Still Talkin’ Habs: McDavid rallies Oilers past Canadiens 4-1
Published Tuesday, April 20, 2021 10:25AM EDT
Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) celebrates a goal during third period NHL action against the Montreal Canadiens, in Edmonton, Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
After having held Connor McDavid in check the previous five games of the season, the best player in the world would not be denied as he put up three points in the final 11 minutes of the game to give the Edmonton Oilers a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
The Oilers captain took his game and the play of his team to a level that the Habs just couldn’t match in the third period, punctuated by his tremendous solo goal as he split defencemen Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson and beat Jake Allen short side to put the game to bed.
"It’s very demanding," said one of the few Habs players who kept McDavid in check, centerman Phillip Danault. "You’ve got to be sharp for 60 minutes. You can’t sleep for one second. Turnover at the blueline, went through the (defencemen) so, like I said, he’s the only player who can do that."
McDavid had a competitive fire burning in him last night that flowed through his entire team in a game that had playoff intensity and physicality. He is usually pretty subdued when he makes the extraordinary look ordinary. But not last night. When he set up Oilers defenseman Ethan Bear for the game tying goal with just over 10 minutes in regulation, Bear erupted with the kind of emotion you might expect from a game-winning goal in game seven of the playoffs. When McDavid scored the goal to put his team ahead for good, you couldn’t hide the excitement on his face. It was obvious that a message had been sent. He and his teammates were on a mission to victimize the only team in the North division that had kept McDavid relatively quiet this season. And once again he delivered.
“Every time you see a guy like him, even if it’s a goalie (or) a defender, you’ve got to gain speed and gain ice,” admitted goaltender Jake Allen about McDavid after having to step in for an injured Carey Price to start the second period. “You’ve got to approach him differently than you approach different players. You’ve got to have some momentum. You know, he did his thing. That’s all I’m going to say. He took the game over.”
Prior to McDavid going off, the Habs showed some encouraging signs combined with continuous worrying elements of their game that indicated that they wouldn’t be able to hold on to their slender lead courtesy of Eric Staal’s opener.
Unlike their previous three games against the Flames and Senators, the Canadiens did not lack in the effort department. Each board battle seemed particularly violent. For two teams with no history of a rivalry, the Habs and Oilers tried as hard as possible to inflict as much physical pain on one another all game long. There were bodies strewn across the ice after massive collisions, whether along the boards or out in the open. The game had all the calling cards of a demolition derby and the Canadiens showed that they are prepared to deal with that level of playoff competitiveness down the stretch in their push for the playoffs.
But despite being in the game the Habs generated next to nothing in terms of threatening offensive opportunities. Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Josh Anderson probably had the two best chances of the night. But the first was a miss over a wide-open net on the power play and the second was a flub on a cross ice pass from Nick Suzuki late. In terms of chances that actually hit the net, Anderson tipped a shot in the slot onto the end of Oilers goaltender Mike Smith’s stick. Tomas Tatar was stopped by Smith in the slot. Arttuti Lehkonen did what Artturi Lehkonen does which is not score as he was stopped on a partial breakaway by Smith. That was about it. Three chances and two half chances is nowhere near good enough for the club.
There were no waves of offensive pressure, something we haven’t seen from the Canadiens for a long time. No sustained forecheck. The Habs were fairly asked post-game about whether confidence was a problem for the group. Petry, Danault, Allen and interim head coach Dominique Ducharme all answered in similar fashion, talking about how goal-scoring is so hard this time of year and that you need players going to the net to bang in greasy goals. But the Canadiens certainly make it look even harder than it is. The more the game wore on without a second goal by the Habs and with McDavid in a predatory mood, it seemed only a matter of time before the Oilers scored one. And once they took the lead with less than five minutes left there was nothing to suggest the Canadiens were even remotely capable of mustering a comeback.
“Our power play has to be better,” acknowledged Petry. “We didn’t give our team momentum. If anything, we killed the momentum of what we had going… You’re not going to score every time you go out on the ice on the man-advantage but to gain momentum is a big part coming down the stretch here.”
