In the Habs Room: Oilers’ McDavid and Draisaitl ‘hard to handle’

Veteran Mike Matheson says the 5-3 loss to Oilers was “a huge learning experience” for three starting Habs defensemen.

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EDMONTON — Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis said his team could learn a lesson from Saturday night’s 5-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place.

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“The lesson is to be prepared for anything — the unexpected — and just manage the things that are under your control,” said St. Louis after the game that cut the Canadiens’ record to 12-11-1.

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One thing the Canadiens seemed out of control was taking penalties in the second period after leading 1-0 into the first break on a power play goal from captain Nick Suzuki.

The Canadiens went on penalties for 21 minutes in the second period, including a five-minute major and a 10-minute game misconduct to defenseman Joel Edmundson for checking the Oilers’ Zach Hyman to the boards while Montreal was already short. The Oilers scored three straight power play goals in the second period, including two on five-to-three advantages.

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The Canadiens fought back to tie the game 3-3 on goals from Evgenii Dadonov and Arber Xhekaj (power play), but Edmonton’s Darnell Nurse delivered a dagger when he scored with just four seconds left in the second period to take the Oilers lead before Connor McDavid sealed the victory with his second goal of the game in the third period.

“It was tough,” St. Louis said of Nurse’s goal. “We had so much momentum. I think guys thought it was icing. It’s hard to give up those goals at the end of a period like that, especially with the kind of push we had in the second half of that period. It was a tough one.”

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St. Louis said the Canadiens played well at five-on-five and five-on-four, as well as on the power play, 2-for-3 with the man advantage. The Oilers went 3-for-5 on the power play.

Not only did Edmundson’s big penalty and misconduct in the game result in one of the Oilers’ power play goals, it also left the Canadiens with just five defensemen for the rest of the game – including three rookies in Kaiden Guhle, Johnathan Kovacevic and Arber Xhekaj to take on the Oilers and their dynamic duo of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

McDavid finished the game with two goals and two assists, while Draisaitl had a goal and three assists.

“Win or lose, I think it was a huge learning experience (for the starting defenders) and you have to look at it that way: they played huge minutes against two of the best players in the league,” said Canadiens. veteran defenseman Mike Matheson, who recorded a team-high 26:57 ice time. “What more could you want if you’re trying to get better every day?”

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Guhle had 21:38 ice time, Kovacevic had 18:06 and Xhekaj had 17:24, while veteran David Savard recorded 20:48.

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The 20-year-old Guhle had this game on his calendar because it was his first game in the NHL in his hometown after winning the WHL Junior Championship last season with the Edmonton Oil Kings and being named MVP of the playoffs. He also faced McDavid for the first time.

“I’d be lying if I said going against him wasn’t a little nerve-wracking at times,” said Guhle, who got McDavid up after entering the strike zone early in the first period. “I just have to watch your body and try to limit crossovers and just stay put. He’s such a good player and has such good hands that he’s probably waiting for you to make the first move. When you get a man like that, you gotta play him tight.

The Canadiens were unable to play McDavid tight enough – and the penalties didn’t help. McDavid (21-26-47) and Draisaitl (17-25-42) now rank first and second in NHL scoring.

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“I think they complement each other so well,” Matheson said. “Not to say Draisaitl can’t really skate well and isn’t fast on his own, but if you compare someone to McDavid, they’re going to look slow. I think (Draisaitl’s) playing skills should be top two or three if not the best in the league. And then you put a guy (McDavid) who also has the game ability and speed, it’s definitely a dynamic duo to play against.

“It seems like when (McDavid) gets the puck, everything moves much faster compared to everyone else,” Matheson added. “It’s impressive and hard to handle.”

One of the bright spots for this young Canadiens team is that they once again proved that they never give up and fight back to tie the game after trailing on three power play goals.

“We’re not giving up,” said St. Louis. “We fight. Just fell a little short tonight.

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