Back-to-back wins against Western Canadian teams gave the Montreal Canadiens a little bit of breathing room coming into Edmonton on Saturday night. Claude Julien chose to stick with the same lineup that had beaten the Calgary Flames in overtime on Thursday, meaning Mikey Reilly stayed paired up with Cale Fleury, while Riley Barber and Ryan Poehling flanked Nate Thompson on the fourth line.
Standing between Carey Price and a third consecutive win? A top-heavy Oilers team led by the league’s most dynamic duo Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, a team currently placed third in the Pacific, with their hopes set on a playoff run. Edmonton has chosen to split the goaltending duties between Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen this year, with Koskinen getting the nod last night from coach Dave Tippett.
Montreal emphasized before the game how important it was to not attract unnecessary penalties. The Oilers rank second in the league on the power play, with a scoring efficiency which borders on 30%. A duo like McDavid and Draisaitl doesn’t need additional help, considering how difficult they are to stop already at five-on-five.
Less than two minutes into the first period they demonstrated exactly how difficult they are to stop even at full strength. A breakaway in the neutral zone led to a two-on-two opportunity against Shea Weber and Ben Chiarot. McDavid served Draisaitl right on the blade, the puck found its way in behind Carey Price, and Montreal was down a goal early.
The first penalty of the game was dispensed to Jordan Weal when his stick unfortunately got stuck between the legs of an Oilers defenceman, resulting in a tripping call. It was an opportune moment for the home team to double its lead, but the Habs’ penalty kill made one of their best efforts of the season, not only stopping Edmonton from scoring but actually refusing to concede a single shot against Price during the two minutes. Instead, Artturi Lehkonen had a good chance to tie it up after a line change gave him free space in the offensive zone. Koskinen was able to make the save that time after an initial flub, but overall the penalty kill showed a positive sign for the Canadiens.
That joy was, however, shortlived. Near the middle of the period, Max Domi lost control of the puck as he was trying to bring it out into the neutral zone. His team was also on the move, causing major problems on defence. Chaos erupted in the Montreal crease. The defenders were unable to clear the puck which eventually found its way out to Ethan Bear. Bear shot it back in toward the net where Josh Archibald had his blade in the right place to beat Price.
Half a minute after the 2-0-goal, Phillip Danault got called for holding right after a faceoff and things were looking mighty bleak for the guests from Québec. This time, surely the stars would align and provide a third goal of the night.
On cue, a third goal was about to come. But not of the kind we were expecting. Former Oiler Jeff Petry took care of a mistimed cross-ice pass and took off in the offensive direction. Being a three-on-one, most people, including Koskinen, were expecting Petry to move the puck over to either of his teammates. Instead, he released a quick wrister toward the far post that Koskinen let in beneath his glove.
With the short-handed goal, the Habs were right back into a game which had felt lost for most of the first period. But that is the beauty of this Montreal team: they never quit.
Montreal picked up their game toward the end of the period, fueled by their goal. Momentum continued into the second, where they held Edmonton without a single shot on net for the first eight minutes.
Nick Cousins drew a penalty on Caleb Jones, when the latter held the former up against the boards behind the goal. During the power play, their first of the night, the Canadiens would tie the game up at two. Petry, traded from Edmonton to Montreal for a bag of peanuts in March of 2015, showed his true value once again when he blasted one from the blue line into the havoc in front of the Oilers’ net. Danault got the goal, his eighth of the year, steering Petry’s shot past Koskinen in mid-air. Both of Montreal’s goals thus far had come on special teams; one each on the penalty kill and the power play.
In an effort to get his team to wake up, Zack Kassian picked a fight with Ben Chiarot, ending with both of them sitting out the following five minutes. Once their punishment was over, Weal got sent to the box for a second tripping minor of the night. This time, Connor McDavid got his chance and he took it. Weber tried to clear the puck by passing it up the zone. Once the pass was intercepted, Draisaitl found McDavid in the neutral zone straight in front of the net. Neither Danault nor Weber could keep up with McDavid’s pace, and once alone with Price he made no mistake.
The Canadiens ended the period with massive pressure against the Oilers’ defence, spending the vast majority of the last two minutes well established in Edmonton’s zone. Unfortunately, the pressure did not lead to a change on the scoreboard, meaning that the home team would enter the third period with a 3-2-lead.
That lead would not last for long. Lehkonen found Max Domi on a surge forward. Demonstrating silky smooth hands, Domi pushed himself and the puck in between Bear and Darnell Nurse before snapping a wrister past Koskinen. The Habs had bounced back from a late-game deficit once again. The second assist went to Petry, thereby registering his third point of the night.
