The Montreal Canadiens had a bit of time to recover from a high-energy first game of the season, one in which they took the Stanley Cup favourite Toronto Maple Leafs to overtime to claim a point. With nearly five days off between Saturday night’s contest and Thursday’s home opener, they could afford to leave everything on the ice in search of a first victory.
At the opening drop of the puck, it was the Pittsburgh Penguins who had the most jump, immediately going on the attack, but not beating Carey Price for an early goal to get the crowd engaged.
With the early flurry dealt with, the Canadiens’ defence was able to exhibit more of its two-way ability, and once again it was Mikey Reilly who stood out from the pack. He carried the puck not only out of his zone, but into the Penguins end on at least two occasions in the opening period.
The assertiveness was seen throughout the lineup, and while the active defence helped the Canadiens match their oppenent early on, it was the work of the forwards that earned the visitors the success they enjoyed on the night.
As the Penguins tried to flip the puck up the ice to exit the zone 11 minutes in, Phillip Danault halted the transition in the neutral zone, and Brendan Gallagher swooped in to bat the puck to Tomas Tatar. The former Golden Knight sped back into the end with Gallagher racing to catch up. Tatar’s shot deflected off a defender in front, but went right to the onrushing Gallagher, who had only to knock it into an empty net for his first of the season.
Less than five minutes later, the Canadiens took advantage of a turnover again, this time with Paul Byron in the starring role. A long pass from the Penguins’ end missed the target, instead landing on Jeff Petry’s stick. He quickly returned it back up ice, where a deft touch from Artturi Lehkonen put it on the stick of Byron. Despite starting off even with several defenders, the speedster quickly raced away from any potential coverage, deked Matt Murray to his backhand side, and then pulled the puck back around to his forehand to deposit the 2-0 goal.
Early in the second period, it was Byron once again finishing off the play. This time it was Max Domi’s work ethic that created the chance, as he chased down a dump-in behind the net and quickly got it to Lehkonen. The Finn again quickly diverted the puck to Byron, but the shot was stopped by Matt Murray. Domi was still below the goal line to collect the rebound, worked his was out of the clutches of his check to free the puck, then lunged to sweep it back onto the stick of Byron, and the two-time 20-goal-scorer wasn’t about to miss a second consecutive chance from point-blank range.
From that point, the Penguins began to take over the flow of the game. Holding possession of the puck and needing a goal, they quickly earned a power-play chance to put one of the league’s top man-advantage units to work. While the Penguins had three shots on target, Price got in the way of each of them to preserve the lead.
Undeterred, the Penguins kept their level up and earned another power play minutes later as Jesperi Kotkaniemi headed to the box for a second time on the night. It was the last chance the Penguins had with the extra man, and it ended with their five-on-four unit finishing the night as a minus-one.
Jeff Petry recognized that the Penguins were shutting off the walls, and therefore decided to hit an open Joel Armia in the zone for the clear. But the Penguins were too deep, and there was only one defender left between the puck and Murray at the opposite end, and a rush was launched. Armia smartly relayed the puck to Byron to let him accelerate through the neutral zone, and got to work getting up to speed to follow. Armia was half a step ahead of Evgeni Malkin when he got to the net, and simply had to chop Byron’s pass past Murray to score his first goal with his new team.
A shutout wasn’t to be for Price. A deflected shot with three minutes to go in the second period allowed a rebound to fall right in front of the net, Victor Mete took the body of Riley Sheahan but not his stick, and that allowed the forward to tap the puck into the net to put the home side on the board.
Despite still being up by three goals, the Canadiens were able to trade shots with the Penguins in the third period. Midway through, a quick wraparound from Charles Hudon caught Murray unaware, as the puck was tucked just inside the post to make it a 5-1 game, and that is how Saturday’s contest ended.
- The Canadiens have faced the teams that finished tied for third in goals last season in their first two games of the season, and Carey Price currently sits 17th in save percentage and the team has a goals-against average of just under 2.00. It’s not quite the elite territory previously occupied, but it’s an encouraging start to the season for a goaltender and defence who were near the bottom of their respective lists one year ago.
- While we’re talking about two games’ worth of results, might as well enjoy this for a bit as well:
- Knowing there was a lengthy break before the next game, Claude Julien used a short bench, with Matthew Peca and Charles Hudon seeing little time, while Danault, Gallagher, and Lehkonen approached 20 minutes. Coaches don’t like to mess with their winning lineups, but we may see a fourth line with a few of last night’s scratches when the Canadiens step onto the ice for the home opener versus the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.