Wednesday’s overtime defeat at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets was a bitter pill for the Montreal Canadiens to swallow. On one hand, they dominated possession, came from behind, and forced the game into overtime with a late goal. On the other hand, defensive miscues and continued non-regulation ineptitude cost them a second point in a game they very easily could have won. On Friday, it was the start of a back-to-back series against their season-long punching bag, the Vancouver Canucks to try for a better result.
Dominique Ducharme made just one change for the game after the loss, plugging Jake Allen in as his starter, while Carey Price was saved for Saturday night’s series finale. The lines and defensive pairings remained the same as Montreal looked to shake off the overtime loss and make up some ground on the teams in front of them.
Both Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Drouin got clean looks on Thatcher Demko, but whistled their shots high and wide, respectively. A phantom tripping call on Antoine Roussel put Montreal on the game’s first power play in the opening moments, and they used it to open the scoring.
After Myers was helped off the ice following a Shea Weber slapshot off his kneecap, the man advantage went back to work, and they were toying with the Canucks. A strong cycle got the puck onto the stick of Jeff Petry, who uncorked a heavy shot that beat Demko, but not the post. However, Corey Perry was right on the doorstep to tap home the loose puck for a Montreal lead.
Montreal had a Shea Weber penalty of their own to kill off shortly after their opening goal. With one of their lead penalty-killers in the box, the Canadiens went to work, and did well to stifle a Vancouver power play that had troubled them in previous games.
Both teams fell into a bit of a lull following the exchange of power plays. Tyler Toffoli managed a number of chances, but sailed his shots just over the crossbar on both as Demko breathed a sigh of relief.
As the period’s final seconds ticked away, Petry nearly added a second goal for Montreal as he choked up on the stick and swung at a floating puck, but it just missed its target, sending the Habs to the intermission leading by just one goal.
The second period saw the Canucks grab the early goal this time off an innocent looking play in the Canadiens’ zone. Antoine Roussel worked in while Adam Gaudette drove to the net, losing Alexander Romanov in the process. Joel Armia was slow reacting to this, and couldn’t tie up Gaudette before the Canucks forward redirected Roussel’s pass past Allen to tie the game at one goal apiece.
Montreal failed to right the ship after that, with another defensive breakdown leading to another Canucks goal. After Brett Kulak broke up an odd-man rush, the puck went back to Nate Schmidt at the point, and the Vancouver defender fired a shot that Nils Höglander got a piece of to direct it in the net.
Romanov breathed some life back into a rapidly stagnating Habs attack with a beautiful solo rush, weaving through the Canucks’ defence and drawing a call in the process. Unfortunately, the power play lacked the same intensity that Romanov used to earn it, and two minutes of a limp advantage yielded nothing.
Despite another late-period flurry, Montreal headed into the second intermission trailing by a goal and looking for some more third-period magic.
Normally when trailing by a goal, the team that is behind comes out strong in the third period to try to tie the game up by any means necessary. Montreal, however, spent the opening five minutes defending and being unable to complete a pass to a teammate regardless of the distance. It took nearly nine minutes for the Habs to finally threaten Demko with anything, which was Petry ringing another shot off the post. This time, there was no one there to clean up the rebound.
Montreal finally found their legs, with Toffoli again missing a pair of chances in tight on Demko, then Paul Byron also fired a shot over the net and harmlessly of the glass. Jesperi Kotkaniemi hampered the Canadiens comeback attempt with a high-sticking call, but again the Habs’ penalty-killers stood their ground against the Vancouver advantage.
Thanks to an incredibly stupid late punch by Jake Virtanen, the Habs’ power play had another chance late. They failed to score on the advantage, but kept the pressure on to get some more penalty luck. With Allen on the bench, and Montreal attacking six-on-five, Tyler Motte batted a puck out of play to give the Habs two extra skaters. Nick Suzuki won the draw back to Jeff Petry, and Petry returned the puck right back to Suzuki. The centreman walked in and ripped a shot over Demko to tie the game in the dying moments of the game.
To the surprise of no one, the overtime period didn’t go the Habs’ way, despite a breakaway chance for Josh Anderson, who missed his shot high and wide. The play came the other way, and J.T. Miller danced around Suzuki and Tomas Tatar, securing the second point by scoring on a down-and-out Allen, and handing the Habs a ninth straight loss outside of regulation with the 3-2 victory.
The two teams will meet again tonight night at 7:00 PM EDT, with Carey Price taking the starter’s role for Montreal.