Canadiens vs. Bruins game recap: Young defencemen making roster decisions difficult
After a slow start, the Habs made a game of their pre-season opener.
A short appearance in the 2017 post-season made for a long summer for fans of the Montreal Canadiens. The off-season wasn’t without its storylines, however, providing lots of fodder for debate in the downtime.
One of those topics was the addition of Karl Alzner as free agency opened, with another created by the subsequent loss of Andrei Markov to the KHL when he and the Canadiens couldn’t reach a deal. The net result was that the team didn’t really possess a defender on the left side with many top-pairing skills.
The lack of quality was compensated for with a massive quantity of potential bottom-four blue-liners, and that is creating some key battles for roster spots on the back end.
It wasn’t looking good early on for any of the defencemen who dressed for Monday’s game against the Boston Bruins in Quebec City. The Habs spent the first half of the opening period mostly in their own zone, hemmed in by a young Boston lineup containing few NHL players.
The new focus on enforcing stick infractions and faceoff violations wasn’t helping matters, as Montreal was called for three minors in the opening minutes. The team managed to survive unscathed, but Al Montoya was put to the test, forced to stop a steady stream of shots early on.
The Habs began to find their legs toward the end of the period, and had some extended time in the offensive zone as the period wound down. Joe Morrow played a large part in the turning the tide, getting the puck through the neutral zone and setting up the forwards.
It was Morrow’s play that led to the first goal of the game, as he carried the puck across the ice and sent it into traffic to be tipped by Brendan Gallagher for the game’s first goal.
#Habs open the scoring as Gallagher re-directs the Morrow pass pic.twitter.com/WKzlbO4tF7— Jared Book (@jaredbook) September 19, 2017
There seemed to be no apprehension about going to the front of the net for the Habs’ sparkplug, and he was able to play an effective game because of it. He and Phillip Danault were a good duo on nearly every shift, with both players willing to drive the net with possession. Gallagher came within half a post width of starting his year with a two-goal performance.
Not long after Gallagher’s opening goal, Jeremy Grégoire put one the AHL lines on the scoresheet by barreling right through the crease and taking a rebound off a Michael McCarron shot into the net with him. Noah Juulsen also got rewarded for a strong game with the secondary assist on the 2-0 goal.
#Habs Jeremie Gregoire makes the score 2-0 pic.twitter.com/r7iPPsWJ6M— Jared Book (@jaredbook) September 19, 2017
Morrow was a bit too confident in a backhand reverse pass behind his own net, and the puck intended for Jeff Petry was picked off. Jesse Gabrielle snapped the pass behind Montoya to make it a one-goal game.
With the Habs dealing with penalty troubles yet again, the Bruins took advantage of a five-on-three to tie things up 2-2, as Anders Bjork slid a puck through both Alzner and Montoya.
The Habs got a chance to get the power-play goal back just after the teams switched goaltenders at the game’s midpoint, but a weak cross-ice pass at the Bruins blue line by Alex Galchenyuk sent Boston the other way on a two-on-one. Tim Schaller fired the puck past Zachary Fucale‘s glove and into the far-side top corner.
#Habs Alex Galchenyuk with the turnover as Tim Schaller welcomes Zach Fucale to the game with a SHG. 3-2 #Bruins pic.twitter.com/UzY4oaExbq— Jared Book (@jaredbook) September 19, 2017
The Canadiens tried to mount a comeback in the third. The defence was quite active on offence, firing the puck on goal from the blue line or tossing it toward the crease from the boards in hopes of another rebound or deflection. But Bruins netminder Zane MacIntyre shut the door in his half of the game, sending the Canadiens back to Montreal with an 0-1 record to begin their pre-season schedule.
- The more strict approach by the referees resulted in 15 minor penalties in the game, with teams down two men on a few occasions. As long as the standard is maintained throughout the season, the players should gradually adapt to the crackdown on stick infractions, and not only should that help out the offensive players, but it will force a change in how defenders attempt to thwart opposition attacks.
- The Canadiens’ power play looked rather static on the night, and wasn’t able to capitalize on the increase in man-advantage opportunities. There’s still lots of time to work on the strategy, and several of the players who will be on the main units weren’t playing, but it is one area the team will need to focus on as the pre-season continues.
- With the exception of a giveaway on the first Bruins goal, Joe Morrow played a good game against his former team. He was involved in up-ice rushes and confident in carrying the puck through the neutral zone. He also hit a post, preventing him from getting his first goal in a Habs uniform, but did register an assist.
- Noah Juulsen also got onto the scoresheet, playing a more steady defensive style but showing off his offensive skills in the Bruins zone. Brett Lernout was also impressive at times, using his speed to shut down Bruins forwards attempting to skate to the net, and his physicality when he had one lined up along the boards.
- There is a defensive spot or two up for grabs, and last night’s game only increased the difficulty the coaching staff will have in finalizing the opening-night roster.
- I mentioned above that the duo of Brendan Gallagher Phillip Danault played well. The third member of the trio, Alex Galchenyuk, had a rough outing in his first competitive game of the year. There was the lack of hustle and imprecision on passing plays that can be dismissed in a meaningless tune-up game, but attempts to stickhandle through four players in the offensive zone or flipping blind backhand passes across the ice are less about rust and more about him trying to play a type of game that has proved ineffective for several seasons. He’s most dangerous when he’s looking for any and every chance to rip a shot on goal, and Claude Julien will surely be having a conversation about what Galchenyuk should be doing, and what he needs to cut out of his game./