It Hab-Ened Last Night: Habs Defeat Pens For First Win of the Season

Photo Credit: Reuters

Sorry guys, the Carey Price bandwagon is full today.

With a thrilling 3-2 regulation victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, the Montreal Canadiens improved to 1-1-0 on the season, and prepare for their home opener at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The game was quick and furious from the very beginning, and was characterized by outstanding goaltending, especially on Carey Price’s end of the ice, as well as a lot of bad blood carried over from last year’s Eastern Conference semi-finals, where the Montreal Canadiens managed to defeat the Penguins in 7 games.

The Canadiens would strike first, with Michael Cammalleri scoring 15 minutes into the 1st period on a nice feed from Tomas Plekanec (Andrei Kostitsyn also assisted on the goal).

The Penguins would answer with a goal in the first minute of the 2nd from Evgeni Malkin, and a second goal from Letestu midway through the third. They would not let up on the pressure in the Canadiens zone, with Carey Price having to make plenty of highlight reel saves to keep the Canadiens in it in that span.

Michael Cammalleri and Scott Gomez would score 24 seconds apart with only three minutes to go in the third period to put the Canadiens up 3-2. Gomez’s goal would stand as the game winner, and considering it was his first shot in two games, he really needed it.

The first two periods were marred by 32 minutes of penalties, including a fight and a 4-minute double minor on Mike Comrie for a high stick that would essentiall “christen” P.K. Subban with the first cut of his career. Subban would leave the game shortly for repairs but would return at the top of the second. Neither team would capitalize on their powerplays, including two short 5-on-3s for the Pens at the beginning of the second, and there would be no penalties in the 3rd, but the pace of the game was brink, quick and refreshed, with action on both sides of the ice.

Both teams wanted and needed the win badly. The Habs, coming off a loss to the Maple Leafs, could not go into an important home opener down 0-2, especially not when both of those games were played by Carey Price. The Pens had lost their season opener to the Flyers, and no one on that team wanted to remain winless in their new arena. Not to mention, as stated, the bad blood between these two teams heading into the game.

In the end, the Canadiens would prevail, and will head back home with an even record and four days to prepare for their new opponents in the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Notable Performances:

  • As implied above, Scott Gomez hasn’t had the greatest start to the season. While he is a notable playmaker and not a goalscorer, Gomez hadn’t gotten a single shot on net in nearly six periods of play until he scored what could only be categorized as a “softie” on Marc-Andre Fleury. Gomez will take it, however, as his performance up to that point had only frustrated certain fans. While he no doubt was on the giving end of most of Brian Gionta’s 8 shots, the line consisting of these two as well as Benoit Pouliot had not really been clicking. Hopefully this goal, which both Pouliot and Gionta assisted on, will get the line going and will improve Gomez’s overall performance. Gomez does a lot of things away from the offensive zone, both defensively and in terms of puck-moving, but his salary will always lead him to scrutiny and he will have to put up some good stats in order to satisfy a lot of people.
  • Michael Cammalleri has become a living nightmare for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He not only led the Canadiens as well as the league in playoff scoring last season, he scored a large chunk of those goals in the second round against the Pens, 7 of 13 to be exact.A lot of the grief that some Pens were feeling heading into the game were the direct result of Cammalleri’s play, and he added to that last night with two goals in his first game of the season. The first was on a sweet pass from Tomas Plekanec besides the net, and the second a tip-in on a Josh Gorges shot. Cammalleri picked up right where he left off in last year’s playoffs, and that is a good sign for Montreal Canadiens’ fans who may have been asking themselves where the goals would come from this season.
  • Cammalleri received a little help last night from Josh Gorges, who took the shot that led to his tip-in goal and tied things up for the Canadiens late in the 3rd. Gorges would add a hit and 3 blocked shots to that in 24 minutes of ice time, and has emerged as the Habs’ best defenseman early in the season, in the absence of both Hamrlik and Markov. He has covered plenty of his partner Hal Gill’s mistakes, and has had no trouble helping the team out in nearly every category: hitting, blocking shots, scoring, powerplay, penalty killing, even strength. Gorges does just about everything just right and is the Canadiens’ rock, and deserves every second of ice time that he has been getting.
  • Last but certainly not least on our list of notable performances is goaltender Carey Price. The criticism that the B.C. native received over the summer has been well-documented, and even though no one in their right mind would blame Price for Thursday’s loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, you have to admit that if the Canadiens had given last night’s game to the Pens and gone 0-2 into the Bell Centre for the home opener, the boo birds wouldn’t hesitate to make their voices heard. But a 36 save performance from Price on Saturday night, including several big ones which kept the Canadiens in the game throughout the night should certainly do their job in keeping the cheers from turning into boos on Wednesday. Price was lights out on Saturday and while the goal he let in on Letestu was a little weak, the other 37 shots will forgive him for us.

