A cure for any team that is having trouble on the power play and offensively is playing the last placed team, which was exactly what the Junior de Montreal found themselves doing this past Friday night. But this confidence had to be tempered as Halifax was coming in to the game on a season-high 4 game winning streak.
The Junior's short home stint of 2 games would begin against a team that had only won 1 game in their first 20, but then had reeled off 4 wins in a row. A little Jekyll and Hyde perhaps? The Moosehead's winning streak seemed to have everything to do with the stellar play of QMJHL Defensive Player of the Week goaltender Mathieu Corbeil-Thériault. Corbeil-Thériault seems to be the reason that Halifax has been doing so well because if you look at their wins they have been allowing as many shots against, but he seems to have come up with the big saves when called upon…and then some. Due to his recent winning streak Moosehead coach Cam Russell (former NHL defenceman with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Colorado Avalanche) went with the hot hand and Corbeil-Thériault was the starting goaltender again.
On the Junior side defenceman David Stich was out with an injury and Jonathan Narbonne (he who suffered a serious concussion during the preseason) would be playing his third game of the season. Also back in the lineup after missing 6 games was offensive sparkplug Eliezer Sherbatov.
There was an interesting start to the game as veteran winger Chris Thorne and Linden Bahm threw down their gloves only 6 seconds into the game. It was one of the better fights of the year, but the decision clearly went to Thorne as he laid a beating on Bahm. After they were shown their seats in the penalty box the game began for real.
Immediately you could see why it would be hard for teams to get the puck beyond Moosehead goaltender Corbeil-Thériault as he is a monster at 6'6". You barely can see any net beyond this guy. His wingspan is incredible and you could see that the only way you were going to get shots beyond this guy was to get traffic in front to pounce on rebounds.
The game did not begin as the fans, Junior coaching staff and the team itself could have imagined as by just past the 11 minute mark the home side found themselves down 2-0. The first came at 2:12 by Carl Gélinas (7th of the year) with assists awarded to Sawyer Hannay and Guillaume Pelletier. On the power play at 11:02 the Moosehead notched their second when Linden Bahm was left all alone to tap one into a virtual empty net. How does this work that you find yourself down 2-0 in the 1st period to the last placed team?
It is not like the Junior did not have their own chances because they had several glorious chances to score (Hello Louis-Marc Aubry and Sherbatov!), but didn't. They either fanned on their shots or the puck hopped over their sticks when all they had to do was direct it into empty nets.
Actually, the missing of great scoring chances was not their downfall so far in the game it was their occasional sloppy defensive play. This was a little disappointing to those of us who have followed the team all season long. Though they are a young group the Montreal defence corps was getting stronger and stronger as the season progressed. Much of the credit for this has to go to Coach Pascal Vincent as he is known as a coach that is good at bringing along young talent. The defence of the Junior is not a high scoring group, but a mobile and defensively responsible one who do not make a lot of mistakes. In the 1st period of this game all that seemed to go out the window and goaltender Jake Allen was hung out to dry on a couple of occasions.
Momentum is a funny thing in sports as it can change on a dime and for the weirdest of reasons. At the 1:47 mark of the 2nd period that exact thing happened for the Junior when forward Marc-André Levasseur slashed Moosehead goaltender Corbeil-Thériault on his trapper hand. It was apparent immediately that he was in distress and when the trainer came out to see him it was obvious that he was cut. As per league rules that meant that Corbeil-Thériault would have to come out of the net to have the cut tended to. Backup goaltender Joël Grondin would have to take over. Without any sort of warm up he was being thrown into the heat of the action.
Montreal took advantage of this change (though Grondin did make some good saves during the 1:40 he was in nets) and scored their first goal off a blast from the point by Hubert Genest. Right after the goal Corbeil-Thériault was reinserted into the net. But you could sense the tide had turned and the Junior was in complete control as of that point on…or so we thought.
