A rag tag group of kids and AHL journeymen adorned in Montreal Canadiens colours more than earned their stripes against the Cup champs.
The Habs rolled into Amelie Arena, the scene of last season’s greatest disappointment, and emptied the damn tank.
What more could Habs fans ask for? Especially with an injury plagued team and nine regulars out of the lineup due to COVID.
Other than back-to-back wins of course. That apparently just isn’t on the cards for the tricolore after another last second and blown lead, this time 5-4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime.
But if your mood wasn’t resoundingly positive after that result, the final days of 2021 and most of 2022 are going to be tough to take.
Here are your five takeaways after the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 OT loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning
Where to start? There were just so many.
Let’s start by discounting Brayden Point’s first game back for the Lightning after an almost six-week absence with an upper-body injury. The dude was a straight up cheat code. He deserved the hat-trick he would have got if not for a post and Samuel Montembeault.
More on that later.
But let’s keep the firsts Montreal Canadiens-centric. Rafael Harvey-Pinard scored his first NHL goal in his first big league game. In the area that will become his office at the next level, smack dab in front of the net. His first sixty minutes in the show came as advertised. The kid is relentless with a motor that reminds many of Brendan Gallagher.
More on that later.
Corey Schueneman picked up his first NHL point on RHP’s goal. The 26-year old defenceman was never drafted, spent considerable time in both the ECHL and AHL, finally fulfilling his boyhood dream in playing in the premier hockey league in the world.
Did it faze him? Not a damn bit. Cool cucumber Corey doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but he played with a tremendous amount of poise and awareness against one of the best forechecking teams in the league. Whatever level he plays at, Schueneman plays the same way. That’s a skill in and of itself.
Lukas Vejdemo scored his first of the season with the big club to open the scoring. Kale Clague wired home a slap shot for his first NHL goal after some impressive work by Ryan Poehling and Cole Caufield. And David Savard deked out the best defenceman in the world before sniping top cheese for his first as a Hab to give the team the lead.
Almost too many firsts to keep track of. But they will surely help the vibe in the locker room.
The rest of this week at least.
What is goaltender interference?
There’s a nice softball down the middle for you. Not a complicated question at all.
At least it shouldn’t be.
Brendan Gallagher should have given the Montreal Canadiens a 3-2 lead in the second period. The Habs energizer bunny did what he always does. Put his head down, drove to the net and whacked home a loose puck.
Unfortunately for Gallagher and the visitors, the stripes got in the way.
Whereas some interference calls are rather ambiguous, this one was pretty cut and dry. If not for Tampa forward Boris Katchouk making contact with Gallagher, would the Habs forward have made contact with Lightning goaltender Maxime Lagace?
Well, you decide.
— JeSuisCH🏒BleuBlancRouge (@HabsHappy) December 29, 2021
To add insult to injury, Habs head coach Dominique Ducharme challenged the play. To no avail. Ross Colton scored at the tail end of the Lightning’s subsequently awarded power play for the unsuccessful challenge.
Ducharme summed up the decision pretty succinctly.
“He was clearly pushed towards the goalie. It’s clear that if it wasn’t No. 11, it’s probably a goal.”
Hard to disagree with that. Let the eternal goaltender interference debate rage on. With an emphasis on the rage.
Got to give more
On a night where the Montreal Canadiens essentially had a single line of NHL players, the Habs needed far more from Jonathan Drouin.
The team’s mercurial winger nearly gave the team the lead in the first period before Lagace threw out a pad to deny him off a cross-crease pass.
After that, he was invisible. Against the team that drafted and then gave up on him no less.
For a team of vagabonds that worked their collective asses off to earn an extremely unlikely point, they deserved more from one of their most senior players.
Lackadaisical with very little battle or compete level. Nowhere near good enough.
Yes, there was no Andrei Vasilevskiy, Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev or Nikita Kucherov for the Lightning.
Three of them were in COVID protocol while the fourth one apparently just takes the season off now.
But some plugs named Point, Stamkos, Hedman and McDonagh were still out there. As were Habs killers Palat and Killorn.
And the Laval Rocket gave them all that they could handle.
To nearly a man (see takeaway three above), the Montreal Canadiens played with intensity and conviction. Without fear. You would have thought those were the same players that lost Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final to Tampa Bay just six short months ago.
For a fanbase that is expecting and even relishing losses at this point, they are simply hoping to see competitive hockey. More importantly, all the veterans out of the lineup likely appreciated the character and competitiveness from their deputies last night.
And on a beach somewhere, Marc Bergevin was probably smiling.
So close for Sam
With the Lightning’s far superior skill, the game should have been over from the moment the puck dropped.
But much-maligned backup goaltender Samuel Montembeault raised his game to keep the scoreline close for his teammates.
The first ten minutes of the game were a little shaky as the Montreal Canadiens goaltender struggled with his rebound control. But with a pad save in tight on Steven Stamkos, he seemed to settle into the game after that.
Montembeault is never going to win the a game on style points or with efficient positional play. He’s a battler. And he put in a shift the final forty minutes. The Habs goalie was called into action several times when his team was on the power play, including consecutive saves on Killorn on a breakaway and a brilliant toe stop on Katchouk.
In the third he denied Point in the bumper spot on the power play and then threw out a right leg in desperation to somehow stop Stamkos.
Montembeault is still a tweener goaltender between the NHL and AHL. But last night at least, he deserved his second win of the season.