Still Talkin’ Habs: Habs match words with action in 4-3 win over Oilers
Published Thursday, April 22, 2021 6:33AM EDT
Montreal Canadiens players celebrate the win over the Edmonton Oilers during NHL action in Edmonton on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
MONTREAL -- “Spoke some things into the universe and they appeared.”
The late rapper Nipsey Hussle’s words sprang to mind after the Montreal Canadiens played their first playoff game of the season and came out on the winning side, 4-3 over the Edmonton Oilers.
The reason those words reflect the performance of the Habs last night was because of what was said pre-game by the man who turned out to be the hero, Josh Anderson.
In his brief yet fruitful tenure with the Canadiens, Anderson has been willing to make his feelings pretty clear when it comes to what either he or his team are lacking. So, it wasn’t exactly a surprise that he essentially threw down the gauntlet to his teammates before their crucial game against the Oilers last night.
“I think our battle level has to come up a little bit and we have to be more hungry because we know what’s at stake here. It’s getting into the last part of the season with a certain amount of games left and we have to start playing playoff hockey. Now.”
Anderson went on to add that the team had to play meaner. Harder. Grittier. In the end, the power forward finished the night looking like a prophet as the entire team brought their compete level to a nasty, physical place that Edmonton just couldn’t match. It may not have ended as comfortably as the Habs would have wanted, but a win before facing Calgary for three straight was crucial.
Connor McDavid picked up his points, as he usually does against every other team in the league, but the Canadiens made him pay a price for his puck possession. Whether it was Paul Byron harassing him on the backcheck or Eric Staal getting his stick into his skates, the Habs got their pound of flesh off the best player in the world.
Ditto for the Robin to McDavid’s Batman.
Leon Draisaitl probably would have preferred his running mate’s treatment compared to the punishment he had to endure. Captain Shea Weber took out all of his recent frustration on the Oilers forward with a borderline assault of the German.
Edmonton Oilers' Leon Draisaitl (29) is checked by Montreal Canadiens' Shea Weber (6) during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Jesperi Kotkaniemi had a 2020 bubble-like showing as he didn’t back down from Draisaitl either, repeatedly challenging him physically and coming out no worse for wear.
The Canadiens played last night like every one of their 18 skaters was someone you wouldn’t want to be caught in a dark alley with.
Four members of the team finished the game with five or more hits. When the Oilers tried to challenge the Habs they responded with the snarl of a starving stray dog. The Habs didn’t back down with their backs against the wall, and that should be encouraging for one night at least.
Anderson and Tyler Toffoli both scored again as they continue to fulfill the wildest dreams of Habs fans. If the Canadiens somehow blow their eight-point lead over the Flames, it will be the debut seasons of the Habs summer acquisitions that will likely save the job of general manager Marc Bergevin. The two have accounted for 30 per cent of the team’s goals so far. Not to mention the terrific job goaltender Jake Allen has done deputizing for Carey Price in an injury-plagued season for the Habs starter.
Say what you want about the construction of the club for the previous seven years under Bergevin’s watch but there is no doubt that if the Canadiens accomplish their goal of making the playoffs it will be because of the outstanding work of their general manager this off-season.
The Habs will need to carry over the same intense style of play in their upcoming three-game set against Calgary that will determine the pressure this team will be under the final two weeks of the season.
It won’t hurt if they receive the same level of lenient refereeing as they did against the Oilers. The Canadiens can expect even more of a push back from a team with the likes of Matthew Tkachuk, Brett Ritchie and Milan Lucic. Not to mention what will be on the line Friday, Saturday and Monday. If the Habs win two out of three they can take their foot off the gas and coast their way into the post-season.
If they can replicate the style of play of last night’s game it’s not impossible to imagine that the Canadiens can make some noise in the playoffs. When the whistles are put away like they were last night the Habs now have players that can physically outmatch their opponent. As long as they continue to live by the words of their emerging leader Anderson.
Hussle’s next words off his song Victory Lap could easily apply to the challenge that lies ahead this weekend.
“I say it’s worth it, I won’t say it’s fair. Find your purpose or you wasting air.”
The Habs may have just found a style that not only matches up with their personnel but with the kind of game that is successful this time of year. A game with purpose, conviction and violence.
Play that way and the reward will be well worth it. It all comes down to five days in Alberta. Then the Canadiens can cruise along their own victory lap to close out the 2021 season.
Jake Allen – 8/10
His defense in front of him did a pretty solid job limiting the amount of chances against him, but was still called into action to make high quality saves, especially when McDavid went into cheat mode. Stopped the captain on a hard drive to the net as well as off a perfect tip pass he made in tight. Kick save on Draisaitl on the Oilers power play. Big blocker save on Puuljarvi on a breakaway in the first. Keep on keeping on.
Shea Weber – 8/10
Only blemish on his night was failing to tie up Puuljarvi late on his goal. Felt like a game where he returned to his default setting. Skated well. Intimidating presence. Played angry and it suited him. Four hits, timely blocks. Got his stick in the way of both shots and passes. If bullying guys is how he plays his best than keep it going. Confidence builder. Responded to justifiable questions about his leadership with a game his teammates followed.
Ben Chiarot – 8/10
McDavid’s goal wasn’t his fault. Simply supported the rush and a bad turnover ended up on the stick of the best player in the world. Led the team with NINE hits. Also led the team in ice time by quite a large margin. Did his job on the penalty kill and officially looks back up to speed. Passing was much better as well. Was clearly physical just not as obviously as his partner. Moved around a lot and didn’t miss a beat. Keep the hits coming.
Jeff Petry – 7/10
Earned himself two secondary assists making clean passes out of his zone. His accurate passing was the standout part of his game. More willing to make forays into the offensive zone. Carried the puck well through danger. Anyone else have a mild panic attack when he left the game for a few minutes after an awkward fall with McDavid. Not nearly as physical as most on the blueline but that’s not necessarily his game.