The Canadiens might have only had two power plays on the night but their second of the night mid-way through the second period did exactly what Petry said post-game. After that pathetic display up a man, their offensive game essentially disappeared and they instead reverted to survival mode. Instead of making clean passes to exit their zone, Habs defencemen simply chipped the puck out into the neutral zone for the Oilers to quickly bring right back into their end. That pattern of play repeated itself until the breakthrough finally came for Edmonton. And by then the tide had already turned too dramatically to be reversed.
The good news? Calgary also lost last night to Ottawa which preserves the Canadiens six-point lead in the race for the final playoff spot in the division. The bad news? According to TSN’s Statscentre, the Habs have had the fifth worst record in the entire league this month when it comes to points percentage. Their only saving grace has been that the Flames have been just marginally better, in a tie for 26th place in the NHL. Stumbling into the playoffs is never a good sign. The Canadiens have 13 games to correct what has seemed broken for the past three weeks.
The main reason for their drastic dip has been offensive production. It might be a lot to throw on the shoulders of rookie Cole Caufield but the Habs need a natural goal-scorer and they have one waiting in the wings. It can’t get much worse than it’s been of late.
Carey Price – N/A
Left the game in the first intermission after being run into by Chiasson on a goal that was disallowed for goaltender interference. Not sure how a goal can be called back for goaltender interference yet the player is not penalized for that infraction. Looked decent before that. Hopefully not something that will keep him out too long.
Jake Allen – 8/10
Considering the circumstances, he was awesome once again. Didn’t exactly make things pretty in the second but did just enough to keep multiple pucks out. Then kept the Habs in it in the third when the Oilers really pushed. No goal support once again.
Shea Weber – 7/10
Earned his rating on the penalty kill, where he played with enough desperation to keep the Oilers at bay. Cleared the net well. Got his stick/body in the way of multiple passes and shots to prevent scoring chances from reaching Jake Allen. Skated better than usual as well. Passing is still a problem and he continuously threw the puck back to the opposition into the neutral zone in the third. And his role on the power play continues to confuse fans and media alike. But looked better in a physical game.
Ben Chiarot – 6/10
Skating was much improved from his previous two games against Calgary and Ottawa. Also very good on the penalty kill. Passing out of his zone was better than his partner but made the same mistake in the third by just giving the puck away in the neutral zone while trying to get out of his own. Seemed to enjoy the physical tone of the game. Led the blueline in giveaways. He and Edmundson parted the Red Sea for Puuljarvi’s insurance goal. But a step in the right direction.
Jeff Petry – 6/10
Minus three on the night was harsh on him. But didn’t push the play enough up the ice to earn his team some offensive zone time. His wave of the power play was particularly ineffective. Did a good job of containing McDavid before he broke out in the third. Was just okay last night. Unfortunately the team needs him to be great to provide offense. Didn’t do enough of that.
Joel Edmundson – 5/10
Minus three was not as harsh on him. Puck was a hot potato for him for most of the night. Got walked around by McDavid for his go-ahead goal but he is so good it could realistically happen to anyone. Also quite good on the penalty kill. But at even strength, as the game wore on, really struggled. Passing was worse than we’ve seen of late.
Alexander Romanov – 7/10
Just as it’s time to bring Caufield in, it’s time to remove the training wheels from Romanov. He is the only defenseman on the team who can both shut things down defensively and move the puck effectively out of his zone. Weber’s puck handling and movement on the power play is such a chore it is kind of baffling he hasn’t been trusted there. His hit on Khaira set the physical tone for the entire game. Started brightly but faded as the game wore on, mostly due to his limited minutes and not because of the quality of his play.
Brett Kulak – 6/10
Made some desperation blocks and stick checks to keep his team in front in the second. Makes some curious decisions with the puck on his stick. Namely his passing which is either inaccurate or puts his forwards in bad spots. Has to pick up his game with Merrill and Gustafsson joining the team soon.
Phillip Danault – 8/10
Yes, McDavid had three points, including his highlight reel goal when he was on the ice. But for the other 95 percent of the time he was out there he frustrated the Oilers captain immensely. Constantly in the right position to annoy and harass the best player in the world, he brought a chippiness to his game we don’t see often enough. Also enjoyed some offensive zone time with his linemates that in the end was fruitless. Active stick on the penalty kill cut out several moments of danger. 59 percent on draws as well. He’s the best defensive center in the division.
