It was time for Michael Frolik to make his long-awaited debut in the Montreal Canadiens jersey, as the # 67 took a fourth row spot alongside Jake Evans. Frolik’s debut was made necessary by the absence of Joel Armia and Tyler Toffoli in Montreal due to COVID-19 and injury, respectively.
Apparently, it was also a highly anticipated game for Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was back on the ice after being seen as close contact for Armia just over a week ago. Kotkaniemi needed exactly 18 seconds to score the first goal of the night, taking advantage of the Edmonton Oilers’ fourth row finding themselves a little too high in the Montreal zone after the opening face-off. The goal was contested for a possible offside as Kotkaniemi led the puck over the blue line while Paul Byron and Artturi Lehkonen charged at full pace, but the challenge failed and Montreal was awarded a numerical advantage.
If you thought the few minutes of waiting after the goal and the subsequent challenge would slow the Habs down, you were wrong. During the man’s two-minute advantage, Shea Weber and Tomas Tatar hit the iron. As yours still watched reruns to establish how close the latter came to burying the puck in front of Mikko Koskinen, the Finnish third row armada once again made life difficult for their compatriot.
Joel Edmundson hit a point shot, and in the ensuing mess in front of the net, Lehkonen jumped on the puck for his third goal of the season and the first since Feb. 2.
With the momentum all on the Canadiens’ side, Josh Anderson decided to fight a Swedish dude named William Lagesson in a battle over who had the best fluid locks in the game. Anderson won this battle, much to Lagesson’s chagrin. The referees laughed at the outcome of the fight and gave them both five minutes of cooldown in the penalty area.
Montreal had several opportunities to increase their lead even further, while Edmonton continued to appear lost and disconnected. We have to remember that one team had a week off before entering the game, while the other had an overtime battle with Toronto the night before. The Canadiens players seemed to have a lot more juice in their legs during the opening period and, ultimately, the entire game.
The third goal would eventually come. After another shot from Weber hitting the post, Brendan Gallagher was like a coyote sensing prey as he rebounded into the crease. When Koskinen found the puck, it was already behind him in the net.
Connor McDavid was clearly frustrated with his team’s effort, but that’s no excuse to nudge a defenseless opponent in the head. He was released with a two-minute minor, but could have – and probably should have – received more severe punishment from the men in charge.
Except for the power play ending 0 for 3 in the opening period, the home side couldn’t have hoped for a better start.
Speaking of not being able to take advantage of the man advantage, Edmonton quickly regrouped and took two minor penalties in the second. It made me, an eternal pessimist about Montreal and decisive leads, bite my nails even more intensely than usual. However, with the exception of a shot from Tyson Barrie that hit the outside of Carey Price’s post, Edmonton’s best remained surprisingly brutal in the attacking zone.
When they finally scored (Connor McDavid, who else?), Dominique Ducharme managed to challenge the goal for an offside on Jesse Puljujarvi, and the Oilers continued scoreless.
Since Phillip Danault scored his first goal of the season and took that monkey off his back, he has stepped up the pace and confidence in his attacking game. Along with this, his line mates were also injected with more fuel. The Habs’ fourth goal of the night was a perfect example of how Danault’s line is performing well at its best.
Gallagher put his stick on the puck widely, preventing him from leaving the attacking zone. Danault looked up and immediately lasered it at Tatar, who struck without hesitation, just through one of Koskinen’s many holes. It was just a sublime effort to demonstrate how to create an offense by building up pressure and turning it into effective puck recovery and subsequent scoring opportunities close to the opponent’s net.
Before the players returned to the locker room, Nick Suzuki took a penalty on Barrie by flying right next to him towards the net, forcing the defender to hook the second to avoid a conceded fifth goal. That meant Montreal would start the third period all but 13.6 seconds ahead of a man.
I imagine Ducharme and his team were feeling pretty happy with themselves with two-thirds of the game on the books.
The power play didn’t get any results this time around either, except continuing to close the minutes in preparation for a possible scoreless first game of the year for Price. Well-balanced defensive effort from the entire squad has ensured Edmonton’s high-quality chances continue to be scarce.
With five minutes remaining, Kotkaniemi could have had his second of the night as he managed his own rebound when Koskinen was out of place. With a nearly open net, the Edmonton defense managed to disturb him enough that the shot whistled just over the bar.
Montreal withstood a final penalty, and Carey Price was able to cash his first clean sheet of the season, while simultaneously ending McDavid’s 11-game point streak. The next time Price gets a shutout will mark his career number 50 in the NHL regular season. Hopefully there is still a lot to come.
Next, Montreal will face the Ottawa Senators at the Canadian Tire Center on Thursday night. If Montreal can maintain what it demonstrated on Tuesday, we should have a good time.