On Thursday night, Dominique Ducharme had his first test drive behind the bench as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. The team came out with a strong push early in the game, looking like they might pull themselves out of a disastrous tailspin with a new coach at the helm. What happened instead was a defensive and goaltending collapse, leading to a lopsided loss in a game that Montreal was leading 3-1 at one point.
With a full day of special teams-focused practice under their belt, Ducharme and the Canadiens rolled back into Winnipeg for a rematch with the Jets. Jake Allen was handed the starter’s net for the game after Carey Price’s poor showing during the week. With Josh Anderson out injured, the forward lines were shuffled slightly, and Jake Evans was slotted back in on the fourth line.
After retreating into bad habits late in the previous game, the Canadiens opened Saturday’s clash with a freeflowing attack, closer to what fans saw at the start of the year. It looked like they might have taken a very early lead when Alexander Romanov stepped up to a loose puck and wired a shot, but unfortunately for the rookie his shot bounced off the crossbar and away from the Jets’ net.
As the period went on, the Canadiens kept a firm grasp on the game. Even when the Jets were allowed any sort of meaningful attack, it was met with a steady Montreal counter. Most notably was Shea Weber reading a two-on-one rush, then shutting down the shooting option after forcing the pass, something he hadn’t really done in recent weeks.
A later shift against the Jets’ top line that saw the Habs hemmed in their own end yielded nothing when Montreal managed to get a late clear and line change. Through the opening 20 minutes the focus was very clear: support the puck and look for new chances in the offensive zone.
The Canadiens didn’t have time to rest on a strong first-period showing, as they had a two-minute Weber penalty to kill almost immediately in the second period. Much like the team at even strength, the penalty kill looked slightly better than its previous form, with Allen’s steady play helping keep things settled down in the defensive zone. In fact, the Jets best chance of the power play came thanks to Jeff Petry’s clearing attempt hiting Ben Chiarot, and falling to Kyle Connor’s stick. The Jets winger tried to go upstairs on Allen, but the Canadiens’ netminder was equal to the task, getting the save with his shoulder.
Then, it was the Canadiens’ turn on the man advantage, and they managed one great look courtesy of Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s shot glancing off the cuff of Connor Hellebuyck’s glove. The power play was then cut short when Trevor Lewis ran into a stationary Jeff Petry and drew an interference call out of it, sending the play to four-on-four, and then an abbreviated Jets advantage.
Petry wasn’t out of the box long before he went right back, taking a tripping call on Nikolaj Ehlers. This time the Jets’ man advantage struck gold, as Ehlers found a sliver of open space and unleashed a rocket that finally beat Allen.
Montreal drew a call of their own shortly after when Kotkaniemi was clipped by a passing Pierre-Luc Dubois. The power play failed to generate much in terms of dangerous looks, with Weber’s massive shot missing the net and not helping keep the zone for long periods of time.
The Canadiens weren’t to be denied, however, and some hard work by Joel Armia set up Nick Suzuki to get Montreal on the board. Armia won a battle against two Jets, then flicked a pass to Suzuki along the goal line. Suzuki immediately fired it on net, finding a tiny spot that Hellebuyck had left open for his fifth goal of the year.
They nearly added another on a Brendan Gallagher one-time chance. Hellebuyck was more than up to the task though, stretching his pad out to deny the Canadiens a second goal before the intermission.
Both teams traded chances early in the third, with a tic-tac-toe play falling to the stick of Weber, but the Montreal captain only caught the puck with the heel of his stick, meekly pushing it off Hellebuyck’s pads. At the other end, a turnover put Blake Wheeler right on Allen’s doorstep, but the goalie bested the Jets’ captain to keep the game tied as the final period hit the halfway point.
To say Montreal dominated the remainder of the period is somehow underselling it, as Montreal had 17 scoring chances, to the Jets’ single opportunity in the third. Every stat was in favour of Montreal, but a strong showing by Hellebuyck kept it from becoming a Canadiens blowout. Unable to solve the Winnipeg goalie, the Canadiens were forced to overtime.
The three-on-three period didn’t last long, with Phillip Danault, Petry, and Armia failing to even leave their own zone. Paul Stastny finally put the puck past Allen to steal a second point for the Jets, ans a 2-1 victory in extra time.
Despite utterly dominating the Jets for 95% of the game, Montreal ended up with just one point to show for it. Now the team heads back home, where they’ll welcome their personal bogeyman, the Ottawa Senators, on Tuesday night.