After a hard-fought 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens had several days off to regroup after a sluggish series against Ottawa. Waiting for them on Wednesday night were the red hot Toronto Maple Leafs, who were coming off a three-game domination of the hapless Vancouver Canucks. After their opening-night clash, both teams had solidified themselves as the class of the North Division, and their two meetings this week were set to have a huge impact on the standings overall.
Toronto was down a handful of players from opening night, missing Joe Thornton, Nick Robertson, and Wayne Simmonds, while Montreal welcomed Joel Armia back to the lineup after his concussion at the hands of Tyler Myers. With the big Finn back in the lineup the Habs made Paul Byron a healthy scratch. Carey Price got the start for the Montreal after getting a day off on Saturday afternoon, with Frederik Andersen getting the call for the Leafs.
While Toronto looked dangerous in the opening seconds, it was Montreal that tallied the game’s opening goal. A smart interception by Jonathan Drouin in the neutral zone allowed him to spring Josh Anderson down the right wing into the Toronto zone. Anderson drove toward the net, letting a seemingly harmless shot go, but the puck found a gap in Andersen’s positioning and went in for Anderson’s ninth of the year.
Montreal continued to press Toronto in all three zones, never allowing the Leafs’ star players to set up shop or to get a clean look on Carey Price. Even in an odd-man rush Toronto failed to trouble Price with any sort of quality scoring chance.
Pierre Engvall’s careless stick sent Montreal to the game’s first power play. Despite dominating the even-strength play for the entire period, the man advantage wasn’t able to create much pressure in their two minutes on the ice.
Montreal’s penalty killers were called on late in the first period as Shea Weber was whistled for hooking Auston Matthews. The short-handed group did their thing once again, including Jake Evans hustling down the ice to help burn time off the clock to escape without a goal against.
A Phillip Danault turnover forced the Habs centre into a hooking penalty of his own, and a flubbed shot by Travis Boyd nearly tied the game. However Montreal’s penalty-killers fought off the late Toronto advantage, leaving just a small bit of power play left to kill off at the start of the second period.
Toronto nearly equalized in their brief power play to start the second as a bang-bang play freed up John Tavares to fire in on Price. The Canadiens’ netminder squeezed the puck in his arm and slowly inched away from the line to deny the Toronto captain a goal.
The Maple Leafs continued to press Montreal as they sought a goal to tie the game, and Montreal’s defence was caught out for long stretches of time, including Alexander Romanov being out for a 2:08 shift. However, the strong skating of Joel Armia drew a holding call against Zach Bogosian, giving Montreal’s power play a second chance to operate. The advantage ended up playing more defence than offence, pushing their current form to just one conversion in their last 13 opportunities after a hot start to the season.
A fracas in front of Toronto’s net sent the play to four-on-four, and the Leafs finally found their breakthrough with the extra space on the ice. After Montreal failed to clear the puck from their zone, a pass made its way to Travis Dermott, and he walked in from the point and wired a shot just under the crossbar and in to tie the game at one goal apiece.
Montreal couldn’t escape the period without one last self-inflicted wound, with Joel Edmundson being called for interference quite literally at the buzzer, but embellishment by Zach Hyman on the same play was called as well, starting the next period at four-on-four.
While Montreal managed to match Toronto for almost the entire two minutes while those players were in the box, a miscommunication allowed Justin Holl all the time in the world to step into a shot and blister a goal by Price. Then 11 seconds later, a flubbed cross-crease pass waffled off of Brett Kulak’s stick, allowing Ilya Mikheyev to get just enough of the puck to push it over the line and double Toronto’s lead.
Down by two goals, the Habs decided it was time to play hockey again as the offensive attack kicked back into gear to try to overcome the deficit. A bit of luck went the way of the Canadiens as a shot from Ben Chiarot hit a Toronto stick on the way to the net, forcing Andersen to scramble into position. With the goalie down and out, it was Tomas Tatar crashing into the crease to chip the loose puck into the net to get Montreal within a goal with just over three minutes left to play.
A Hyman empty-netter quashed any chance at a comeback, and Montreal would be sent to the showers with a 4-2 loss hanging over their heads after a mostly listless effort. There’s no rest for the team, however, as they take on the Edmonton Oilers tonight at the Bell Centre before heading to Toronto for a rematch with the Maple Leafs.