Canadiens @ Kings game recap: Habs forget to play defence in L.A.

Los Angeles deals with little traffic in 5-2 win.

Thanks in large part to Jake Allen, the Montreal Canadiens headed into a weekend back-to-back on a winning note. His 45 saves were critical in ending his team’s long drought in San Jose, though four goals of support helped a great deal as well. Having multiple reasons for getting a rare win in the 2021-22 season had to have the team feeling good when it hit the ice for an afternoon game versus the Los Angeles Kings and former top-line centreman Phillip Danault.

They clearly didn’t feel quite as good as L.A., because the Kings came out with a couple of shots right off the drop of the puck, but the Canadiens slowly started to find their form after some sloppy neutral-zone play and close offside calls.

Montreal’s first opportunity came off the stick of Josh Anderson following the first commercial break, then Tyler Toffoli had one against his former team by shoving a defender, stripping him of the puck as he tried to skate out from behind his net. Nick Suzuki followed up with another great look, but on all occasions, Cal Petersen made a great save to keep his opponents off the scoreboard.

A power play for the Habs should have resulted in an even greater chance to open the scoring, but the Kings pre-scouting team had clearly seen a man advantage or two from earlier in the season, and were all over Montreal’s tactic of dropping the puck back to a trailer. They made the point not to front puck-carriers in the neutral zone, but follow a step behind instead, and that took the main transition option away. As a result, it ended up being an ineffective two minutes.

That kill turned the tide in L.A.’s favour, and the second half of the period largely belonged to the home side. A flurry of activity forced Allen to be sharp as he was peppered by shots.

Surviving the onslaught, the Canadiens finally got a chance to change and had Christian Dvorak’s line hop over the boards. Dvorak picked up the puck at the bench and carried it into the offensive zone. Anderson sprinted into space on the opposite side, getting a shot off before a diving Danault could intervene, and solved Petersen late in the opening frame.

Shortly after the second period began, Anderson just about had his second of the night. His shot went off Petersen’s glove, but spilled wide of the net. Caufield then had a chance to replicate the goal that Anderson had scored in the first period, but as has been the case all season, he was a bit hesitant with his release, and the shot went wide of the net.

The missed early chances proved costly. The Kings decided they wanted to try to score a goal similar to Anderson’s as well. They took the puck away just inside their defensive blue line and moved into the Habs’ end, setting up a two-on-one versus a recovering Canadiens team. Ben Chiarot was facing two attackers coming at him with speed and decided to take away the passing lane. That allowed Viktor Arvidsson to walk deep into the zone, load his shot, and just sneak it past the blocker of Jake Allen to tie things up.

The space that opened up on the goal seemed to inspire a Kings team that hasn’t had much offensive success to really push the pace, and they launched a relentless attack on Montreal’s defence. The Habs had a difficult time keeping their checks out of dangerous areas, and the shot counter rapidly ticked up for Los Angeles, as did the chances.

Constant pressure resulted in Anderson being forced to slash an onrushing Anze Kopitar as he raced into the slot with the puck, and the Kings used that opportunity to grab the lead. Like Arvidsson had enjoyed earlier, Arthur Kaliyev had lots of space to load up his shot, and that was a critical mistake versus such a lethal release. He put it right where he wanted it for his second NHL goal.

There was no let-up after that tally, and it led to another power play mere seconds later. The Canadiens finally got a respite when Kempe’s stick came down on Jeff Petry’s helmet following a quick stoppage, allowing Montreal to start a shift in the offensive zone with the game at four-on-four.

The Canadiens began to get back into the game at that stage, slowly chipping away at the large shot advantage Los Angeles had built up over the last several minutes. There was a great chance for Ben Chiarot as he dangled through several defenders at full speed. Later there was an energetic shift from Mathieu Perreault’s line, with Brendan Gallagher having the best attempt as he skated right across the top of the crease trying to tuck it in the opposite side. Nothing came from the zone time, but there was an indication that the Habs were prepared to fight in the third period to get the game back on even terms.

Maybe that was the intention, but the plan went awry when Dvorak was called for a penalty on the first shift coming out of the intermission. Montreal survived for much of the two-minute sentence, but not quite long enough as Rasmus Kupari became the latest player to have more than enough space to line up his shot. It was a great one, going just under the crossbar and off the back frame of the net to give his team a 3-1 lead.

A little more than three minutes later, the Kings added a fourth. The defensive-zone coverage evaporated on a rush, leaving Matt Roy room to shoot. Allen made the initial stop, but the puck bounced up off his glove and to the side of the net. No defender was in a position to clear it, and Alex Iafallo simply needed to knock it into the net.

Iafallo added another goal, Los Angeles’s third power-play goal of the afternoon, with six minutes remaining to ensure there would be no comeback.

Chiarot finally did get the goal he’d been eager to score all game near the end of the third. It merely served to make the margin of victory three goals, 5-2 for the Kings, and prevent Montreal from having another one-goal performance.

The Canadiens will continue their Jekyll & Hyde season tomorrow afternoon versus the Anaheim Ducks, when the record on the road trip will either be a respectable 2-2, or a woeful 1-3.

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