Next up: another tripping call against Montreal and Cale Fleury. Just as the penalty was ending, a shot from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was tipped by Price back up toward his own goal. First, the referee signaled that the puck had gone in off the deflection and the Edmonton fans cheered. The following replay proved a clear ricochet off the crossbar followed by a Price recovery. The goal was revoked and Montreal’s fans cheered instead.
Edmonton would eventually get their fourth goal of the night, as a strange backspin bounce gave Archibald and Riley Sheahan a two-on-one against Brett Kulak. Sheahan got the score, giving him only his third of the year but his second this week.
Montreal did their best trying to tie it up for a third time, but Sheahan’s goal would prove to be the decisive one. It also did not help having to play an additional two minutes on the penalty kill, after Cousins had been called for interference behind his net on breakout. The Canadiens fell for the first time on their road trip, a 4-3 defeat.
The Habs will now have to reload and recharge for their last outing before Christmas, facing off against the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place on Monday night.
New York Rangers get OK to interview Gerard Gallant for coaching job
The New York Rangers plan to interview Gerard Gallant for their head coaching job, TSN reported.
The Vegas Golden Knights, who fired Gallant during the 2019-20 season, reportedly have granted permission.
A first conversation between the Rangers and Gallant was expected to take place quickly, before Gallant heads to Latvia to coach Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which runs from May 21-June 6.
Gallant, 57, was the first coach of the expansion Golden Knights and led them to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. The Washington Capitals won in five games.
He was fired 49 games into his third season when the team was 24-19-6, and he had an overall record of 118-75-20 with Vegas.
He also coached the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003-07) and Florida Panthers (2014-17) and has a career record of 270-216-4-51 in 541 career games as a head coach.
The Rangers are in the midst of an overhaul. They fired head coach David Quinn and three assistant coaches on Wednesday, following the dismissal last week of team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.
The Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season after posting a 27-23-6 record in 2020-21. They finished in fifth place in the East Division.
Quinn, 54, compiled a 96-87-25 record during his three seasons as coach of the Rangers after taking over for Alain Vigneault on May 23, 2018.
–Field Level Media
NHL wants answer on Canada border crossing soon
The Canadian teams played only each other during the 2020-21 season in a revamped North Division because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that will continue during the first two rounds of the playoffs. It’s what happens after that — in the semifinals and finals — that is up in the air.
“The conversations are ongoing. We’ve told them we really do need to know by the end of the first round, and that’s around June 1,” Steve Mayer, the league’s chief content officer, told ESPN. “That’s pretty much the date that we’ve talked to them about, saying we have to know one way or another.”
Last season, the playoffs were held in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.
Under current rules, American-based teams couldn’t play in Canada without mandatory quarantines, which would make travel for home-and-away games impossible under the playoff calendar.
The NHL and government representatives last talked a week ago, and the Canadian officials submitted a variety of questions for the league’s response.
In the interim, Mayer said, the league has discussed the possibility of the Canadian team that advances from the North Division being based in the U.S. for the duration of the postseason. Talks have occurred with officials at NHL arenas where teams didn’t qualify for the playoffs.
An NHL source told ESPN this week that the league expects “a positive resolution” to the issue, however.
–Field Level Media
Canada to play 2 more home World Cup qualifiers in U.S.
As Canada continues to wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s national soccer team will play two more of its home World Cup qualifying matches south of the border in June.
Canada will face Aruba in Bradenton, Fla., on June 5, and will take on Suriname in suburban Chicago on June 8, Canada Soccer confirmed Monday.
The games are Canada‘s last two of four matches in CONCACAF Group B. A March 26 Canadian home match against Bermuda was held in Orlando, Fla., which Canada won 5-1. Also, the Caymen Islands were the host team on March 29, when Canada rolled, 11-0.
Only one national team advances to the next round, and Canada and Suriname top the group and the game against Suriname in Bridgeview, Ill., figures to be the deciding match in both teams’ efforts to advance.
Thirty nations from Central and North America are competing in this first round with six group winners advancing to a second round of head-to-head knockout matches for the right to compete in the CONCACAF final round of eight teams competing for four places in the 2022 World Cup. A fifth team from CONCACAF advances to an intercontinental play-in round.
As was executed in Orlando, the match in Chicago will be staged in accordance with the FIFA International Match Protocols supported by the relevant public health requirements.
“We had hoped to play these matches at home with Canadian fans providing the support and momentum to play a tough nation like Suriname in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers,” said John Herdman, coach of the Canadian men’s national team. “The reality of the global pandemic and the priority to keep our communities in Canada safe means the match will be played at a neutral site in Chicago with no home advantage, but we will embrace that challenge.
“Whatever comes at us, we will take it on and do whatever we need to do to advance to the next round.”
-Field Level Media
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