Training camp is in full swing and that means one thing: the return of actual hockey to the masses of fans around the world.
Just a day after their annual Red vs. White Scrimmage, an NHL-heavy lineup took to the ice at the Bell Centre for the Montreal Canadiens. With names like Max Domi, Shea Weber and Carey Price dressing, Montreal was not waiting to jump into their pre-season schedule.
Price was tapped to only play part of the game, but he was facing a much thinner New Jersey side as the Devils were hosting a second game at home, and many of their new additions remained there. Mackenzie Blackwood made the trip for the Devils, splitting his start with Evan Cormier.
It didn’t take long for the Canadiens’ top line and defensive pair in their formation to get their names on the scoresheet. Jonathan Drouin circled through the zone and picked out Shea Weber at the blue line, with a clear shooting lane toward the net. The Montreal captain blasted his shot and it bounced off Artturi Lehkonen for the first goal.
The Devils hung around, keeping pacing with the Canadiens in terms of shots, but their errors were capitalized on by a more NHL-calibre Montreal side. Cale Fleury was the catalyst for the second goal of the period, breaking out of his own end with speed and putting a perfect pass on the stick of Nick Cousins in the neutral zone. Cousins flew into the Devils’ zone and fired a shot that Blackwood played right onto the stick of Nate Thompson, who easily put the errant rebound home.
The second half of the period was a bit sloppier for Montreal in terms of composure and coverage. After taking umbrage with some hits by Brandon Baddock, Domi was sent to the box for two minutes, The Canadiens penalty kill held strong, even with Nico Hischier ripping a shot off the post and Victor Mete nearly putting the loose puck in the net by accident.
It was on a Nick Suzuki tripping penalty that the Devils finally got on the board. Michael McLeod sped through the neutral zone and threw a pass up to Will Butcher, who put a perfect shot over the shoulder of Carey Price to cut the Montreal lead in half.
Charles Hudon and his linemates put together a solid shift to end the period, but Hudon flubbed his open shot in front of the net and the two clubs headed into the intermission with Montreal leading by a goal.
The home side had the early chance in the second period to increase their lead. Drouin’s speed forced Colton White to take a slashing penalty to slow down a breakaway chance. The Montreal power play remained in mid-season form as Drouin almost immediately had a pass blocked by Kevin Rooney, who turned on the jets for a short-handed chance that Price turned away, almost nonchalantly. The remainder of the man advantage failed to produce much else, and the game returned to even strength with the score 2-1 for Montreal.
With half the period gone, the goalies swapped positions for Montreal, as Cayden Primeau took over for Carey Price.
The young netminder was called upon quickly. His first save was highlight-reel worthy as Nico Hischier fed a pass to Blake Coleman on a two-on-one, and Primeau sprawled over and denied Coleman of a goal with a pad save that had even Price impressed.
Primeau’s work wasn’t done as he then faced down a Devils power play, turning away the only shot he faced on the New Jersey man advantage.
It looked like the Devils had tied the game up in the final minutes with a Brandon Gignac goal, but thanks to a Devils player interfering with Primeau, the goal was instantly waved off, preserving the Montreal lead. The two teams headed into the intermission with Montreal still leading by a goal, thanks to the massive saves from Price and Primeau in the second period.
It took just two minutes into the final period for the Devils to tie the game up, and it was due to a major learning moment for Primeau. A dump-in hit a part of the end boards, and with Primeau expecting it to continue around to him it popped out in front of the net. McLeod had an empty net to tuck the puck into.
Montreal continued to push back, but a Xavier Ouellet tripping penalty sent the Devils to another power play, and again called Primeau into action to come up with a big save early on to deny Kyle Palmieri.
With the penalty killed off, the Canadiens resumed their offensive assault, but Cormier denied them on multiple chances in a row, including two massive shots from Ouellet and Hudon to keep it a tied affair.
Another penalty by the Canadiens presented the Devils with a chance to pull the upset in Montreal, this time with Jordan Weal sitting for holding. The Montreal penalty kill continued to stymie the Devils attack, and with Weal’s minor killed off he would draw a penalty of his own when Rooney shoved him head-first into the boards.
With under six minutes left, Montreal had a chance of their own to work out the power-play kinks and break the deadlock. A tussle in front of the Devils’ net resulted in Domi being sent to the box for a second time in the game, cancelling out the Montreal advantage.
However the abbreviated Devils power play proved their undoing, with a short-handed goal giving the Canadiens a late lead. Jake Evans battled through the New Jeresy attack at center ice, spinning away into a short-handed breakaway to roof a shot by Cormier for a Montreal lead.
Nick Cousins added an empty-netter to seal the game and give Montreal a great start to their pre-season slate
Next up on the docket are the suddenly restocked Florida Panthers on the 18th, a big test for the next portion of Montreal’s lineup.