On a night in which the Montreal Canadiens were celebrating the 40th birthday of their very orange mascot, Youppi, a gift was rendered to the fans in attendance who were cheering for the bleu-blanc-rouge. All those wearing the free shock of orange hair hats which were given out by Fontaine Sante before the game went home happy with a hermetic 3-0 win for the home side. The game’s first star, Phillip Danault, even joked in his post game interview on the ice that the team had won it for Youppi.
Both the Habs and their opponents, the Colorado Avalanche, were entering the game living through tough patches. Montreal had lost two of their last three games while Colorado had only won one of their last nine games. Plus video of the team’s star Nathan MacKinnon exploding on the bench towards his coach Jared Bednar had been circulating of late. Not a good sign. Both teams were showing plenty of signs of frustration of late. Both are fairly young sides, so when they go through rough patches it is to be expected that some immaturity is demonstrated.
Carey Price was great when he had to be with his third shutout of the season and second in last five games. Though his entire team was very efficient in front of him limiting the Avalanche to largely chances from the outside. A solid defensive effort! Impressive as they were up against the most successful offensive trio in the NHL to this point – the line of Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen-Gabriel Landeskog. A big part of the win on this evening was shutting down this line. As they go so does the Avalanche.
The task of shutting them down went to the newly formed line of Danault-Jonathan Drouin-Brendan Gallagher. Since the beginning of the season Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin had been together with a bunch of right wingers (Andrew Shaw, Joel Armia, Charles Hudon). Because of their troubles of late it was time to put the lines in a blender a little for head coach Claude Julien. He did so moving Drouin onto Danualt’s line and putting the Finns Armia and Artturi Lekhonen with Domi and moving Tomas Tatar onto the third line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Paul Byron. The line changes seemed to work. It brought some energy to the team.
Plenty of fans have been on Drouin’s back of late as he is expected to be a game changer for the Habs and has been far from it over his last dozen games or so. Not only because the duo of he and Domi are not scoring, but because he seems to be not giving an honest effort. Well, on this evening with plenty of eyes and expectations on him, Drouin came to play. With plenty of jump and desire in his game, he was a difference maker for certain. Never more apparent than on the Kotkaniemi goal.
During a shift in which the Habs had the Avalanche hemmed in their own end, Drouin had the puck along the left hand boards and created time with his stick handling skills. During that time he spied an open Kotkaniemi on the right hand side, so sent a cross ice pass right onto the rookie Finn’s stick. Kotkaniemi did the rest with a nice one time shot to the other side. 2-0. In a two minute span the home team had notched a pair of goals to put them ahead to stay.
The game had been knotted in a 0-0 deadlock for the first almost 50 minutes of the game. Shots were rather even over that time with both teams having chances to open the scoring. Then Montreal captain Shea Weber put his team in a tight spot by earning a penalty. Not only did the team kill the penalty, but they notched a goal. It was an unlikely shorthanded goal from an even more unlikely source. First that Brett Kulak was killing a penalty (known more for his offensive abilities) and then that he was able to find the back of the net via a fairly harmless looking wrist shot from the blue line was even more surprising. Upon another look at it the Kulak shot deflected off an Avalanche defender explaining Semyon Varlamov’s inability to track it.
A final test for the Habs was when winning goal scorer Kulak was assessed a holding minor late in the game. Bednar’s offensively skilled team had the man advantage and an opportunity to bring them within a goal. White knuckle time. But the Canadiens were up to the task. Not only did they kill off the penalty, but after it notched the game’s final goal with Varlamov pulled. Jordie Benn, suddenly an offensive threat from the blue line, scored from deep in his own end putting the puck almost right into the middle of the empty cage. 3-0 and a much needed and deserved win.
Next up for Montreal is their rivals the Boston Bruins on Monday night in Boston.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees – Reid Anderson and Brad Meier
Linesmen – Ryan Galloway and Tony Sericolo
-Goals: 3rd Period:
8:21 – Montreal (sh) Brett Kulak (2) assisted by Phillip Danault (22)
10:39: Montreal – Jesperi Kotkaniemi (5) assisted by Jonathan Drouin (22) and Mike Reilly (5)
18:44: Montreal – (en) Jordie Benn (4) assisted by Phillip Danault (23)
-Shots on Goal: Montreal – 31
Colorado – 28
-3 Stars: 1) Phillip Danault – Montreal
2) Carey Price – Montreal
3) Jonathan Drouin – Montreal
-Final Score: Montreal – 3
Colorado – 0