In four games before tonight, the Montreal Canadiens had shutdown Connor McDavid, allowing only two points. They had done even better against Leon Draisaitl, allowing just one point. In game five, there was expectation that surely this time the two would break out and change the fortunes of the Edmonton Oilers against Montreal. However, in a thriller, the Canadiens came back to win 3-2 in overtime.
Montreal had a lot of high-quality chances in the first two periods, but they could not finish them. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Paul Byron, and Artturi Lehkonen all had open nets within three seconds of each other in one exciting sequence. That line thrown together so Eric Staal could play with better players was outstanding. Might just be the best fourth line in all of hockey in its present construction. Kotkaniemi has been playing terrific.
Staal also played well, though it did not feel as if he, himself, was the catalyst 5-on-5, but that his mates Jonathan Drouin and Tyler Toffoli were buzzing. It’s difficult to say. Staal spent a lot of time in the offensive zone of the Oilers with possession, and that’s what counts. They collectively had a strong game. His size was important. That was easy to see right away as it was difficult to take him off the puck. Perhaps a bit of concern about the pace that he brings with his legs, but let’s just hint at it now, and perhaps it shall not be mentioned again. It simply felt like it might just be a concern on this speed-first team. Hasn’t bothered Corey Perry though. All in all, that was a strong night for Staal and makes Montreal a better four-line team than they were before they traded for him.
It was Perry who helped get the Canadiens on the board finally, in the third period, as they attempted a comeback. It was a sweet pass from Perry to Josh Anderson who used his strength to fight off his check in front of the net for his third goal in the last two games. Right after, Paul Byron with an active stick intercepted an errant pass to feed Tomas Tatar who fired a bullet past the ear of Smith. Montreal deserved the 2-2 tie. They had played a strong game. To simply go quietly would not have been a fair indication of the night.
That took us to overtime, where the Canadiens have been abysmal with only one win in ten games. Certainly, you could not like their chances against the most talented threesome in hockey, McDavid-Draisaitl-Nurse, but Montreal did it. What a storybook ending it was. In his first game, Staal was the overtime hero with a wrist shot to the far side. An outstanding third period comeback for Montreal. They deserved this fate and they got it.
Finally, a thought about the defensive third pairing of the Canadiens as it continues to play well. Alexander Romanov is keeping it simple and making smart decisions, but it is Victor Mete who seems to be finding his best self again. It was a rough start for Mete to the season. He had to wait to get a chance, then he was on for four straight goals against to begin the year. This was part bad luck being on the ice for others’ mistakes, and part losing puck battles of his own. Recently, we see heady break-outs carrying the puck up himself to win the offensive zone. We see smart pinches at the blue line to keep the attack alive. We also see smart decisions in his own zone. Now, if there was some sort of way to convince anyone who the worst defenceman actually is on the team, because it sure isn’t Mete.
The first period was terrific for the Canadiens as they dominated, so it was difficult to see the sad scoreline at the end of the first 20 minutes. The Oilers with the only goal as Joel Edmundson lost a puck battle at the side of the net, then the cross-crease pass went through Shea Weber to the other side, where Devin Shore had an open net to make it 1-0. Shore also found himself beside Jonathan Drouin, who was unable to tie up Shore’s stick. Three errors lead to one goal. Montreal deserved so much more, but that’s hockey.
Can the horrific luck of Brendan Gallagher be a Wilde Goat? Yes. Yes, it can. First period, Gallagher is having his usual hard-working shift. He’s parked in front of the net where he has made a career. The shot comes from Alexander Romanov. It hits Gallagher right on the right hand. He has had such serious difficulties with his left hand, even having screws put in to put the hand back together. He goes straight to the dressing room. Strike number one. The medical staff goes to the room immediately coming down from the stands. Strike number two. In the first intermission, the Canadiens announce that Gallagher will not return for the night. Strike number three. Those three events in succession are never good news in the NHL. The player knows instinctively that something is wrong. The medical staff confirms it. It’s usually bad. Now we wait.
The Laval Rocket are outstanding this season, but probably not as good as the following seasons when their blue line is going to be a who’s who of future NHLers. This might be the weakest Rocket season in the next three years. Soon they will invite defenders like Jordan Harris, Kaiden Guhle, Mattias Norlinder, and Jayden Struble. The blue line corps should be phenomenal. Up front, expect highly touted prospects Luke Tuch and Sean Farrell to join the club as well. Tuch plays at Boston University. Farrell was set to join Harvard, but did not because COVID-19 cancelled the Ivy League season. Both have thrilling offensive skills. Expect entertaining times at Place Bell in the coming years.
For now, the Rocket play at the Bell Centre for health reasons, and they are on fire going 12 games without a defeat. Ryan Poehling continues his hot streak and now has 18 points in 22 games to be tied for the team lead. Poehling is now looking like a legitimate NHL player. His point-per-game is better than Jake Evans the year before he became an NHL player with the big club.
On Friday, the excitement will be off the charts with the debut of Cole Caufield. The organization had the right to play him as soon as Tuesday night, but decided that they wanted him to get some practices in before his first game. A little bit of acclimation won’t hurt Caufield at all, and there is no rush to get him in a game. It’s not as if the team is struggling without him.
The only downside is, as of now, the American Hockey League still has not announced a playoffs for this year. Hope is that when COVID-19 case counts go down, so does the danger for the players, and they can schedule a post-season without fear. We are not there yet, but that is the hope.