When was the last time you were entertained watching the Montreal Canadiens?
Was it the presence of the new front office boss? Were they told the results don’t matter the rest of the way?
Either way, for one of the rare times this season, fans were reminded what it was like to watch a hockey team that were just having fun.
The Habs game against the Nashville Predators was part battle royale, part track meet. In the end, Filip Forberg’s overtime winner gave the Preds the 4-3 victory. Sure, the Canadiens are now 6-17-3.
But for one night, they didn’t play like it.
Here we go again
If you’re on the road against the league’s seventh best power play, taking two penalties isn’t ideal. Not to mention if you have the 29th ranked penalty kill.
The Montreal Canadiens survived the early onslaught despite zero offensive zone time. Well, kind of.
Eeli Tolvanen gave the Predators the first period lead with a high tip off a point shot by Mattias Ekholm. Many would have expected the Habs to fold like the cheap suit they’ve been so far this year.
But they chose to battle. Cole Caufield and Ryan Poehling were robbed by Juuse Saros in the later moments of the first period. It was a sign of things to come as the Canadiens slowly grew into a game that looked like it was going off the rails early.
Tyler Toffoli ended the period in embarrassing fashion however. With the clock ticking down to zero, the Habs winger turned the puck over at the Predators blueline and streaked in on a 2-on-0 with Christian Dvorak. It’s hard to know if Toffoli was simply selfish or deaf but he ignored the Canadiens centreman and hardly bothered Saros with a shot short side.
— Hadi K. Scouting (@HadiK_Scouting) December 5, 2021
That brain fart didn’t affect the Canadiens as a group. Instead, the energy on the Habs bench went to another level in the second thanks to a player clearly trying to make an impression on new executive VP of hockey ops Jeff Gorton.
Michael Pezzetta walloped Preds defenceman Matt Benning with a hit behind the home team’s net. Like Ryan Reaves in New York, Pezzetta was challenged by heavyweight Mark Borowiecki. The fearless Habs forward went toe-to-toe with the former Senator, putting his head down and firing rights away. As he skated to the box Pezzetta clapped up his teammates, encouraging them to keep joining the fight.
And they responded. Nick Suzuki, playing one of his best games in recent memory, ripped a missile past Saros with a curl and drag on the power play to surprisingly even things up.
Five minutes later Dvorak and Toffoli beat out an icing call. Toffoli sent the puck back to David Savard. His shot from the point fell to Dvorak who fumbled the puck past the Nashville goaltender to give the Habs the lead. There might not be anyone who looks like he hates scoring more than Dvorak, who has scored five times and hasn’t shown a hint of emotion.
Not taking their chances
Predators coach John Hynes inexplicably decided to challenge the goal for goaltender interference. There wasn’t enough contact to overturn the most subjective call in hockey. The Canadiens were sent back to the power play and soon to a 5-on-3. Mathieu Perreault took a stick to the chops to give the visitors the chance to jump out to a two-goal lead.
It was the worst thing that could have happened. The Habs attackers kept trying to force feed a one-timer to the returning Mike Hoffman with no success. There was no movement, no creativity.
Back at even strength, Poehling and Suzuki were guilty of trying to overpass on 2-on-1’s. The Habs were made to rue their missed chances when Tanner Jeannot tipped home another point shot. Apparently the only way to beat Jake Allen, who was brilliant again for the Canadiens. Jeannot’s stick was mighty close to being over the crossbar but the call would have been to tight to overturn either way.
Allen was called into action very late in the period. He flashed out a left pad to commit highway robbery on Filip Forsberg. But all in all the Habs deserved to be level going into the second intermission.
Paying the price to win
The Canadiens were in a groove and didn’t let up the final twenty minutes.
Toffoli hasn’t been great this year and was probably chirped pretty good for his non-sensical shot to end the first. But he took a big hit to make a play just outside of the Canadiens blueline. Caufield pounced on the advanced puck and drove wide into the Predators zone. Brett Kulak joined the rush and Caufield found him just outside of the high slot. Kulak fired a snapshot past Saros glove side to give the Habs a 3-2 lead.
Kulak wasn’t done there. He dropped the gloves with Luke Kunin after he rocked Joel Armia. Kulak handled himself pretty well for a guy who rarely drops the gloves in another spirited tilt. But it was a reminder that the Canadiens collectively really wanted a win in Smashville.
Kunin got the last laugh as he banged in a rebound to the right of Allen to tie things up at 3-3. The Canadiens goaltender bailed out Alexander Romanov’s turnover in the neutral zone. Allen stuck with Mikael Granlund as he drove unassailed from right to left and threw out the right pad to deny Nashville;s top scorer.
Saros wasn’t to be outdone at the other end. He closed the five-hole on Artturi Lehkonen on a breakaway in the dying moments of the game. In overtime, the Finn stopped Mike Hoffman on a breakaway as well.
Not to be outdone, Allen committed larceny shortly thereafter on former Hab Nick Cousins. The Canadiens goaltender pushed from post to post to deny the forward’s low shot.
But the winner was a carbon copy of Cousins’ chance. Granlund went around the net and found Forsberg back door. The sniper put the puck into the roof of the net to hand the Habs their third overtime loss of the season.
The Montreal Canadiens fly back to the 514 tonight. They will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday in a rematch of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.