The Montreal Canadiens, a team that wasn’t supposed to be in the postseason, a team ranked 24th in the NHL standings, caused the biggest upset on this first day of the qualifiers by defeating the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in overtime. The Canadiens weathered the storm in the first period with much help from their Star goaltender Carey Price, who was fantastic, even taking a 2-0 lead over the Pens before Sidney Crosby and the gang rallied to tied the game at two. But that’s before Jeff Petry ended the upset by scoring the game winner at 13:47 of the first overtime period. Petry almost helped ending it at the end of the third period when his shot was deflected by Tomas Tatar right on the post over the shoulder of Pittsburgh’s goaltender Matt Murray.
The Penguins have been quite vocal since the announcement that they would have to be facing the Canadiens in this qualifier round and they are 100% correct. As a matter of fact, the two teams the most vocal about this qualifier round, the Pens and the Edmonton Oilers (having to face Chicago), both lost their first game to teams that had no business participating in the postseason. Pittsburgh didn’t want to have to face Price, while the Oilers wanted nothing to do with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, and all three were key players in their team win on day one.
Two playoffs rookies made a huge impact for the Canadiens as for the first time since 1923, two 20 year-old players scored in a playoffs’ game. Jesperi Kotkaniemi opened the scoring in the first period and Nick Suzuki gave the Canadiens a 2-0 lead in the second period.
Suzuki had a huge game for the Canadiens, filling in nicely as the second line centre. He led all Canadiens’ forwards in ice time with 23:10 of ice time, including 5:58 short-handed. Canadiens’ coach Claude Julien did not hesitate to use him in all situations and the rookie responded admirably well.
There were two turning points in the Pittsburgh – Montreal game:
- Early in the 3rd period, Phillip Danault took a hooking penalty and less than 30 seconds later, Ben Chiarot was sent to the box for high sticking. This left the Canadiens short-handed for 1:32 without two of their top penalty killers. That’s when Price, Petry, Shea Weber and Suzuki raised their game and killed the lengthy 5 on 3.
- At 16:57 of the 3rd period, with the score tied at two a piece, Conor Sheary was awarded a penalty shot but Price gave him nothing to shoot at, and Sheary missed the net blocker side.
Room for improvement
Even by creating the upset, there is room for improvement for the Habs and none are more obvious than three individuals on the team:
1- Jonathan Drouin had a rough night and was invisible most of the game, while his linemates Suzuki and Joel Armia were having a good game. Drouin seems to struggle with the pressure of playing for the Canadiens and many fans are losing patience on him. He was awarded a penalty shot in overtime but the usually sure-handed winger saw the puck roll off the blade of this stick as he was making a move back hand.
2- Max Domi came to camp late due to the risk of him suffering from Type-1 diabetes so he hasn’t had as much time to prepare as they others have. Still, coach Julien kept him on the fourth line the entire game, although he did see some powerplay time (1:57). For the Canadiens to sustain any success, they will need Domi to catch up in a hurry as he’s one of their best offensive threats out there.
3- Claude Julien made two questionable decisions for this game. Many, myself included, wondered how he could keep Domi on the fourth line the entire game. As mentioned above, Domi might not be in the best game shape but to the point of keeping him on the fourth line? That’s very questionable. The second bad decision, in my humble opinion, was to play young Victor Mete on the right side, he who is a left-handed defenseman, and inserting Xavier Ouellet into the line-up. That third pairing had issues all night and Ouellet was directly responsible for the Pens’ first goal, “forgetting” Crosby all alone to the left of Price. Ouellet blew multiple coverages including one when he left Evgeni Malkin of all guys alone in the slot as he was drawn to the wrong side of the ice. Thankfully, the pass missed the star Russian centre…
If I was the Canadiens’ coach, here’s the lineup I would be going with, and then hope for Douin and Domi to give me more:
Tatar – Danault – Gallagher
Drouin – Suzuki – Armia
Domi – Kotkaniemi – Byron
Lehkonen – Evans/Poehling – Weal
Chiarot – Weber
Kulak – Petry
Mete – Fleury/Juulsen
I want to give Kotkaniemi some offensive talent on his line and who better than Domi, really? It then allows you to give one of Jake Evans or Ryan Poehling some much needed playoffs’ experience, centering the 4th line. On defense, you put Mete back to his natural side, putting him in a position to succeed, as I really like the speed he brings to the game. And just like for the fourth line, you give some experienced to Cale Fleury or Noah Juulsen, two young guys who bring some physicality to the game.
Game two is set to go on Monday at 8:00 PM ET. Go Habs Go!