Joel Armia is finally back after spending the last three weeks on the COVID list, slotting in next to Nick Suzuki and Tyler Toffoli on the third line Wednesday night. Meanwhile, Paul Byron got another chance to play first-line minutes with Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar, while Eric Staal formed an, on paper, solid fourth line together with Artturi Lehkonen and Corey Perry.
Xavier Ouellet got another audition on the back end while the team is waiting for Jon Merrill and Erik Gustafsson to be done quarantining, while Jake Allen was awarded with his fifth start in a week’s time.
Calgary spent the day before last night’s game in Toronto, where they beat the Maple Leafs in overtime. It was an interesting match, I’m sure, for goaltender David Rittich, who was traded from the Flames to the Leafs just days earlier. With Rittich gone, head coach Darryl Sutter selected to start Jacob Markström for the second night in a row against the Habs, in a desperate attempt to claw his way into the race for a playoff berth.
Josh Anderson was millimetres from opening the scoring before the first minute was played, after a nifty cross-ice pass from Jonathan Drouin. It wouldn’t have been surprising to see an early goal; in three of the last four of the Canadiens’ games, the first goal has come during the opening 80 seconds of play. The iron was the only thing standing in the way from adding on to that streak.
Four minutes into the game, the guests took the lead instead. After winning three offensive faceoffs in a row, the puck found its way back to the point, where Noah Hanifin signed, sealed, and delivered the opening goal of the evening.
The period continued with Calgary looking bigger, better, and faster than their counterparts. Montreal gained some momentum late on after Perry annoyed Rasmus Andersson into a slashing penalty. The power play gave Montreal a chance to breathe and spend some time in the offensive zone, even if it didn’t result in an equalizer.
Half a minute into the second, Flames captain Mark Giordano made it 2-0, in a similar fashion as the first goal; shot from the blue line with traffic in front of Allen.
Less than a minute later, Montreal hit the post again. Alexander Romanov shot from the point and Toffoli got his stick on it to redirect it, but Markström continued to have the margins on his side.
Calgary continued to push for more goals and the Canadiens looked both deflated and defeated before even half the game was played. The difficulties to create potent offence continued and the positive play from Monday night seemed a lifetime away. Then, suddenly, Brett Kulak did something he very rarely does: he scored.
Josh Anderson fell down on a potential breakaway, but made the heads-up play of reaching out his stick to get the puck to Drouin, who could see Kulak joining the rush up the middle. The defenceman blasted past Hanifin to come one-on-one with Markström, and this time not even the posts could help the towering Swedish goalie. This was Kulak’s first goal since March of 2019, and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
Montreal ended the second period with their second man advantage of the night, yet again off a Rasmus Andersson penalty, and left them with a minute of five-on-four time to work with the final frame.
The third period continued in the same mould as the first two, with the home team playing disoriented hockey in all three zones, unable to get any sort of cohesive play going.
With eight minutes left to play, Allen brilliantly saved a breakaway from Johnny Gaudreau. In a different game, in a different galaxy far, far away, that could have been a game-saver. However. just a minute later, the Habs lost track of Josh Leivo in their own zone, and the fourth-liner backhanded the puck into the net to once more make it a two-goal contest.
Dominique Ducharme removed Allen with three minutes left to play, with the only result that Sean Monahan could find the empty net for Calgary’s fourth and final goal of the evening, completing a 4-1 win.
There will be a chance to get back at the Flames and show some determination and pride on Friday, when the two teams face each other yet again. Until then, the only thing that is certain for all of us watching the Montreal Canadiens this season, is that the only thing consistent about the Habs this season, is their inconsistency.