Monday night was an incredibly frustrating affair for the Montreal Canadiens in Vancouver. They got a standout performance from Carey Price, a strong showing at even strength, but failed to come away with a victory. So Wednesday night offered them a chance to make their on-ice efforts show up in the win column. Price was given the net once again, having allowed just three goals in his last three starts, and Dominique Ducharme opted to make a few alterations to the forward group.
Josh Anderson was shifted back to the top line with Nick Suzuki and Jonathan Drouin, while Brendan Gallagher joined Tyler Toffoli and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Joel Armia took Gallagher’s spot on the third line, while the fourth line and defensive pairings remained the same.
In the early going the offence was coming from Montreal sticks only, as the Canadiens repeatedly penetrated the Vancouver zone without much hesitation. The Canucks managed only icings or harmless dump-ins as Montreal jumped out to an early 7-0 shot advantage on Thatcher Demko.
Montreal then managed to derail that momentum when Kotkaniemi hammered Travis Hamonic in the numbers, drawing a boarding call and giving Vancouver the game’s first power play. The Canadiens penalty-killers never let Vancouver’s advantage get set in the offensive zone, allowing no shots on the power play. Then the speed of Josh Anderson drew a call for Montreal shortly after.
Unlike Vancouver, Montreal relentlessly attacked the net on their power play, namely the Jeff Petry-led unit. Again though it was Demko doing all the work to keep his team in the game, and the Canucks goaltender more or less killed off the penalty without much assistance from his penalty-killers.
As Montreal continued to dominate the proceedings, the Canucks tried to find a spark by having J.T. Miller square off with Ben Chiarot. It was the Canadiens’ burly defender landing the most significant blow, dropping Miller, but he appeared to injure hand in the process. He left for the dressing room immediately, did not return, and has already been ruled out of tonight’s game.
Then it was Kotkaniemi atoning for his earlier penalty, as he converted a Toffoli pass for his fourth goal of the year. After a Gallagher pass was pushed behind the net, Toffoli took advantage of some lazy puck management by the Canucks’ defence and swiped the puck back. He then picked out Kotkaniemi circling in the slot, and put a pass on a tee for the Finn, who had no trouble one-timing it by Demko to open up the scoring.
Phillip Danault allowed the Canadiens to keep the pressure up by drawing a holding call against Quinn Hughes. On the following power play it looked like Montreal doubled their lead, but Petry’s heavy shot hit off the iron, keeping the Habs’ lead at one heading into the intermission.
Unlike their Monday meeting, the Canadiens made sure to get a second goal early in the second period. A poor turnover by Brett Kulak forced them to start in the defensive zone, but a quick pass from Kulak to Jake Evans sprung the Habs’ breakout. Evans fired up to Paul Byron, who in turn dished a pass over to Corey Perry. The veteran winger cut across Demko and neatly tucked a backhand shot home for his fourth goal of the season.
The two-goal lead didn’t last long as Kulak was called for high-sticking, giving the Canucks another power-play opportunity. This time they made it count, with Hughes teeing up a rocket from Brock Boeser that Price had no chance at stopping, and Vancouver found themselves right back in the game.
Perry’s strong game continued when he drew a penalty in front of the Canucks’ net. However, the Canadiens’ over-reliance on trying to filter their attempts through Shea Weber failed to generate anything dangerous of note.
The speed of the Habs drew another penalty in the offensive zone, and the power play finally found the back of the net. Jonathan Drouin acted as the perfect catalyst as he worked in space, then threaded a pass across to Weber. The Habs captain took just a smidge off his shot, but still blasted it right past Demko’s glove to restore Montreal’s two-goal advantage.
That goal gave the Habs a nice cushion heading into the third period, with a solid edge in shots and a two-goal lead.
To the surprise of no one, the Canadiens didn’t just sit on their lead. Even when Hughes took over the offensive zone, it was Montreal still creating chances at the other end. Danault was stoned on a breakaway, and Joel Armia was denied right on the doorstep. However, a resurgent Kotkaniemi was the driving force in yet another Montreal goal. He worked off the right wall, and with his head up fired a cross-zone feed to Petry. Petry rifled a shot into the far corner of the net for his 10th goal of the season, and a three-goal Habs lead.
The two sides traded power-play opportunities, and while neither resulted in a goal, the Canadiens found one more at even strength. A strong cycle from Armia led to the puck landing on Joel Edmundson’s stick along the goal line. The defenceman fired a shot along that line, and it ended up on Danault’s stick. After what felt like an eternity, the Habs centre finally notched his first goal of the season.
The four-goal cushion, and a locked in Carey Price, was all they needed to see out a well-earned 5-1 victory in Vancouver.
Montreal now moves on to play tonight at 9:00 PM EST in Calgary. Jake Allen will be the expected starter, and with Chiarot’s injury, it likely means Victor Mete will draw back into the lineup.