Coming off a loss on Saturday night to the Ottawa Senators, the Montreal Canadiens squared off with a foe from Western Canada, the Calgary Flames. Much like Montreal, the Flames have a host of young talent, insulated by some solid veterans throughout their lineup. It was set up to be an intriguing early-season showdown between two teams who want to prove that last year was an outlier.
David Rittich got the start between the pipes for Calgary, hoping to replicate the result of his previous outing: a 44-save win over the New York Rangers. Carey Price was seeking a win, which would tie him with Patrick Roy on the franchise all-time list.
A few lineup changes for Montreal also came down at morning skate, with Victor Mete shifting to the right side on defence, and Karl Alzner being a healthy scratch.
After appearing a bit sluggish on Saturday, the Canadiens came out in the first period flying, even with a pair of penalties mixed into the opening 20 minutes. With Jeff Petry sitting, the Montreal penalty-killers kept the dangerous Johnny Gaudreau and company to the outside, and didn’t allow any truly good looks on net.
At even strength the Canadiens’ speed game began to shine once again. Paul Byron, Joel Armia, and Artturi Lehkonen all had prime chances, but sharp goaltending from Rittich kept the teams level for most of the opening period.
Calgary was the team to break the deadlock with a scramble around the Canadiens’ net. The puck popped onto the stick of Matthew Tkachuk and it found its way behind Price. The goal was later credited to Michael Frolik, but the result was the same: the Canadiens were down a goal late in the period.
A last-second penalty on Frolik gave Montreal a great chance to tie it up early in period two. The second was similar to the first frame in many ways, Montreal dominated the flow of play, and piled up shots on Rittich as Calgary bumbled their way out of the gate. Fortunately for the Flames, the Canadiens’ power play couldn’t buy a goal if it was on sale at a Wegmans to start the period. But that would soon turn.
T.J. Brodie, furious about a Jonathan Drouin hit at the red line, turned and buried the Canadiens forward with an illegal hit that sent Montreal to another power play. This time, some solid interplay between Max Domi and Drouin got the puck to Jeff Petry, who has slid up to the faceoff circle for a shot. Drouin fed the puck over and Petry blistered one short side on Rittich to tie the game up.
Petry wasn’t finished there either. He was right back out on the ice after his power-play goal, and his timely change forced the Flames to take yet another penalty late in the period, with the same disastrous results. Petry collected another pass from Max Domi and worked his way toward the faceoff circle. From there he fired a laser-guided pass right to the stick of Brendan Gallagher, and he had only to give the puck a slight tap to put the Canadiens in the lead with under three minutes remaining.
The new-look Canadiens weren’t done there either, with the team adding one more goal before the end of the second. Xavier Ouellet pounced on a loose puck to keep the play alive at the blue line and dished off to Drouin. The Canadiens forward worked in toward Rittich and beat the netminder clean to put an exclamation point on a dominant second period.
After two periods of unrelenting, merciless pressure from the Montreal offence, the team sat back a bit in the final 20 minutes. What resulted was a stellar showing from the Canadiens’ netminder before the final whistle blew. The Flames did manage to draw a goal back late in the period when miscommunication between the defence and backchecking forwards caused a scramble and Elias Lindholm walked in and netted his sixth goal of the year.
After that goal it was the Carey Price show as the goalie doused the Flames’ offence in the dying minutes of the period, including a desperation leg save that sent the puck trickling out of the crease and wide of the net.
On a night when he tied Patrick Roy’s number of wins as a Canadiens goalie, Price was the biggest player on the ice for his team. Much was made about struggles, and living up to the mega contract he signed, but against Calgary it was Price who put the final nail in the Flames’ coffin.
The offence piled it on early, and Price steered the Canadiens the rest of the way home; a perfect recipe for a team win. There are a few spots to tighten up and improve on as always, but once again this new-look Canadiens team caught the Flames by surprise and overwhelmed them.
Falling behind to a team with Carey Price in net is a formula for disaster, especially when he plays like he did last night.