Canadiens vs Devils - Preseason Game 1
It might only have been a preseason game but it felt like real hockey at long last. Of course there was some rust but at least, players were trying their hardest to win and there were plenty of hits unlike what we're treated to in the off season. Last night, the Canadiens put out a pretty good line-up for what was their initial preseason game and I must admit I wasn't expecting to see some of these guys start so early in training camp:
Meanwhile, the Devils sent a bit of a weaker side to Montreal with most of their big guns taking on the Bruins on the same night. There was no PK Subban, no Jack Hughes and no Taylor Hall but Kyle Pamieri, Nico Hischer and Damon Severson were there. While one might have though this would have been an easy game for the Habs it was anything but. Thing is that when a team ices a lot of youngsters, they all have something to prove and they work hard to do it. While the Canadiens took an early 2-0 lead, the Devils came back roaring to eventually tie things up and it wasn't until late in the 3rd that the Habs managed to break the deadlock on a shorthanded breakaway goal by Jake Even and it was a beauty! Nick Cousins wrapped things up in an empty net for his second point of the night and the final score was 4-2 Habs but that doesn't reflect how much of a battle it was.
If you expected the newly formed line of Drouin-Domi-Lehkonen to dictate play well, it just didn't happen. They were on the ice for the first goal of the game, a Weber rocket which was tipped by Lehkonen but aside from that, there chances were few and far between. In fact, what I really noticed from that line was that Domi takes the preseason as seriously as the season, getting himself a 2 minutes penalty for roughing on Brandon Baddock after hitting him far from the action. If you do something that Domi doesn't like, you can bet he will take your number and get back to you later. As for Drouin, he was put at the point on the power play and I must say he wasn't exactly impressive. Although to be fair, this wasn't the real power play line-up but still there were flashes of last season's Drouin when there appeared to be somewhat of a lack of effort.
Surprisingly, the forward who saw the most ice time last night was Nick Suzuki. Deployed at centre he was flanked by Charles Hudon and Jordan Weal and Claude Julien had no issues with using him in all circumstances; even strength, power play, penalty kill, you name it, he did it! While Gaston Gingras on RDS thinks he wasn't good enough, I personally liked what I saw. He made good decisions all evening and you could see that he reads the game rather well. Sure, he doesn't have explosive speed but he makes up for it with his hockey smarts in my book. As for his wingers well, Hudon was trying hard, really hard...maybe even too hard. It's obvious to everyone, and especially for him, that he's probably up to his last opportunity to make the team and actually play and it looked like that made him rather nervous. There were some missed shots, some bad attempts to break out of his own zone and he can be thankful that there will be more games in this training camp. As for Weal, he played a solid and efficient game. He's not spectacular and you cannot expect to be wowed but he is reliable, you know what you're getting with him.
On the blue line, Cale Fleury and impressed last night. He even got himself the 2nd star of the game on the back of a one assist and 4 hits game in which he seemed to be everywhere. Shea Weber spent over 20 minutes on the ice over 5 of which were on the penalty kill and he looked good out there, nothing like end of season tired Weber (which is rather good news for the Habs). He got himself an assist on the first goal and had a +3 rating at the end of the evening. The pairing of Kulak and Brook didn't look bad out there, nothing to write home about though and with the news that Juulsen is getting a second opinion on the headaches he's suffering from, there might just be a spot up for grabs on the third pairing alongside said Kulak.
In net, Carey Price looked ready and his puck tracking was great but it's actually the other CP, Cayden Primeau who stole the show. He was in net from the mid-way point of the game and boy did he manage to get the crowd in his back pocket! On a couple of occasions he made spectacular saves and the crowd started to chant "Primeau, Primeau, Primeau" spontaneously. Even Carey Price was impressed:
It's also worth mentioning that the only goal he gave up came from a freak bounce on the boards and that he saved 10 of 11 shots for a save percentage of .941%. Quite a good night at the office for the youngster.
The Canadiens will play the Florida Panthers in Renous New Brunswick tomorrow as part of he Kraft Hockeyville festivities and according to Chantal Machabée, this is the line-up that we should expect:
Tatar – Danault – Drouin;
Hudon – Kotkaniemi – Armia;
Cousins – Poehling – Barber;
Peca – Vejdemo – Belzile;
Chiarot – Petry;
Reilly – Folin;
Leskinen - Fleury;
Interesting to see Drouin out there alongside Tatar and Danault but hey, that's what training camp is about, experiences! I'll be back tomorrow with my thoughts on the game after the final horn.