They kept up the offensive pressure and totally outshot the Moosehead over the first 10 minutes of the 2nd period. It was all Junior de Montreal at this point and only because of the solid goaltending of Corbeil-Thériault it did not get out of hand. Striking just over 3 minutes later to tie the game up at 2-2, Montreal's Jérémy Gouchie scored his 8th of the season at 6:36.
Momentum swung again as the Junior shot themselves in the foot by taking too many penalties. Trevor Parkes, Sherbatov and Nicolas Chouinard went to the sin bin one after the other. They were playing with fire, but thankfully Montreal's penalty killers were up to the test and they saved them. But now the game and shots on goal total had swung back to the Moosehead.
Hold your hats folks, as Halifax centreman Charles Bety took a late penalty in the 2nd and the beleaguered Montreal power play was able to cash in with a rare goal. Playing the point captain Nicolas Chouinard benefited from the patience shown by Guillaume Asselin to notch his 9th goal of the year. Just like that Montreal was up 3-2.
I have never understood why a team going into the 3rd period with the slimmest of 1 goal leads seems content to sit back and just protect the lead rather than continue playing the way that got them the lead in the first place. Whichever side you take on this strategic debate the Junior did exactly that. They played the dangerous (in my opinion) game of laying back and protecting their lead.
This strategy backfired as defenceman Alex Wall coughed up the puck at the Moosehead blueline giving Tomas Knotek a breakaway from just about centre. Like all good goal scorers seem to have the ability to do, Knotek froze goaltender Allen to tie the game up at 3-3. Taking it upon himself to show the collective disgust one fan threw what must have been at least a foot-long fish onto the ice. After sliding about 15 feet the poor thing just came to rest as a symbol of the crowd's sentiment. That was unfortunately the end of the game for this fan as he was ushered out of the building. Whatever happened to free speech? 😉
Now the Junior had to try and wake up their dormant offence to try to regain the lead. It was not to be, but Parkes did have a glorious chance to do just that late in the game. A great pass by linemate Matthew Brenton found him totally alone in front of the net though the best he could do was hit the post. As an aside, who else but me would agree that the line of Brenton, Parkes and Gouchie have been the team's most consistent over the last 10 games or so?
In overtime the play was tight with each team really only creating one good scoring chance. We were off to shootouts. This was only the second time this season for the Junior (the first being a loss to the Quebec Remparts). Trevor Parkes and Tomas Knotek started their respective teams off with goals, but then the goaltenders took over with Allen stopping Gerrard Grant and Gélinas and Corbeil-Thériault stopping Brenton and Asselin. After Allen came up big stopping Travis Randell it was up to Gouchie to be the hero and he was. Notching the shootout and game winner, Gouchie gave his team a much-needed win.
Though the game was an up-and-down one for the Junior there were some positives to be taken out of it. The team was able to create some excellent transition opportunities off of timely saves by Allen. Also their power play (one of the weaker ones in the league) was showing some creativity and puck movement.
Next up for the team would be the Shawinigan Cataractes today (Saturday) at the Verdun Auditorium at 4:05.
-On-Ice Officials: Referee: Jean-Philippe Sylvain
Linesmen: Harold Dorvil and Luc Voyer
-Goals: 1st Period:
2:12 – Halifax – Carl Gélinas assisted by Sawyer Hannay and Guillaume Pelletier
11:02 – Halifax – (pp) Linden Bahm assisted by Tomas Knotek and Travis Randell
3:27 – Montreal – Hubert Genest assisted by Matthew Brenton and Jérémy Gouchie
6:36 – Montreal – Jérémy Gouchie assisted by Matthew Brenton and Hubert Genest
18:20 – Montreal – (pp) Nicolas Chouinard assisted by Guillaume Asselin
13:25 – Halifax – Tomas Knotek unassisted
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 35
-3 Stars: 1) Jérémy Gouchie – Montreal
2) Linden Bahm – Halifax
3) Tomas Knotek – Halifax
-Final Score: Montreal: 4