Canadiens escape with a 3-2 shootout win over Sharks in San Jose

Jesse Ylönen scores winning goal and saves the day along with goalie Cayden Primeau after Habs fell behind 2-0 to the worst team in NHL.

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The Canadiens avoided embarrassment Friday afternoon against the Sharks in San Jose — barely.

Jesse Ylönen scored the winning goal in a shootout as Montreal beat the worst team in the NHL 3-2.

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Johnathan Kovacevic and Cole Caufield scored for the Canadiens in regulation time, while former Canadien Mike Hoffman and William Eklund scored for the Sharks.

The Canadiens improved their record to 9-9-2 with their second straight win on this three-game California trip after beating the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 on Wednesday. The Canadiens will play the Kings on Saturday in Los Angeles (4 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

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How bad are the Sharks?

Their record fell to 3-15-2 with the shootout loss and they have been outscored 86-30, including back-to-back 10-1 and 10-2 losses to the Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins, respectively. The Sharks’ minus-56 goal differential is by far the worst in the NHL. The Chicago Blackhawks are the second-worst at minus-19 after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in overtime Friday.

Things started off well for the Canadiens in San Jose. They were dominating the Sharks and outshooting them 9-4 in the first period, but the score was still 0-0 when defenceman Mike Matheson was penalized for holding at 16:29.

Canadiens goalie Cayden Primeau stopped all five San Jose shots on the ensuing power play and the period ended with the Sharks outshooting the Canadiens 11-9 and the score still 0-0.

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Hoffman put the Sharks up 1-0 at 5:06 of the second period with his fifth goal of the season — all five coming in the last five games. Friday was also Hoffman’s 34th birthday. Eklund put the Sharks up 2-0 with a power-play goal at 12:30 of the second period only four seconds after Justin Barron went to the penalty box for tripping. The Sharks’ Tomas Hertl beat the Canadiens’ Jake Evans clean off a faceoff to set up the goal.

It was starting to look like the Sharks might not only beat the Canadiens, but also shut them out for the first time this season.

But Kovacevic scored his third goal of the season — and his third in the last four games — with a wicked bar-down shot at 18:02 of the second period after a pass from fellow defenceman Jayden Struble, who picked up his first NHL point in only his second game after getting called up from the AHL’s Laval Rocket.

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“That was a big goal to cut the lead in half there,” Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis told reporters in San Jose after the game. “There was a great execution in the O zone. I thought we had a tough time getting pucks on net. They packed their house, they block a lot of shots. But we took advantage of the situation where they were all on one side of the ice, so we activated our D. It was a great shot, guys going to the net. I think it gave us a little bit of life because it’s not like we were playing a poor game. We were down in the scoreboard, but I didn’t feel like we were getting beat. We were just down on the scoreboard, kind of trying to stay the course. Getting that goal at the end of the second was big.”

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Caufield tied the score 2-2 when he sniped a shot high over the blocker side of Sharks goalie Mackenzie Blackwood at 3:26 of the third period after taking a nice breakout pass from Juraj Slafkovsky. Primeau also had an assist as the goalie earned his first NHL point. Caufield had gone six games without a goal and had only one in the previous 11 games. Caufield’s sixth goal of the season was only his second at five-on-five.

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“They all count the same,” Caufield told reporters after finishing the game with a team-high six shots.

Three of Caufield’s goals have come in overtime and one on a power play. He almost had his fourth OT goal against the Sharks, but was stopped on a breakaway by Blackwood only 10 seconds into the extra period.

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The Sharks outshot the Canadiens 33-24 heading into the shootout.

In the shootout, Eklund scored on the Sharks’ first attempt, but Primeau stopped the next five shooters. Nick Suzuki scored on the Canadiens’ first attempt, before Caufield, Slafkovsky, Christian Dvorak and Sean Monahan all missed, setting the stage for Ylönen’s heroics. Ylönen made a beautiful deke to his forehand before beating Blackwood.

When Caufield was asked about Ylönen’s goal, he smiled and said: “Slim Shady, baby!” referring to the song by rapper Eminem.

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Ylönen said he had “a little bit of an idea” what move he was going to make on Blackwood.

“You have to react to how the goalie plays it and try to fake him a little bit,” Ylönen added.

It could have been an embarrassing result for the Canadiens, but St. Louis said the win will be good for team morale, adding nothing’s perfect and he will continue to work on correcting mistakes and making his team better.

“This league is hard,” St. Louis told reporters in San Jose. “You got to find ways and I think that’s what we did tonight.”

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