Tomas Tatar – 6/10
Missed a glorious chance to give the Habs the lead in the slot early in the second but fired the puck into Smith’s belly. Worked hard to get into position defensively. But his turnover at the blueline was pounced upon by McDavid for his go-ahead goal. Looked totally out of sorts on the power play. The team needed an offensive play from someone like him last night but it never came.
Josh Anderson – 6/10
Never looked the same after getting a stick to the mouth from Draisaitl in the second period. Didn’t really drive the net or bring the physicality in a game that was full of the rough stuff. Had one terrific tip unluckily go off the end of Smith’s stick and also misfired on what would have been the game-tying goal late in the third. An off night.
Nick Suzuki – 7/10
If someone was going to create something for the Canadiens last night, it would have been him. One of the few who consistently looked dangerous in the offensive zone. Did a solid job defensively when he was caught out there against McDavid or Draisaitl. Even played with some emotion, something we haven’t seen enough of from him. Fantastic pass to Anderson should have been a tying-goal near the end of the third. Another great pass sprung Lehkonen on a partial breakaway. Didn’t have the points to show for an impressive evening of work. Power play was shambolic though.
Joel Armia – 7/10
Also one of the few forwards to stand out as he continued to show off his impressive battle level along the boards. His line was one of the few to cycle the puck well in the offensive zone. Had a great chance in the first when he walked off the wall with the puck into the slot but fired it just wide, glove side on Smith. But could have and should have done more.
Tyler Toffoli – 6/10
Had a decent chance on a 2-on-1 in the first but the angle was too narrow for him. Did lead the forwards in shots on goal but none of them really troubled Smith. Wasn’t able to find any quiet areas on the ice to get off a high-quality shot. Looked a step off the quick pace of the game. The less said about the power play, the better.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi – 6/10
Will be absolutely kicking himself for missing that wide-open net on the power play in the first. Could have changed the entire complexion of the game. Did well physically at both ends of the ice. No shots on goal is a problem and didn’t do enough offensively. But he was alright. Didn’t seem to have much chemistry with his linemates though.
Paul Byron – 7/10
Was a constant thorn in the Oilers side on the back-check. Was clearly used in a defensive role to match his speed against McDavid and did well in bugging the Oilers forward when he was on the ice. Didn’t back down. Turned the puck over a few times in the offensive zone although not much came out of it. Good on the penalty kill and tied for the lead amongst forwards with four hits. His interference penalty was a joke.
Jonathan Drouin – 5/10
Invisible offensively. Which is where they really needed him. Did battle better for loose and contested pucks than he had the previous two games. But that’s the bare minimum. Nothing at all on the power play. Very little offensively at even strength. The team desperately needs him to pick up his game down the stretch. It’s make or break time for him.
Eric Staal – 6/10
Got his second goal as a Hab from a re-direct off his right foot. After that he certainly looked faster than he has as a Canadiens player, which is understandable. 25 percent on draws is not great. But his line seems to have started to build a bit of chemistry.
Artturi Lehkonen – 6/10
If Brendan Gallagher is the example for net front presence, he should be the example on the forecheck. Did well being physical on defencemen in the offensive zone. Tied for team lead in hits by forwards with Byron with four. As is tradition could not score on a partial breakaway in the second period.
Corey Perry – 6/10
A quiet night for a guy who seems perfectly suited to the type of game that was played last night. Might have been a bit too fast for him. Even so, set up Staal’s lone goal on the night with a spinning pass to the front of the net which he directed in with his foot. Should have had an assist earlier after a terrific pass to Kotkaniemi which he blazed over the net.
Dominique Ducharme – 6/10
Thought his team played a decent enough road game despite the lack of offensive opportunities. Had a solid game plan for McDavid for the majority of the game until the Oilers captain just decided to bring his game to another level. Penalty kill kept his team in it, power play continues to baffle. Chemistry still doesn’t feel right on the lines. For an offensive coach his team can’t score right now. Kind of a big problem.