Games against the Calgary Flames only get more important from here on out. Looking to hold on to their fourth place spot in the North Division, the Montreal Canadiens did themselves no favours with their absolute stinker at home against Calgary last Wednesday night.
Though they still have games in hand, taking the rematch on Friday night was of paramount importance for the Habs. Heading into the game with a meager four point lead on the Flames, those games in hand run the risk of evaporating quickly if they can’t beat the team chasing them.
Montreal had hoped to potentially have Carey Price back, but as he was still nursing an undisclosed injury, Jake Allen got another start between the pipes. They did, however, welcome the return of Ben Chiarot on the blue line with hopes that his presence would spark them to an important win.
The first period was somewhat low-event, but the Flames outshot the Habs 14-6 thanks largely to the 14 giveaways committed by the Habs. Aside from some highly suspect passing by the home team, the story of the period was Jake Allen standing tall to keep things scoreless after 20 minutes.
The second period began to go a little more Montreal’s way, thanks in no part to the two anemic power play attempts that they had in the first 10 minutes. The Habs were playing well enough to frustrate the Flames, but their special teams were unable to generate anything.
But they would open the scoring without needing their power play to wake up. Just past the halfway point, Nick Suzuki found Tyler Toffoli wide open in the slot, and he went top shelf on Jacob Markstrom to break the tie and put his team up 1-0.
The Flames would get their own power play not long after the goal, and they were far more menacing. Luckily for the Tricolore, Jake Allen stood tall, and on the few chances where they got the puck past him, Sigfried and Roy were there to ping the puck out of harm’s way. And so, the Canadiens escaped the second frame with their one-goal lead intact.
An undeserved lead, to be sure, and the Flames didn’t take long to equalize in the third. After another defensive zone giveaway, Elias Lindholm was left wide open in the slot for two shot attempts, and the second banked off Ben Chiarot and in to make it 1-1.
But that Flames goal seemed to spark the best hockey of the night for Montreal. They began really pushing and actually seemed to have the Flames on their heels for the first time in the game.
It would pay off with just over four minutes to play. Joel Armia threw a beautiful pass from the corner of the zone out to Tyler Toffoli, and he simply redirected the pass up high for his second of the night. It was briefly credited to Armia, but extensive review eventually showed Toffoli tipped it in.
And that was all she wrote. The Flames would pull Markstrom for the extra attacker and have a few chances, but Allen and the Canadiens closed the game well. A huge, albeit probably undeserved win for the Canadiens heading into their second half of the back-to-back against Ottawa tomorrow afternoon.
- The Canadiens should not feel good about that game. They can feel good about the result because it was a very important game, but they clearly got away with one there. They were outshot, out-attempted, out-chanced, and simply outclassed. They should just collectively thank their goaltender, then go about figuring out how to mitigate the defensive giveaways plaguing the team right now.
- Jake Allen, on the other hand, should feel fantastic about that game. He was calm, collected, well positioned, and he frankly deserved to get the shutout. He got some help from his posts, but if you ask goaltending enthusiasts, they’ll tell you that a well positioned goalie only gives you the bars to hit. Fantastic game from him, and a case study for how important a good backup goaltender can be.
- I can’t see how the team doesn’t give Cole Caufield his first NHL game with how anemic the power play is. They had two golden opportunities with a scoreless game and didn’t present any real threat during their offensive zone time. If he’s shown anything in his short AHL time, it’s that his shot is the asset we thought it was. I say turn that loose sooner than later. He at least forces the opposition to think more, and at best he’s picking twine.
- The trio of Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar, and Paul Byron were statistically the best of the night for the Habs. They controlled over 70% of shot attempts while on the ice at five-on-five, and this on a night where the team was under 50% as a whole. They were the only trio to really sustain pressure, and though they didn’t find the score sheet, efforts like that will eventually bear fruit.
- Tyler Toffoli has 21 goals. I’m not one to shy away from criticizing Marc Bergevin, but the brilliance of the Toffoli contract is important to recognize. He’s scoring at a rate that would put him well over 40 goals — closer to 50 — in an 82 game season. This at a price tag of $4.25 million per year. It might not just be Bergevin’s best contract, it’s one of the best value deals in the entire league.