It was time for a long awaited debut in a Montreal Canadiens jersey for Michael Frolik, as #67 took a spot on the fourth line, flanking Jake Evans. Frolik’s debut was necessitated by Montreal missing Joel Armia and Tyler Toffoli due to COVID-19 and injury, respectively.
Seemingly, it was also a long-awaited game for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was back on the ice after being considered a close contact for Armia a little over a week ago. Kotkaniemi needed exactly 18 seconds to score the opening goal of the night, taking advantage of the Edmonton Oilers’ fourth line ending up a little too high in the Montreal zone after the opening faceoff. The goal was challenged for a possible offside as Kotkaniemi drove the puck over the blue line while both Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen were charging through at full pace, but the challenge ended up unsuccessful with Montreal being awarded an ensuing power play instead.
If you thought the few minutes of wait after the goal and subsequent challenge would slow down the Habs, you were wrong. During the two minutes of man advantage, both Shea Weber and Tomas Tatar hit the iron. While yours truly was still looking at the replays to establish just how close the latter was to burying the puck past Mikko Koskinen, the third line’s Finnish armada made life difficult for their nedminding countryman yet again.
Joel Edmundson pounded away a shot from the point, and in the mess that followed in front of the net, Lehkonen pounced on the puck for his third goal of the season and the first since February 2.
While momentum was all on the Canadiens’ side, Josh Anderson decided to fight some Swedish dude named William Lagesson in a battle over who had the best flowing locks of the game. Anderson won that battle, to Lagesson’s chagrin. The referees didn’t care about the result of the fight and awarded them both with five minutes of cooldown in the penalty box.
Montreal had several chances to up their lead even further, while Edmonton continued to look lost and disconnected. We have to remember that one team had a week off before coming into the match, while the other one played an overtime battle with Toronto the previous night. The Canadiens players looked like they had much more juice in their legs during the opening period and, as it would turn out, during the entire game.
The third goal would eventually come. After yet another Weber shot hitting the post, Brendan Gallagher was like a coyote smelling prey on the rebound in the crease. When Koskinen found the puck, it was already lying behind him in the net.
Connor McDavid was obviously frustrated with his team’s effort, but that is no excuse to elbow a defenceless opponent in the head. He was let off with a two-minute minor, but could — and probably should — have received a more stern punishment from the men in charge.
Well, that's some garbage from McDavid. pic.twitter.com/ra5RYasRU5— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 30, 2021
Except for the power play ending 0-for-3 in the opening period, the home side couldn’t have hoped for a better start.
Speaking of being unable to capitalize on the man advantage, Edmonton quickly regrouped and drew two minor penalties in the second. This made me, an everlasting pessimist when it comes to Montreal and decisive leads, bite my nails even more intensely than I usually do. However, except for a Tyson Barrie shot which struck the outside of Carey Price’s post, Edmonton’s finest remained surprisingly blunt in the offensive zone.
When they finally did score (Connor McDavid, who else?), Dominique Ducharme successfully challenged the goal for an offside on Jesse Puljujarvi, and the Oilers continued on scoreless.
Since Phillip Danault scored his first goal of the season and got that monkey off his back, he has picked up pace and confidence in his offensive game. With that, his linemates have been injected with more fuel as well. The Habs’ fourth goal of the night was a perfect example of exactly how well Danault’s line works in its finest hours.
Gallagher got his stick on the puck out wide, preventing it from leaving the offensve zone. Danault looked up and immediately lasered it cross-ice to Tatar, who struck without hesitation, right through one of Koskinen’s many holes. It was just a sublime effort of demonstrating how to create offence by establishing pressure and turning it into efficient puck-retrieval and subsequent scoring chances near the opponent’s net.
Before the players went back into the locker room, Nick Suzuki drew a penalty on Barrie by just flying by him toward the net, forcing the defenceman to hook the sophomore to avoid a fifth conceded goal. This meant that Montreal would start period three with all but 13.6 seconds of a man advantage remaining.
I can imagine Ducharme and his team were feeling quite pleased with themselves with two-thirds of the game in the books.
The power play didn’t get a result this time either, other than in continuing to close down the minutes toward a possible first goalless game of the year for Price. A well-rounded defensive effort from the entire team made sure that Edmonton’s high-quality chances continued to be few and far between.
With five minutes left to play, Kotkaniemi could have had his second of the night as he got hold of his own rebound with Koskinen out of place. With a near open net, the Edmonton defence managed to disturb him enough to make the shot whistle just above the bar.
Montreal withstood a final penalty kill, and Carey Price could cash in his first clean sheet of the season, while simultanously ending McDavid’s point streak at 11 games. The next time Price gets a shutout will mark number 50 of his NHL regular-season career. Let us hope that there are many more still to come.
Next, Montreal will go on to face the Ottawa Senators in the Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday night. If Montreal can keep up what they demonstrated on Tuesday, we should be in for a good time.