It would be important to note that among the players who remain pointless after two games are five defensemen. Jaroslav Spacek, who had a horrid training camp which rolled over into games 1 and 2, has not put up a single point and will need to get it going, especially on the powerplay. The Canadiens are not a team to mistreat their players, but Spacek will be in a bad spot if he continues to underperform, especially when Markov and Hamrlik return. If Hamrlik can go on Wednesday, they will be paired up, and that will likely improve their performance.

PK Subban is also without a point, and while no one will jump off a bridge just yet, he will also need to find a way to get on the scoresheet in the coming games. Subban was at the receiving end of a lot of boos from the Pittsburgh fans, as he is (accidentally) the reason Jordan Staal is currently on the shelf, having suffered an infection from the cut that Subban gave him during the playoffs, but shrugged them off as part of the game and as being used to them from junior in a CBC interview.

No one should be surprised that Ryan O’Byrne is pointless, and while he had a bad game on Thursday night, it should be noted that the inconsistent defenseman did contribute 5 hits on his 15 minutes of ice time, which is exactly what he needs to do if he expects to keep his job on the team.

He was matched in hits by somewhat of a strange bedfellow, Benoit Pouliot. While Chicken’s hits might not always be categorized at “big” ones, it does seem as if the troubled young forward has learned what he needs to do to keep his job – finish his checks! The two assists and +2 rating haven’t hurt him either, however.

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As noted, the Canadiens will have a few days off before they welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Bell Centre on Wednesday night of their home opener.

The Lightning and their GM Steven “KHAN!” Yzerman (YZERMAAAAANNNN!!!!!) made many headlines in Montreal over the course of the summer, as they managed to steal all of the Canadiens coaching staff from Hamilton, including highly touted Guy Boucher, not to mention the team’s top goaltending prospect in Cedrick Desjardins (in exchange for Karri Ramo) as well as signing former Hab Dominic Moore to a two-year deal and brief-Hab Dan Ellis to be their goaltender.

Yzerman obviously sees a lot of good in the organization, hence why he’s trying to squeeze it dry, but it could be the source for a budding rivalry between the two teams, especially with a lot of local flavour already on the Bolts, in Vinnie Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis.

Obviously the players will play their game and won’t really consider much of this, as only a few current Habs played for Boucher, for instance, and Moore was only briefly on the team, but with the Lightning vastly improved over last year’s team, and the club likely competing for the same playoff spots as the Canadiens, we could be in for a very interesting game.

We will have plenty of coverage for you in the coming days, but for now, enjoy your Canadian Thanksgiving, and answer the following Sunday Habs Questions!

  1. Is the Carey Price we saw last night the real deal?
  2. Can Josh Gorges emerge as a number one defenseman for this team?
  3. Has Benoit Pouliot’s performance been enough to give him a pass for another few games?
  4. Prax
    www.twitter.com/GeorgePrax
    Prax@TheCheckingLine.com

3 Comments

Tyg's picture

1. Yes.
2. Not if Markov stays healthy, but he's likely to be a strong number 2.
3. Not IMO but I suspect Jacky Marty will disagree with me as usual and continue to play him on the top 6.

George Prax's picture

I know you don't like Pouliot and we probably won't agree on this either, but the stats are kind of in his favor here... 2 assists, 8 hits, +2, only 1 shot but I have seen him in some good spots so far. He isn't as good as a 4th overall pick and a top six forward should be, but he isn't hurting the team either and his line is taking a little while to get used to each other. There's really no way you can justify taking him out at this point in my opinion.