Sports Canadiens Game Day: Good news and bad news as Habs lose in OT

09:55  14 january  2021
09:55  14 january  2021 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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a man riding skis down a snow covered slope: Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen makes save on the Canadiens’ Phillip Danault during NHL season opener Wednesday night in Toronto. © Provided by The Gazette Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen makes save on the Canadiens’ Phillip Danault during NHL season opener Wednesday night in Toronto.

The bad news for Montreal hockey fans is that the Canadiens lost their season opener 5-4 in overtime to the Maple Leafs Wednesday night in Toronto.

The good news is that it was a very entertaining game for people stuck at home during Quebec’s COVID-19 curfew.

More good news is that these two teams will meet nine more times this season in the condensed 56-game NHL schedule as part of the all-Canadian North Division.

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For two teams that hadn’t played a game in more than four months this was a fast-paced and exciting game from start to finish. The first whistle didn’t come until the 5:10 mark after some free-wheeling action.

Newcomer Josh Anderson scored twice for the Canadiens, while Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar scored power-play goals. The Leafs outshot the Canadiens 34-32 and got the winning goal in OT from Morgan Rielly. William Nylander scored twice for Toronto, while John Tavares and Jimmy Vesey added singles.

The Canadiens were leading 3-1 with two minutes left in the second period before Nylander and Tavares both scored power-play goals to tie it 3-3 heading into the third.

Anderson’s two goals were one more than he scored in 26 games last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets before having season-ending shoulder surgery.

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Organize the ultimate group outing: come to a game and skate on the same ice as the Montreal Canadiens . Schedule a team practice, a pickup game among friends or a free skate at the Bell Centre with the purchase of group tickets. Stay connected by receiving the latest news and results.

Last season, these two Original Six rivals met three times (the fourth game wasn’t played after the regular season was cut short because of COVID-19) and the Canadiens won all three games — 6-5 in a shootout in Toronto, along with a 5-2 win and a 2-1 overtime win at the Bell Centre.

“It’s a lot of fun,” the Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher said about the rivalry during a Zoom video conference Wednesday morning. “You get excited for this game, for sure. It’s been a while since we’ve actually started the year against Toronto. When I first came in the league, it seemed like we started every year against them and it was always a fun game to be a part of. It’s something that these new guys (on the Canadiens) are going to get to understand the Montreal-Toronto rivalry pretty quickly. I think especially with the division format. It will be a lot of fun for us players to be a part of. It’s going to be competitive and emotional, but if you don’t enjoy it I guess you’re playing the wrong sport.”

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Power plays click

Special teams were a big problem for the Canadiens last season when they ranked 22nd in the NHL on the power play (17.7 per cent) and 19th in penalty-killing (78.7 per cent).

Their power play clicked Wednesday night against the Leafs, going 2-for-3, but the penalty-killers struggled as the Leafs went 2-for-4 on the power play.

The Leafs ranked fifth in the NHL on the power play last season (23.1 per cent) and Gallagher spoke Wednesday morning about how important it was for the Canadiens to stay out of the penalty box.

“It’s pretty interesting,” Gallagher said. “The game’s usually called a little bit differently early on in the year. You see a lot of power plays early on. The closer and closer you get to the end of the season and in the playoffs, those power plays … you know the calls seem to change a little bit. There’s a little bit of a different standard.

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“So early on you know the refs are probably going to be looking for stuff to kind of set the tone,” he added. “So just to be moving our feet. We’re playing a team that’s going to skate really well, they’re going to move the puck. There might be some temptations to take the penalties, but you just got to be prepared to work and stay out of those positions where you’re taking those needless penalties — especially in their zone. There’s times where you got to take one, obviously, but the more we can stay out of the box. … This power play has hurt us before. We don’t want to let that happen again.”

It happened again.

Anderson took a boarding penalty at 16:04 of the second period and Nylander scored on the ensuing power play to cut the Canadiens’ lead to 3-2. Suzuki then took a holding penalty at the 18:18 mark and captain Shea Weber took a delay-of-game penalty three seconds later for shooting the puck over the glass. With the Leafs on a 5-on-3 power play, Tavares scored with 38 seconds left in the period to tie the score 3-3.

Dropping the gloves

With the Leafs trailing 3-1 midway through the second period, Leafs newcomer Wayne Simmonds got into a cross-checking battle with Ben Chiarot in front of the Montreal net and then convinced the Canadiens defenceman to drop the gloves.

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Simmonds won the fight, but showed class when he stopped punching after Chiarot lost his balance and fell to the ice. While skating to the penalty box, Simmonds looked at his teammates on the Toronto bench and threw up his arms trying to fire them up, just like in a video game. After both players were in the penalty box, Simmonds gave Chiarot a thumbs-up sign for accepting the fight.

Was that a turning point in the game?

It probably did fire up the Leafs, but it was penalties by the Canadiens later in the second period that really let Toronto back in the game.

Bad pass and a bad bounce

Anderson scored his second goal only 1:03 into the third period to give the Canadiens a 4-3 lead. But a bad pass by Jonathan Drouin — and  bad bounce — allowed the Leafs to tie it up 4-4 at the 10:33 mark.

Drouin had the puck in the corner to goalie Carey Price’s left and blindly made a soft backhand pass along the boards that hit the referee and bounced in front of the net, allowing Vesey to score. It was definitely bad luck, but it was also a soft effort by Drouin deep in the defensive zone. Earlier in the period, Drouin had got away with a dangerous cross-ice pass in his own end.

Drouin did have a strong game overall with three assists and finished plus-1 while logging 17:36 of ice time on a line with Suzuki and Anderson.

The overtime featured several scoring chances by both teams — including a breakaway by Danault — before Rielly scored the winner on a two-on-one break as the Canadiens’ Paul Byron headed to the bench for a change.

