It was the fifth and final game of a road trip across the United States for the Montreal Canadiens in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday night. The Canadiens had a two and two mark in the first four games, with wins in Anaheim and San Jose and losses in Boston and Los Angeles.
Surely, fatigue was setting in, but Montreal gave it their best, getting stronger as the game went along and winning 4-2.
While the on-ice activities left quite a lot to be desired at times in this one, especially a dead first period, action in the press box was exciting and dramatic.
Three scouts from the Edmonton Oilers were at the contest in Columbus. That’s a huge number, and indicates a significant moment. Assistant GM Brad Holland, pro scout Warren Rychel and goaltending scout Jeff Salajko attended the contest.
Edmonton is winning games recently thanks to 12 points in three games for Connor McDavid. However, the Oilers goaltending is still abysmal. Stuart Skinner put in an .852 save percentage against Vegas Tuesday night that the Oilers won 5-4. The solution does not appear to be on their roster.
Enter Samuel Montembeault to perhaps solve their issues. Montembeault has one of the best goals saved above expected numbers in the league and a save percentage of .910. The Oilers have a league-worst .870 save percentage. Skinner’s personal number is .875. His backup, Jack Campbell, is in the minors trying to find his game. It hasn’t gone well. Campbell is .884 in Bakersfield for the Condors after an .873 in Edmonton.
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Montembeault was outstanding in the first period, making quality stops. In the second period, he finally allowed the first goal of the game on a breakaway to Patrick Laine. One goal on 16 shots. That’s a night of sweet dreams in Edmonton. During some games, 16 shots is nearly a complete game total for Edmonton in allowed shots.
Montembeault also not at fault on the second goal as the puck bounded back and forth across the crease. That type of movement in front of a goalie is unstoppable. Montembeault ended up swimming back to try to make the play. He could not.
Still second frame, and the Oilers entourage had to be impressed with Montembeault’s work on a breakaway for Boone Jenner. He darted the leg out on a quality shot.
Directly after the Montembeault save, we saw the power of goaltending. It was Juraj Slafkovsky to free Christian Dvorak at Montreal’s blue line. That led to a 2-on-1. Dvorak shot. The rebound went to Cole Caufield who tied it at two.
On that line’s next shift, they dominated the Blue Jackets, amassing two straight minutes of pressure. Slafkovsky was able to make key plays along the wall to keep the pressure going. It showed the absolute necessity for him to win board battles to have success. Slafkovsky set up Caufield twice for the Habs’ most dominant shift in what felt like years. Slafkovsky is improving a massive amount in the last two weeks.
The last time the Canadiens had a shift that had that level of dominance was when they possessed one of the top lines in the league of Philip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar. That line was a possession monster, and that shift felt just like those days when that line powered the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup final.
If that type of possession is a taste of what Slafkovsky can do when he learns how to win board battles better and protect the puck, he is a natural for Caufield, and Kirby Dach when he returns from injury. Montreal could have a line that has excellent possession numbers every night they’re together.
In the third period, the Canadiens scored the game winner as Mike Matheson took a slap shot that Joel Armia deflected as he crossed in front of the crease. Montreal’s first lead of the game came with 2:57 left. Gustav Lindstrom scored an empty-netter for a 4-2 final.
They stayed in the fight. The Oilers brass liked what they saw, too, as Montembeault made 26 stops on 28 shots. Stay tuned for the next chapter in that story surely to come.
The Canadiens were horrific in their own end in this one at times. It seemed like hundreds of turnovers, but surely it was less. Cole Caufield couldn’t connect a pass on the breakout in what was absolutely his worst period for the Canadiens under Head Coach Martin St. Louis.
Kaiden Guhle, who is usually solid, had a brutal giveaway on the Blue Jackets’ second goal. It was fortunate the Canadiens were so careless against a club with suspect finish, or the contest would have been lost before the second intermission, instead of the count being 2-2.
It truly was one of their worst first periods of the season, defensively. If they play in a similar manner in the opening frame Thursday against Florida, it will be a difficult night for Cayden Primeau.
In the end, though, their concentration got better as the game moved along, and they took the two points which is the bottom line.
Filip Mesar continues his revival this season. The best goal that he has scored this season came against the Erie Otters on Wednesday night. Mesar walked through the entire Otters team on his way to a breakaway shot that he scored shortside.
Mesar now has 11 goals on the season and 26 points in 15 games. For a short time, Mesar had a two-points-per-game average. That ended up being unsustainable in a competitive Ontario Hockey League, but he’s still close to tops in the league in that category.
It should be exciting to watch Mesar play for Slovakia at the World Junior Tournament. He will be given every opportunity to dominate. Montreal will also have Lane Hutson to watch. In college hockey, Hutson leads the league in average minutes-per-game, nearing 29 each night. Hutson will be on the American team where he will be asked to lead the club to glory.
Another American who is a Canadiens prospect that is a lock for the event is Jacob Fowler, who is shining for Boston College in his first season. Fowler and Trey Augustine of Michigan State will fight for the net. The inside track is Augustine’s due to his work last year for the U.S., but as anyone knows, in the end, the net will be filled by the goalie with the hot hand in the moment.
For Canada, the top player to watch will be Owen Beck. He has exploded recently for the Peterborough Petes after a rough start. Beck has played 20 for the Petes, scoring 13 times with a point total of 23. Last year, Beck played only at the end of the tourney due to injury. No doubt, he will have a bigger role this year and make the team from the get-go.