It was time for Jon Merrill to make his Montreal Canadiens debut. He replaced Brett Kulak as Alexander Romanov’s partner on the third pairing in Wednesday night’s game against the Edmonton Oilers. Meanwhile, the only change on the forward side was demoting Jonathan Drouin to fourth-line duties and replacing him with Artturi Lehkonen in the top nine.
The game started off with incredible intensity. The two teams exchanged hit after hit without getting any kind of scolding from the referees. Three minutes in, everyone’s favourite pest, Corey Perry, dropped his gloves to settle the score with Montreal native Alex Chiasson. I’m assuming this was supposed to be revenge after the Edmonton forward put Carey Price in the concussion protocol on Monday. However, Chiasson won the fight and got his teammates even more pumped up.
Shortly afterward, former Canadiens property Zach Kassian disappeared into the locker room after getting hurt off a delivered hit behind the net. He would ultimately not return to the game, leaving the Oilers one man down for the remainder of the night.
Jake Allen seemed locked in and ready to go from the start. His save on Jesse Puljujarvi’s breakaway seven minutes in was crucial and seemed to create a momentum shift where the Canadiens took over more and more of the offence created. Unfortunately for the Habs, veteran Mike Smith continued to haunt the nightmares of opposing forwards.
Just as everyone was thinking that it would be yet another well played but ultimately fruitless period of play, the Finnish flashes thought otherwise. Jesperi Kotkaniemi waited patiently and dished the puck to a surging Lehkonen near the crease. Lehkonen moved the puck over to his backhand side and dashed it up in the far corner before running into the netminder.
If Lehkonen only could finish chances off like that on a regular basis. he would be a star in the league.
The second period started off with an early equalizer from Edmonton. Caleb Jones made a heads-up pass from way down his own zone to a certain Connor McDavid, who was streaking through the neutral zone. It went as it nearly always goes when you leave the best player in the world with a little bit of time and space. This time he lured Allen down on the ice before lifting the puck up high.
Eleven seconds later, Montreal regained the lead. Josh Anderson, who had been galloping all over the ice from the start of the game, took the puck across the blue line, keeping it away from jabbing defenders with his huge wingspan before whipping it past Smith. This was Anderson’s 16th goal of the season.
Mid-period, Joel Armia got tripped by fellow countryman Puljujarvi. When he retaliated, he got called for the minor penalty himself and Edmonton was awarded with the first power play of the night. Montreal did well to kill off the first minute, spending precious time in the Oilers’ zone with the puck in hand, since attack is the best form of defence. With 44 seconds to go of the power play, Mike Smith took matters into his own hands and tripped up Tyler Toffoli to equalize the number of players in the box. If only he had to serve the penalty himself.... Instead, McDavid took his place to serve the penalty.
One period later, he would have to revisit the same spot after elbowing pesky, pesty Perry mid-ice and getting called for roughing.
Oh look, more garbage from Connor McDavid pic.twitter.com/PsimwDKmJS— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 22, 2021
Nothing new under the sun though. Montreal’s power play continued to look lacklustre and hardly recorded any shots during the one-and-a-half power plays combined.
Speaking of goaltenders getting called for tripping; with McDavid back on the ice again in the third period, he surged to the net. Allen made the save with #97 falling over the goalie’s stick. Edmonton was awarded with a power play and you could just see the writing on the wall. What a perfect situation for a plausible repeat of Monday night’s outcome late in the third period.
No sir. For the second straight time, the Oilers couldn’t go the entire two minutes without getting penalized themselves. With Leon Draisaitl in the booth for interfering with Joel Edmundson, the Canadiens extended their lead to two. An inexplicable pass into his own crease by Josh Archibald rebounded off Smith and turned into a perfect pass to Toffoli, who tipped his cap and sniped home his 22nd goal of the year.
With five minutes left to play, weak defending from Edmonton left Anderson alone to backhand in his second goal of the night, after Tomas Tatar got enough touch on both Smith and the puck to put the goalie out of balance and out of his own crease.
Dave Tippett challenged for goaltender interference, since Anderson inadvertently took Smith’s stick with him as he retrieved the loose puck, but to no avail. With the delay-of-game penalty coming up, things were looking mighty fine for the Canadiens with less than five minutes left to play.
Unfortunately, Drouin immediately put a high stick in the vicinity of Archibald and was called for a double minor. This meant that the Oilers would get several minutes with an extra man to try to decipher Allen.
Naturally, this worked like a charm for the home team. Tippett gambled on a 6-on-4 and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in his comeback, which decreased the difference to two goals with 2:12 remaining. After removing the goalie yet again. McDavid and possibly Puljujarvi got their sticks on a point shot from Tyson Barrie and all of a sudden a safe victory was at risk.
Edmonton had chances to equalize, but Montreal let their bodies hit the floor – or in this case, the ice – to protect the net and the win. With a second to go, Anderson was loose to consummate his hat trick, but as he shot his stick broke, so the Powerhorse will have to wait for his first three-goal game as a Montreal Canadien.
Next up on the road trip is a three-game mini series against the Calgary Flames. That battle for playoff supremacy starts on Friday at 9:00 PM EDT.