Savard(!) who, to much surprise, dangled the puck through the Lightning defence before dishing it back to Suzuki for the score.
As I stated at the very beginning of this recap; this season you have to appreciate the few moments of joy you do get, and Savard’s solo raid certainly was such a moment.
Montreal continued to play well, having the majority of both shots and actual scoring chances. The ever-unlucky Artturi Lehkonen could (and should?) have given his team the lead when playmaking dynamo Ben Chiarot found him with a beautiful pass right in the crease.
Off the following faceoff, the Habs did get their goal. Suzuki won the draw and Mike Hoffman found the right angle to do what he does best. His quick shot seemed to bewilder Andrei Vasilevskiy, and after seeing the replays we understood why; the shot had ricocheted off Drouin’s leg to beat the former Vezina-winner.
The only negative aspect during an impressive second period was that yet another man went down with an injury. This time, it was Christian Dvorak who was unable to return for the remainder of the night with what looked like a knee injury. Let’s just hope it’s nothing major. At this rate, the Canadiens will soon have to look at players from Trois-Rivières to get a full NHL lineup.
The Lightning got a good look to even things up with a power play in the middle of the third period. They were swarming like bees around Allen’s net for what felt like an eternity with the puck somehow managing to stay on the right side of the line. Just as the penalized Suzuki re-entered the play, he stole possession from a careless Tampa player, outskated Mikhail Sergachev, and served Dauphin with a golden opportunity in front of Vasilevskiy. Dauphin, being used to a different pace, was not ready to make the play.
Otherwise, this was an inspired effort by the Rocket’s top scorer this season. Playing on the fourth line is naturally a considerable difference from being the leading guy on an AHL team, but Dauphin did his job both at five-on-five and when he was out on the penalty kill.
He received another chance to score a key goal just minutes later, when he redirected a point shot from Kulak. Dauphin was ready to finish this time around. Unfortunately, so was Vasilevskiy.
With two-and-a-half minutes remaining, Jon Cooper pulled his goaltender from the net, which almost immediately gave results. Savard had already proven that it’s all relative. This time, it was Montreal’s turn to bite into the sour grape. Corey Perry was left alone in the crease and found the redirect to save at least a point for the guests from Florida.
The Canadiens had looked reinvigorated and seemed destined for a deserved win this evening. But as it turned out, the margins were on the opponent’s side. With 37 seconds left to play before overtime, Ondrej Palat finished a breakaway to give his team the lead and, as it would prove, the win.
Next up for the Habs will be a home game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night.