Rolling into the second game of the pre-season, the Montreal Canadiens trotted out their second lineup iteration. The newly acquired Max Domi made his debut in a Canadiens uniform, lining up alongside fellow debutant Joel Armia and Jonathan Drouin. Also debuting was Nick Suzuki, who came to Montreal in the Max Pacioretty trade.
The Florida Panthers rolled out what will be very close to their opening-night roster, including Roberto Luongo between the pipes. Opposite him was Carey Price, who would split half the game with Antti Niemi.
Despite the Canadiens facing a far more experienced roster, they held their ground early on, keeping the puck in the Panthers’ zone to start the game.
A failed dump-in turned into an immediate odd-man rush the other way for the Panthers however, and with Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn outnumbered, the puck found the back of the net. A slick pass from new captain Aleksander Barkov led to Evgenii Dadonov roofing the puck past a sprawling Carey Price to give the Panthers an early 1-0 lead.
The Canadiens pushed back following the goal, with good looks coming from Paul Byron and Max Domi nearly undressing Mike Matheson with his puck skills, but an Alexandre Grenier penalty sent them to the penalty kill instead. A promising start by the duo of Paul Byron and Armia killed off a small chunk of the power play, but with a delayed call coming, Dadonov buried his second of the game.
Florida handed Montreal their chance to pull back into the game, with a Panthers player tripping up Josh Brook as he went to carry the puck out of his own zone. The power play bore fruit for Montreal as well, with Matthew Peca grabbing a pass from Mikey Reilly and bouncing the puck off of several Florida defenders and past Luongo to cut the lead in half.
Matthew Peca: Big fan of The Who's "Pinball Wizard" with this goal pic.twitter.com/Wj2KvRt8oY— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) September 20, 2018
It remained a 2-1 scoreline heading into the intermission, with the Panthers taking an 11-5 shot advantage as well. For a group made mostly of prospects and AHL players, the Canadiens seemed to keep pace well with the Panthers, which bodes well for Claude Julien’s group overall.
Florida continued their own parade to the penalty box to start the second period, with Mike Hoffman being called for goaltender interference. While the Habs did not convert on that man advantage, right after the power play ended, Will Bitten used his excellent speed to create a pair of great scoring chances.
An interference call on Mark Pysyk was wiped out by Domi taking an interference penalty of his own. The ensuing four-on-four situation opened up the ice, with Jordie Benn delivering a crushing neutral-zone check that led to a Byron breakaway chance being denied, and Drouin picking off an errant pass and forcing the Panthers netminder to make a great save in tight.
Luongo would not be the only goalie making incredible saves in the period, as Price channeled that peak form fans have come to know. With the Panthers circling on the power play, a pass found the stick of Hoffman, and the star sniper had a wide-open net, but Price slid across and robbed him with a diving glove save.
Antti Niemi held the fort after coming in just past the midway point of the period, and Montreal entered the third period still down by a goal.
The third held promise for Montreal for about two minutes. After Peca drew a call with his speed, the Canadiens again headed to the power play. Domi put an end to that however, engaging in a shoving battle with Aaron Ekblad and ended up face to face with the Panthers defender. Despite Ekblad clearly having zero interest in fighting, Domi dropped his gloves and threw a blind sucker punch at Ekblad that dropped him while also drawing blood.
For his lapse in judgment, Domi was given two minutes for roughing, five for fighting, a match penalty, and a phone call from the Department of Player Safety.
Battling a massive penalty while trailing, the Canadiens went to work and shut down the Panthers’ man advantage almost entirely. Very few dangerous shots made it through to Niemi, who turned those away with ease. With the puck on their sticks the Canadiens penalty-killers spent far more time in the Florida zone than the Panthers did in the Canadiens’. Prime chances from a resilient Bitten and the steady Jeff Petry highlighted an incredible special-teams series, and they received a raucous ovation from the Bell Centre fans.
After an unexpected Byron and Jonathan Huberdeau fight, the Habs had a late power play with a major chance to knot the game up. Unfortunately, two quick goals by Jared McCann on Niemi gave the Panthers a lead they likely should have had far sooner in this contest.
After another scrum, this time involving Brett Lernout and Maxim Mamin, the Canadiens found another goal. Peca chipped the puck past the Panthers defence and he flew down the wing, creating a two-on-one with Nikita Scherbak. A silky smooth pass to the net let Scherbak tap it in past Michael Hutchinson and cut the Florida lead.
An incredible effort by Matthew Peca leads to him setting up Nikita Scherbak's first goal of the preseason. pic.twitter.com/gmOOUXFZ75— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) September 20, 2018
It would be too little too late for the Habs, as an empty-net goal sealed the game for a Florida Panthers victory.
- For a game against an NHL-ready roster, the Habs’ young stars acquitted themselves incredibly well. Will Bitten and Josh Brook in particular looked outstanding, and while they might not crack the roster this year or be the first call up, they’re showing the coaching staff that they can play.
- In that same vein, the play of AHL veterans Kenny Agostino and Michael Chaput in the prior game paint a very bright portrait for the Laval Rocket this year.
- Matthew Peca has made this team as far as I’m concerned. He’s been fantastic every time I’ve watched him, and with his skill set he’s a major asset for the Canadiens.