The Montreal Canadiens’ trip to the province of Alberta was arguably their biggest of the season. They had narrowly escaped the Calgary Flames last Friday night thanks to Jake Allen, before utterly collapsing upon themselves against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon. First up was the Edmonton Oilers, a team looking to make a push up the North Division standings.
The Habs stunned the Oilers in overtime in their last meeting, with Eric Staal providing his only notable contribution to the organization with the overtime goal in his debut. The Canadiens kept their lineup the same from the previous game, right down to Carey Price starting in net. Luckily for them Ryan Nugent-Hopkins remained out of the Oilers’ lineup, dealing a massive blow to a top-heavy Edmonton team. Mike Smith got the start for the Oilers as well, looking to build on his shutout win over the Winnipeg Jets.
After starting painfully slowly all last week, the Canadiens most certainly did not on Monday night. In the opening minutes they repeatedly fed chances into the slot to test Mike Smith, with Alexander Romanov making his presence known with a one-on-one rush against Adam Larsson that likely should have drawn a holding call.
From there the game took a physical edge, with Connor McDavid throwing a late shot against Phillip Danault that drew a large crowd around the benches. Then it was Romanov landing a reverse hit on Jujhar Khaira that left the Oilers forward woozy and in need of assistance off the ice and to the locker room.
It did look like McDavid had finally snapped his slump against Montreal this season with a laser-guided snapshot past Price. However, an immediate challenge by Dominique Ducharme at the request of Price showed that Alex Chiasson delivered a fly-by hit to the head of Price that wiped out the goal after a short review.
The teams traded power plays to end the period, with the Canadiens at least attempting some new looks, but failing to score. The Oilers were easily stymied by a locked-in Price, who denied both Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid on multiple chances, including a collarbone save in the dying seconds to exit the first period scoreless.
Period two started with a surprise: Jake Allen was in the net, and Price was nowhere to be seen. It turns out Price was shaken up by the head contact on waved-off goal in the first period, and would not return to the game against the Oilers.
The Canadiens got on the board early thanks to the unlikely duo of Corey Perry and Eric Staal. A hard dump-in by Staal eluded Smith behind the net, and ended up on Perry’s stick on the left boards. Perry looked up and fired a hard pass right off of Staal’s skate at the side of the net, and the veteran centre had his second goal in a Montreal uniform to break the deadlock.
The Canadiens’ penalty issues continued to be an issue as Tomas Tatar took a seat for two minutes, forcing the Habs penalty kill to again fend off the Oilers attack. Even with two of the biggest stars in the world on the ice, Edmonton failed to crack Montreal’s defence and the Habs held onto their lead even drawing a power play of their own.
Montreal’s man advantage managed to do next to nothing with their two minutes of power-play time, and in fact the best play in the entire sequence was a non-play by the Oilers. Somehow as the penalty expired McDavid and Jesse Puljujarvi snuck behind the Canadiens skaters, and collected a pass from Smith. Despite the uncontested two-on-zero breakaway, McDavid whiffed on his shot, allowing the puck to harmlessly trickle to Allen.
A less-than-clean hit from Paul Byron on Caleb Jones put the Habs on another late penalty kill. A strong showing from Allen kept the Canadiens’ lead intact heading into the third period, but he had to face down another power play thanks to a cross-checking call on Tyler Toffoli as the second period ended.
Period three started off as the Jake Allen show, killing off the penalty before being called on to make multiple 10-bell saves on the Oilers. First it was a blocker save, and Allen then had to lunge across his crease to deny Chiasson with the top edge of his glove and push the puck out of play. If that wasn’t enough Jeff Petry brought down Darren Archibald, and as the Oilers forward fell he flicked a shot on net that Allen gloved while Archibald slid into his legs inside the crease.
However, with the Canadiens playing in the shell, the Oilers finally found their breakthrough. With McDavid running amok he was able to fling a pass to Ethan Bear at the blue line, and with plenty of time and space, the defenceman wired his first goal of the season to knot the game at a goal apiece.
McDavid finally managed to find the back of the net against Montreal without it getting called back. McDavid took a pass with speed through the neutral zone, then split the Canadiens defensive pair of Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson like a hot knife through butter, and the Oilers captain put his team in the lead.
With plenty of time left to play Montreal immediately lost track of Puljujarvi, and the big Finn put the game on ice. Devin Shore added an empty-netter to add to the embarrassment.
With just 12 wins in their last 33 games, and 15 goals in their last nine played, the Canadiens are in desperate need of an answer. The only saving grace was that Ottawa upset Calgary, so Montreal keeps its tenuous grip on the final playoff spot in the North. The Habs and Oilers play again on Wednesday night, and it’s unclear who will be able to get the start.