Coming off an overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators that led to the firing of head coach Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller, the Montreal Canadiens hit the road to take on the Winnipeg Jets. But a change behind the bench couldn’t spark the Habs, as the Jets spoiled Dominique Ducharme’s debut with a come-from-behind 6-3 victory.
The Ducharme era began on a promising note, as Montreal reverted to playing a style of hockey that had made them so successful at the beginning of this season. The Canadiens pressured early, using their speed and forechecking to force the Jets to fall back into their own zone.
Having moved away from needlessly dumping and chasing the puck, the Habs instead concentrated on providing more puck support. The defensive core also got in on the action, playing more aggressively and allowing the Canadiens’ offensive lines to challenge Connor Hellebuyck often in the opening minutes of the game.
This strategy would pay off just over halfway through the period, when Alexander Romanov made a heads-up play to spring Joel Armia, who ripped his fourth goal of the season past Hellebuyck to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead.
Armia would strike again with less than three minutes left in the period, when he redirected a nifty pass from Jonathan Drouin to double Montreal’s lead.
Though the home team did show some flashes of life throughout the opening frame, Carey Price cooly shut down any scoring chances to keep the Jets off the scoreboard to end the period with a 2-0 lead.
The Canadiens’ momentum began slowly unravelling in the second. The Habs were dealt a tough blow, losing Josh Anderson to injury, and the forward did not return to the game. Though Montreal once again pushed early and often, Winnipeg used the first intermission to regroup and counter-attack against a porous Canadiens defence.
Kyle Connor took advantage of a defensive breakdown to cut Montreal’s lead in half just under five minutes into the frame on the Jets’ first man advantage of the night, when a delay of game penalty was called against Shea Weber.
The Habs responded with a power play marker of their own shortly after, when Neal Pionk was sent off for high-sticking Nick Suzuki. Jesperi Kotkaniemi blew past Nathan Beaulieu to set up a two-on-zero situation with Tomas Tatar, and the Slovak had no trouble burying his fifth of the season to restore Montreal’s two-goal lead.
But that did little to deter the Jets, who used their new-found confidence to go on the offensive. Winnipeg’s persistence paid off just over halfway through the second, when Connor’s wristshot beat Price to cut the Canadiens’ lead back down to one.
Less than three minutes later, Blake Wheeler’s shot was redirected through traffic to tie the game at three apiece. The two goals scored in under five minutes by Winnipeg took the wind completely out of Montreal’s sails, as the team struggled to regain the dominant form it had shown during the opening frame.
Frustration started seeping in as the Canadiens couldn’t respond with a goal of their own, and instead ended the period taking an unnecessary penalty. Jeff Petry was called for roughing Andrew Copp, and the Jets opened the third period on the man advantage.
Though the Habs were able to successfully kill off that penalty and a subsequent high-sticking call against Ben Chiarot, the team put up little resistance to the home team’s offensive pressure. This tepidity would come back to haunt Montreal, when Nate Thompson slipped a shot through Price’s pads to give Winnipeg its first lead of the game — on a goal that Price would definitely like back.
Both teams continued to exchange penalties in the third period. Wheeler was called for hooking Tatar just over seven minutes in, while just under three minutes later Joel Edmundson was given two minutes for slashing Mark Scheifele’s stick away.
Though neither team was able to score on the man advantage, Pierre-Luc Dubois extended his team’s lead seconds after the Edmundson penalty expired. Dubois made quick work of a Canadiens turnover in their own zone and took advantage of scrambling defensive work to extend Winnipeg’s lead to 5-3.
Trying to put some life back into his team, Corey Perry fought Nikolaj Ehlers, but his efforts went to waste as Montreal continued to play more passive hockey and eventually ended up surrendering an empty-net goal to Scheifele.
A strong performance in the opening period became completely undone as the Canadiens gave up five unanswered goals to drop this game to the Jets. Montreal will need to re-group and figure out a way to stanch the bleeding, when they face off against Winnipeg again this Saturday.