Hockey's Back: Someone Send the Memo to the Habs
Hockey has finally returned! For the first time in months, the Montreal Canadiens took the Bell Centre ice last night, taking on the Dallas Stars in the first game of the pre-season.
Unfortunately, it seemed as if someone didn't give the Habs the memo, who found themselves on the receiving end of a 6-3 loss at the hands the Stars, led by former Habs Michael Ryder and Mike Ribeiro.
The Canadiens had an especially tough start, going down 0-3 to Dallas in less than ten minutes, and 0-4 by the second period, with Carey Price between the pipes. The Canadiens would rally with three goals of their own in the second period, but a goalie change for both teams would seemingly change the momentum of the game. While the Habs seemed to get better as the game went on, even after their mini-rally, the Stars were able to hold on, scoring two more goals on Nathan Lawson to close out the game.
Both Ribeiro and Ryder would put up a goal and an assist, with captain Brendan Morrow also contributing to the Stars win with a goal. July 1st acquisition Erik Cole would be the first Hab to score in 2011-12 season, Andrei Kostitsyn would score on the powerplay, and another new Hab, Jeff Woywitka would also score, as he finds himself battling for a spot on defense.
In goal, Carey Price would start off his pre-season poorly, allowing 4 goals on 13 goals, and none of them made him look particularly good. Newcomer Nathan Lawson would play the second half of the game, allowing two goals on 12 shits, but looked solid, even making several difficult saves shortly after replacing Price.
Of course, it's only pre-season, and it's only the first game. You might be reminded of a quote from Carey Price following last year's first pre-season game, simply telling fans to "relax". And the All-Star netminder definitely seemed to take his own advice last night, allowing four goals which he'd certainly like to have back. Price didn't necessarily look off his game, but he didn't look like he wanted to strain himself either. His lateral movement was much slower than what we're used to from him in the regular season or playoffs, even his glove was moving at what seemed to be half-speed. But with so many months off, there really was no reason for the young goaltender to strain any muscles as he slowly gets back into game form. On the other hand, Lawson is jostling for position among the Habs' minor-league goaltenders, so every shot he faces is an important one, compared to Price, who is guaranteed to be the team's starter, no matter how many bad goals he allows.
Another Hab who didn't have a very good night was Aaron Palushaj. The only stats Palushaj registered were a surprisingly high 19 minutes of ice-time, but the forward seemed sluggish most of the game, getting bumped off the puck way too often and generally looking a bit lost. Again, pre-season, but considering Palushaj is one of the players on the cusp of making the team out of training-camp, he can't afford many more bad performances. Same goes for Andreas Engqvist. Despite setting up Woywitka's goal, the young forward seemed nowhere to be found during most of his 12 minutes of ice-time.
On the other hand, several new Habs impressed with either sharp offensive skills and some toughness. Brock Trotter, who recently returned to the organization after a year in Russia, showed plenty of speed and skill during 13 minutes of ice time. He made himself noticeable on nearly every shift. Raphael Diaz didn't seem quite ready for an NHL-level job, contributing to three goals (for Dallas), but led the Habs with four shots and showed some promise for the future. Jarred Tinordi had a quiet night on defense, with 17 minutes of ice time and a +1 rating, but that's exactly what you'd want from a defenseman like him. He made himself invisible, despite his size, and it was exactly what he needed to do. That said, he still needs plenty of improving, especially in the speed department, and he'll get a chance to do that again with the London Knights.
Michael Blunden led the team with six hits, but the highlight of the night belonged to Alexei Yemelin, who completely destroyed Francis Wathier with a hipcheck at the blueline -- God I miss open-ice hipchecks. The more impressive note, however, was after the hit, when Wathier returned the favor along the boards. Instead of going after him, Yemelin took it on the chin and skated away. He also showed some presence offensively. It took more than two periods for Yemelin to be noticed, but if he continues improving at this rate, he could be ready for the season opener on October 6th.
Finally, Ian Schultz didn't exactly prove he was ready for the NHL, especially with a team-low 7:46 of ice time, but the young forward certainly showed that he can throw a punch, tangling with Francis Wathier in the third, and looking relatively insane in doing so. If he proved one thing last night, it was that Schultz is more than ready to be a pest for the Canadiens if they ever feel they need that.
Overall, it has to be said that it was a relatively poor performance from the Canadiens. The veterans looked like they were taking the opportunity to stretch their game legs, and most of the prospects were doing their individual thing to impress their trainers and coaches. For the most part, this was truly a team of individuals, but that's okay.
As we already said, it's preseason.
- I personally took the game in from the second row last night. Get jealous.
- The Habs were brutal in the faceoff department, losing 8 of fourteen draws. Different year, same problems.
- Yannick Weber led the team in ice time with nearly 26 minutes of ice time, a good test for the Swedish defenseman looking to earn a full time spot on the blueline.
The Habs take on the Buffalo Sabres tonight at the Bell Centre, as fans get their first look at new backup Peter Budaj, 2011 first round pick Nathan Beaulieu as well as Brendan Gallagher. Returning Habs tonight include Gomez, Gionta, Subban, Spacek, Moen Darche, Desharnais, as well as the long-awaited returns of Max Pacioretty and Josh Gorges.