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Counting on Carey

It wasn’t a great start for Price with his new mask and bright red pads, giving up five goals on 34 shots for an .853 save percentage.

Price was inconsistent during the regular season last year, finishing with a 27-25-6 record, a 2.79 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. Price’s 58 games played tied for the lead among NHL goalies with the Winnipeg Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck. Price was much better in the post-season after four-month break, posting a 5-5-0 record, a 1.78 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage.

“Carey came well-rested again for this camp,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said Wednesday morning. “He’s looked good in our training camp. He’s confident. I think the fact that we got Jake Allen as a backup will allow us to give him even more rest than we’ve been able to give him in the past few years. So I think all those things all play to his advantage and to our advantage. So that’s what we’re looking for, too.”

First point for Romanov

Rookie defenceman Alexander Romanov, playing in his first NHL game, logged 21:48 of ice time, including 2:58 on the power play and 2:17 penalty-killing. He had three shots, four blocked shots, one hit and picked up his first point with a beautiful breakaway pass to Tatar for his power-play goal.

It was an impressive debut for the 21-year-old Russian, who spent the last two seasons with CSKA Moscow in the KHL after being selected by the Canadiens in the second round (38th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Faceoffs could be a problem

With three young and inexperienced centremen — Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jake Evans — faceoffs could be a problem for the Canadiens this season.

Veteran Danault went 17-10 in the faceoff circle (63 per cent) and Suzuki went 7-7 (50 per cent), but Kotkaniemi and Evans were dreadful. Kotkaniemi went 1-8 (11 per cent) and Evans was 1-6 (14 per cent). The Leafs first goal by Nylander came after Tavares won a faceoff clean off Evans. Tavares went 12-6 in the faceoff circle (67 per cent).

More stats

Weber led the Canadiens in ice time with 24:35, followed by Jeff Petry (23:10) and Romanov (21:48). Petry had two assists.

Danault led the forwards in ice time with 19:39, followed by Suzuki (18:38) and Drouin (17:36). Evans ranked last in ice time with 8:52.

Anderson had a team-leading seven shots, while Suzuki had 6. Chiarot and Artturi Lehkonen tied for the lead in hits with four each.

The new guys

The Canadiens had five new players in the lineup against the Leafs: forwards Anderson and Tyler Toffoli, defencemen Joel Edmundson and Romanov, along with backup goalie Jake Allen.

The Maple Leafs have added veteran forwards Joe Thornton and Simmonds, along with veteran defenceman T.J. Brodie.

Gallagher said the new players have integrated well with the Canadiens, which gives him confidence the team can get off to a good start this season.

“It feels like they’ve been here all along and just part of the team, one of the guys now,” Gallagher said Wednesday morning. “We just have a job to do. I think everyone’s excited for the season. We’re optimistic, but the job’s still on us to go out and do it. We’re playing in a very competitive division. The team we’re playing tonight is a big part of that. It’s a team that we’re going to see a lot this year. Got to make sure you set the tone early on and hopefully we can come together as a team.”

Long road trip to start

The Canadiens will start the season with six road games —  including two against the Oilers in Edmonton and three against the Canucks in Vancouver — before playing their home opener at the Bell Centre on Thursday, Jan. 28, against the Calgary Flames.

“Starting on the road’s good for us,” Chiarot said on Tuesday. “We got a handful of new guys, so getting everyone together and having some time together on the road will be important and get our game together as we go here at the beginning.”

The Canadiens actually had a better record on the road last season (17-14-3) than at the Bell Centre (14-17-6), but with no fans in the rinks because of COVID-19 home-ice advantage (or disadvantage) won’t be the same.

Some big boys

The Canadiens have a very big defence this season with Weber (6-foot-4, 229 pounds), Chiarot (6-foot-3, 234 pounds), Jeff Petry (6-foot-3, 208 pounds), Edmundson (6-foot-4, 227 pounds), Brett Kulak (6-foot-1, 192 pounds) and Romanov (6-foot, 208 pounds).

“Big and mobile are the two things that come to mind first when I think of our blue line,” Chiarot said Tuesday. “Romanov’s looked great. I mean, he looks wise beyond his years as far as defending goes. You can tell he’s played with men before (the last two seasons in the KHL), the way he closes gaps and uses his stick. He’s pretty advanced that way for a 20- or 21-year-old kid. So excited to see him in game action.”

Romanov turned 21 on Jan. 6.

Chiarot said the Canadiens defence plans to make things hard physically on opposing forwards.

“You give them no space and then when you close that space you meet them with some authority and I think all the D that we have here are capable of doing that,” he said. “Taking away time and space. You ask any forward what the hardest thing to play against is, it’s a defenceman that’s in your face, doesn’t give you any time with the puck to make plays. So I think all our D are capable of that and, on the other side, moving the puck. I mean, the best defence is a good offence and all our guys are capable of making a good first pass and getting our forwards going the other way.”


What’s next?

Thursday will be a travel day for the Canadiens, with no practice, as they fly to Edmonton, where they will face the Oilers on Saturday (7 p.m., CITY, SNE, SNW, SNP, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and Monday (9 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

After that, the Canadiens head to Vancouver for games against the Canucks next Wednesday (10 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM), Thursday (9:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, CITY, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5).



Canadiens Notebook: Players get back into a game-day routine .
The Canadiens held their second and final scrimmage of training camp Sunday night at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. The Red team, made up of the players expected to be in the starting lineup when the Canadiens open the NHL regular season Wednesday night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs (7 p.m., SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio), beat the White team 4-1. Jonathan Drouin (power play), Paul Byron (short-handed), Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki (empty-netter) scored for the Red team, while Corey Perry had a power-play goal for the White team.

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