Hidden Game: Canadiens mount comeback but fall in overtime to Oilers

The Habs took some very silly penalties on their way to a 3-2 overtime loss.

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We dedicate this edition of the Hidden game to the Canadiens’ Trevor Letowski and Edmonton’s Kris Knoblauch — two guys who weren’t NHL head coaches when the season began.

Letowski, of course, was on Montreal’s staff as an assistant and assumed the interim head coach portfolio after Martin St. Louis took an indefinite leave of absence last Saturday to tend to a family matter in Connecticut. Knoblauch, meanwhile, replaced the fired Jay Woodcroft last Nov. 12 after coaching Hartford, the New York Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the last four seasons.

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But the hockey world, at times, can be small.

Back in 2015, which must seem like a lifetime ago to them, Letowski faced Knoblauch in the OHL playoffs. Letowski was the head coach of junior Sarnia at the time, while Knoblauch was behind Erie’s bench. Knoblauch’s Otters won the opening-round best-of-seven series in five games.

Nonetheless, a mutual admiration society was formed, Knoblauch calling Letowski “very good and qualified.

“I have a lot of respect for Trevor,” Knoblauch told Postmedia News Tuesday morning in Edmonton. “He had (Sarnia) well-coached and well-prepared. And the team played very hard for him.”

Great moments in coaching history: Woodcroft actually was fired following an Oilers’ win at Seattle. Trouble was, it was only Edmonton’s third victory in 13 games. Since being replaced by Knoblauch, the team’s record is 38-12-3.

News you need (Part I): We’ve always believed people from Saskatchewan are the salt of the Earth. Knoblauch hails from the village of Imperial, Sask., which, according to the 2016 census, had a population of 360.

News you need (Part II): Calvin Pickard, the Oilers’ backup goaltender, received the start against the Canadiens. A former second-round (49th overall) Colorado draft choice in 2010, the 31-year-old veteran has spent much of his career in the AHL. As recently as last season, Pickard played 38 games for Bakersfield and even played four games for the Condors earlier this season.

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The Oilers are Pickard’s sixth NHL team after spending time with the Colorado, Toronto, Philadelphia, Arizona and Detroit. He hasn’t received this much time in the big leagues since 2016-17, when he played 50 games for the Avalanche. He made his 15th appearance for Edmonton against Montreal and recorded his 10th win for the first time since that season.

Play Pezzetta: It took Letowski only two games to realize the importance of hard-nosed winger Michael Pezzetta, who dressed against the Oilers instead of Tanner Pearson, a 31-year-old veteran on an expiring contract. Pezzetta made his presence felt on his first shift, hitting Cody Ceci and Sam Carrick before getting into a fight with the latter before three minutes had been played. It was Pezzetta’s fifth fight this season.

Turnover of the night: We’re not quite sure what has happened to snake-bit Canadiens’ veteran forward Josh Anderson this season. He’s had little, if any, fortune around the net. If that’s not bad enough, Anderson was lackadaisical on Edmonton’s opening goal, losing the puck to Mattias Ekholm, who fed Connor McDavid. McDavid still had some work to do but managed to score his 26th this season at 9:20 of the opening period.

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Save of the night: In the 14th minute of the first period, Canadiens defenceman Kaiden Guhle cleared a McDavid shot that went through the crease and appeared headed into the open net.

It’s a game of inches (Part I): Juraj Slafkovsky hit the post in the game’s 17th minute and with the Canadiens on the power-play.

Dumb penalty (Part I): Midway through the second period, Edmonton’s Ryan McLeod tripped defenceman Jordan Harris in the offensive zone.

Be stronger: There’s nothing flashy about Montreal defenceman David Savard; he just plays a sound and steady game most nights. But he needed to be stronger on Adam Henrique, who scored Edmonton’s second goal nearly 15 minutes into the second period. Savard is 6-foot-1 and 238 pounds, yet Henrique was on the lip of the crease when he scored.

Good things happen when you go to the net: The Canadiens scored their first goal in the opening seconds of the third period, Slafkovsky’s pass deflecting off Nick Suzuki’s skate.

Milestone: That was the 27th goal this season for the Montreal captain — a career high.

Home cooking: Guhle, an Edmonton native, tied the score with his fifth goal this season, beating Pickard with a low shot to the glove side from the left-wing circle before five minutes had elapsed in the third.

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Dumb penalty (Part II): Slafkovsky took yet another offensive zone penalty — a recurring theme — early in the third period.

Dumb penalty (Part III): While it was unintentional, Joel Armia has to have better control of his stick. He took a double-minor for high-sticking against Henrique in the final minute of regulation. It eventually resulted in Leon Draisaitl’s game-winning power-play goal at 3:18 of overtime.

News you need (Part III): The hard-luck Canadiens are now 16-11-12 in one-goal games.

Give the guy a break: Montreal goalie Samuel Montembeault always gives his team an opportunity to win. Nonetheless, he has lost his last five starts, not having won since Feb. 27. He made 29 stops for a save percentage of .906.

They said it: “It was a good push-back from us,” Suzuki told the media in Edmonton following the game.

“It’s frustrating,” Guhle told journalists in Edmonton. “I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but we’ve been playing so well. We can’t seem to buy two points. We’ve been playing against basically every top team in the league recently. We’re playing them hard. That was another game where I didn’t feel we were out of it for one second. I felt we deserved a better fate.”

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