It’s been a roller-coaster week for the Montreal Canadiens, to put it lightly. They pulled off a comeback, overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers that culminated in Eric Staal’s first goal in the CH. In the process, they lost Brendan Gallagher long-term, and don’t have Carey Price available as he nurses an aggravated injury as well. Then came Wednesday night’s game against Toronto, a huge chance for the Habs to prove they can hang with the top dogs in the division. Despite keeping it tied through most of the game, a third period effort that could be best described as “apathetic” doomed them as they fell 3-2 against the Leafs.
The team didn’t have long to rest after the defeat, welcoming the Winnipeg Jets to the Bell Centre on Thursday night. Dominique Ducharme opted for no changes to his lineup, including Jake Allen getting the back-to-back starts, while Cayden Primeau served as his backup once again.
Eighteen seconds in and the Jets had the lead already thanks to a wired shot from Josh Morrissey. The Jets defender took a pass while cutting into the wide-open slot, and fired past Shea Weber who was trying to block the shot, and past Jake Allen for a very early Winnipeg lead.
Then, in what looked like a mirror image of the game against Toronto, the Habs marched right down the ice and tied the game thanks to some hard work and patience. Jesperi Kotkaniemi jumped in deep on the forecheck, throwing a pass to Tomas Tatar right in front of Connor Hellebuyck. Tatar’s shot rebounded off Hellebuyck’s pads, where Phillip Danault jumped all over the puck, lifting his backhand chance into the net to tie the game with less than two minutes off the clock.
The Jets took the lead back with just over eight minutes played thanks to a quick counter-attack from their defensive zone. Derek Forbort fired out a perfect breakout pass to Neal Pionk, who collected in stride while gaining the offensive zone. Pionk picked out Trevor Lewis going to the net, and with Victor Mete unable to muscle him out of the play or tie up the stick, Lewis directed it by Allen to put Winnipeg on top once more.
A flubbed pass from Jeff Petry instantly turned into another Jets goal just five minutes later. The Habs defender didn’t get enough of the pass, actually playing it backward, and Nikolaj Ehlers collected the misfired puck. Streaking down the ice, he snapped his 16th goal of the year past Allen to double the Jets’ advantage.
Montreal’s best chance to get back in it came in the dying moments of the first period when an odd-man rush opened up a shooting lane for Kotkaniemi, but his shot was denied by Hellebuyck. Given the way the first period went, Montreal needed plenty to change heading into the second.
An early power play in the second period gave the Canadiens a chance to jump right back into the game. The man advantage nearly did just that in the final moments as Tyler Toffoli rang a beautiful shot off the crossbar and out, while Nick Suzuki’s chance was denied by a flailing Hellebuyck. Despite not getting a goal, the strong power play appeared to breathe some life back into the Montreal offence.
The Habs earned another power-play chance as Jake Evans drew a tripping call against Andrew Copp. The advantage didn’t last long as Josh Anderson was called for a farce of a penalty due to Nate Thompson being unable to hold onto his own stick as the Habs forward lifted it. During the four-on-four, Artturi Lehkonen got another wide-open look, and left yet another dent in the crossbar as his shot deflected heavily off the iron.
Sometimes all a team needs is a bounce, and while doubling the Jets up in shots on net, the Habs finally got one. A hard dump-in by Petry took an odd bounce off the stanchions, leaving Hellebuyck in no man’s land and allowing Paul Byron the chance to collect the puck and put it into the empty net.
A late interference penalty on Nick Suzuki threatened to increase the Jets’ lead once again, but Montreal managed to escape the second trailing by a goal while killing off most of the minor infraction.
The start of the third opened with both teams exchanging prime scoring chances. The first was Toffoli digging away on a puck thrown on net by Corey Perry, while Copp snuck behind Weber on a breakaway counter, but Jake Allen denied him on the break.
It was again the Perry-Suzuki-Toffoli trio causing all kinds of havoc in the offensive zone as the game wore on. The three forwards kept the Jets hemmed in for well over a minute, but a dubious non-icing call allowed the Winnipeg defence to change, and likely saved them further harm.
Unfortunately for Suzuki, an errant stick sent him to the box with just over four minutes left to play, putting the Canadiens’ penalty-killers in a crucial situation. They kept the Jets off the board with some great stops by Allen, and timely rushes from Paul Byron.
With Allen on the bench, the Canadiens tried to push for a miracle tying goal late in the third period again. This time there wasn’t one to be found, as Copp corralled the loose puck and fired it in the empty net to seal the Jets’ 4-2 victory.
Montreal will again go back to the drawing board to try to solve the Jets when the two teams meet again on Saturday night.