The future looked bleak for the Montreal Canadiens as they headed back to the Bell Centre to lick their wounds. A brutal road trip through California saw them lose every game and end up at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Losing seven of eight games wasn’t quite how the Canadiens expected to start their season, but they tried to get back on track against fellow basement dwellers, the Florida Panthers.
The Canadiens came into the game hungry for a win, but nearly gave up a quick goal to the Panthers just under four minutes into the first. Carey Price, however, denied Aleksander Barkov in classic Price fashion to keep it a scoreless game.
Both squads struggled to find their legs early on, having trouble completing passes, avoiding icings and keeping the puck in the offensive zone.
Luckily, only the Canadiens seemed to shake off their weariness throughout the period and were able to take advantage of Florida’s defensive lapses as the period wore on. This led to some great pressure in the Panthers end as the first frame came to a close, particularly from Montreal’s new fourth line. But they couldn’t beat James Reimer, who remained perfect in net, while at the other end of the ice Price did much of the same.
Despite the strong finish to the first period, the Canadiens squandered an early goal to the Panthers to start the second. Just 20 seconds in, Keith Yandle took advantage of Phillip Danault’s blotched coverage to put Florida on the board first. In a complete reversal, it was the Panthers who pushed early, as the Canadiens had trouble getting out of their own zone.
Things continued to go south, as Montreal was assessed the first penalty of the game. An interference call went against Michael McCarron to put the Panthers on the man advantage. But Montreal’s penalty killers killed off the penalty with ease, getting shots of their own while down a man.
Just over a minute after that penalty expired, the Canadiens found themselves up a man, when Michael Matheson got two minutes for slashing Paul Byron. Mirroring their opponent, the Canadiens also failed to kick-start their power play, managing to put only one measly shot on net.
Montreal would get another opportunity less than two minutes later, as Yandle was sent off for shooting the puck over the glass. But much like the first time around, the Canadiens failed to take advantage of the delay of game penalty to get on the scoreboard.
Continuing to push their luck, Florida gave Montreal their third power play of the period. Nikita Scherbak used his speed to draw a call, forcing Radim Vrbata to take a holding penalty in the process. Alex Galchenyuk finally made the visitors pay, getting the equalizer by potting Gallagher’s rebound to tie the game. Galchenyuk’s goal was a sign of things to come, as it sparked the team’s scoring touch.
Not content with giving up just one goal, the Panthers went on to take their fourth penalty in the frame, when a slashing call went against Matheson again. The Canadiens quickly took their first lead of the game on a Shea Weber power-play marker.
Perhaps realizing that they had only scored on the man advantage, Brendan Gallagher took it upon himself to score at even strength. He stepped around a sliding Florida defenceman to roof the puck past Reimer to extend Montreal’s lead to two. It was a scoring rush for the Canadiens, with the goals coming within a two-minute span.
Montreal continued to apply pressure throughout the final frame, peppering Reimer with shots. Like sharks smelling blood, the Canadiens didn’t ease up in their efforts to extend their lead.
Their persistence paid off when nearly halfway through the period, Weber swooped in all alone to blast another one past Reimer. Weber’s second goal of the night gave the Canadiens a 4-1 lead.
Any signs of a Florida comeback was dealt another blow, when Max Pacioretty scored the Canadiens fifth goal of the game. The captain shot a loose puck past Reimer after the Panthers goaltender failed to freeze Danault’s initial shot.
Though a late hooking call sent Tomas Plekanec to the penalty box, once again Montreal’s penalty killers had no trouble killing it off. Florida would not come close to challenging Montreal’s lead, and the Canadiens skated away with two points, winning the game by a score of 5-1.
- The goals finally came. After being plagued by bad puck luck at the beginning of the season and generally poor offensive play in recent games, the Canadiens finally regained their scoring touch. Montreal defeated a division rival in dominating fashion, pumping five goals past a helpless James Reimer. It was a much-needed confidence booster for a team that often deserved a better fate in many of the games it had lost. Perhaps no one needed a goal more than the much-criticized Max Pacioretty, who seemed to get the monkey off his back with an even-strength marker in the third.
- Jonathan Drouin was arguably the Canadiens best forward last night. Though he may not have scored a goal, he played a big part in two goals. It was Drouin’s stretch pass that sprung Brendan Gallagher on a rush, whose rebound was redirected into the net by Galchenyuk. And it was Drouin who set up Shea Weber’s perfect shot on the man advantage to give the Canadiens their first lead. The Habs also controlled over 78% of shot attempts while Drouin was on the ice.
- The new fourth line looked like an upgrade over former iterations. Nikita Scherbak, in particular, looked like he belonged on an NHL squad in the limited time that he was played. He used his speed and stick-handling skills to pull off some slick dekes, made some crisp passes and drew the all-important penalty which allowed the Canadiens to finally get on the board.
The Canadiens are back in action Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings. The hosts will hope to build on their performance in last night’s game to get revenge for a 5-1 loss to the Kings a week ago.