Joel Edmundson – 7/10
A quiet evening where he wasn’t particularly noticeable but finished plus one. Call it the Edmundson special. In fact the highlight of his night was getting run over by Draisaitl in the corner that earned the Oilers forward a penalty, even though it wasn’t. Made simple plays with the puck that didn’t put anyone in trouble.
Alexander Romanov – 7/10
He makes these three to five-foot passes to his forwards that relieves all the pressure his team is under. It’s such an important skill. Had a few up and down moments early as he and Merrill got used to one another. Interim head coach Dominique Ducharme said the ice time stats must be off because he played him more than 13:41. It did feel that way. Picked up a secondary assist on Anderson’s second. Not as physical but made some great stick checks on McDavid in particular.
Jon Merrill – 6/10
Early reviews are that he is a faster version of Joel Edmundson. Nervy first period as he tried to settle in with his new team. Got hemmed in two or three times. As the game wore on it felt like he and Romanov gained an understanding of what the other does well. Chemistry will take some time. Didn’t look out of place in the heated environment of last night’s game.
Phillip Danault – 7/10
Failed to control what could have been a glorious chance in front off a sweet play by Tatar. Enjoyed offensive zone time but didn’t do much to threaten. But he played with a defensive desperation that befitted the occasion. Dove to try and disrupt a puck whenever Draisaitl or McDavid gained speed. Led the forwards in blocks with four. Best of a bad bunch on faceoffs. Good on the penalty kill as well. Continues to be the best defensive centre in the division.
Tomas Tatar – 8/10
Picked up two secondary assists doing both things he excelled at on the night. Instinctive touch pass to Anderson sent him in for his first. Tried to jam the puck in and popped it out to him for his second. Made simple plays and worked extremely hard in one-on-one battles. Went to the net more often than we’ve seen of late. It’s getting harder and harder to imagine the Habs without him next season.
Josh Anderson – 9/10
Showed his teammates the way. Shot out of a cannon to start the game. Filled in as the emotional leader for Gallagher on the night. Consistently tried to drive the puck to the net with speed. Not as physical as he usually is but didn’t back down from anything either. Hard to understate the importance of his first right after McDavid tied things up. Tied for the team lead amongst forwards with five shots on goal. Set the tone in the media pre-game and lived up to the billing on the ice. He made the difference.
Nick Suzuki – 6/10
Made some really good plays at the opposing blueline and in the neutral zone. Took a cue from Danault with his desperation in trying to stop the Oilers forwards. Had an unreal chance in the slot that he somehow fired wide. Probably the offensive highlight of his night. Looked better on the power play. But didn’t do enough offensively. Wasn’t a game that was suited to his strengths.
Tyler Toffoli – 7/10
Despite his five shots on goal it felt like he was kind of drifting at times. Which isn’t particularly uncommon for him. Made smart plays in the neutral zone to alleviate pressure. Johnny on the spot for his goal off a soft play by Archibald that just popped out on to his stick. An example of his elite anticipation.
Joel Armia – 6/10
Pretty silly tripping penalty in the second period on Puuljarvi. Led the forwards in takeaways with three. Also got physical with six hits. But no shots on goal and no real offensive chances either created by him or for him. Quiet.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 8/10
Was the Habs best forward in the first. Matched the physical tone with a hit that nearly sent Archibald into the Habs bench. Continued that play in several one-on-one battles with Draisaitl where he didn’t look out of place. Went out of his way to continue to crash and bang. Looked better on the power play as well. An uncharacteristically brutal night in the faceoff dot. What a play for Lehkonen’s opener. Great saucer pass after driving the play into the Oilers zone. Felt like a potential turning point game.
Artturi Lehkonen – 8/10
Always nice to see the guy who struggles to score get on the board. Put a great feed by Kotkaniemi backhand over the glove of Smith. Continued to forecheck ferociously all night long. Led the way with his play as he was willing to sacrifice himself for the team. A heroic block on the penalty kill after Danault broke his stick. Took it off the foot and just kept on going. Does so many things well and received a boost in ice time for his great work. He leads with his play.
Paul Byron – 7/10
It seemed like his usage was simply this: when McDavid is on the ice, catch up to him. Was the chief back checker on the evening as he annoyed and frustrated all Oilers forwards who were trying to get through the neutral zone. Not often he has seven hits on the scoresheet but he was certainly intense. Didn’t give an inch in board battles. Seems to be at his best when he plays with Kotkaniemi.
Eric Staal – 6/10
Better. He was certainly more competitive last night and didn’t shy away whatsoever from the rough stuff. A pre-requisite for playing with Perry I guess. Bad on faceoffs. His skating looked much improved as well.
Corey Perry – 6/10
Settled the score with Chiasson after he ran Price. Helped set the tone of not being pushed around that flowed throughout the whole team. Master of the dark arts of getting under the opponents’ skin. Earned a penalty after taking an elbow from McDavid. Constant nuisance in front of and around Smith. Didn’t do much offensively.
Jonathan Drouin – 6/10
Competed. At this point it’s a marked improvement. Not sure if it was playing with two veteran forwards that guilted him into it. Or if professional pride kicked in. Nearly cost his team the game with his four-minute high sticking penalty in the final minutes. But all’s well that ends well. Had his feet moving and didn’t shrink away in a physical game. Still need more from him offensively though.
Dominique Ducharme – 7/10
His new lines paid off for one night at least. Still struggled a bit on the power play. But penalty kill continued to look good against Edmonton. His team clearly played with the playoff mindset he desired. No passengers last night. Team did well as a unit not only driving play forward but squeezing the Oilers in transition.