The Habs were looking to spoil their second home opener of the season on Sunday night as they took on Ottawa. They were able to do that on the backs of Tomas Plekanec and Mike Condon as the Canadiens improved to 3-0 with a 3-1 victory.
Montreal made one lineup change from Saturday night’s victory over the Bruins as Condon made his NHL debut, giving Carey Price the night off. Recent waiver claim and Ottawa native Paul Byron was expected to play but Michel Therrien noted before the game that it wouldn’t have been right to pull any of the fourth liners out of the lineup as he liked how they played in Boston.
Opposing Condon in his NHL debut was rookie Matt O’Connor, who was also making his NHL debut.
The Habs put the early pressure on O’Connor, generating four shots on goal in the first 2:25 of the game but the youngster was up to the task. At the other end, Montreal’s defence seemed to be making a bit of an extra effort to stop pucks from getting through to Condon who wasn’t tested much early on.
Plekanec opened up the scoring on a goal that O’Connor would love to have back. He shot from the side of the goal from a very difficult angle but it somehow beat the Ottawa goalie short side. Later in the period, Plekanec tallied a much nicer looking goal, taking away the puck at his own blueline and beating O’Connor on a breakaway to give the visitors a 2-0 lead through 20 minutes. Shots on goal were 15-6 for the Canadiens.
The second period started out in a similar fashion for Montreal who controlled the play early but this time, they weren’t rewarded for their efforts. Instead, they received some power plays. For most teams, this would be a good thing. The Habs are not like most teams though.
With Marc Methot in the box for roughing, P.K. Subban turned the puck over near the blueline in the offensive zone, setting up an Ottawa 2-on-1. Jean-Gabriel Pageau took the puck, kept it, and trickled one past Condon. Meanwhile, Subban couldn’t have shown any less interest or any less hustle while he meandered back in the general direction of the defensive zone while the play was going on. I don’t think Subban would have caught Pageau, but some effort would have been nice.
Montreal’s nonchalance with the man advantage continued even after the goal. They picked up a two man advantage less than 30 seconds after the Pageau tally, didn’t score on the 5-on-3, and then Alex Semin didn’t feel like back checking after he gave away the puck during the remaining 5-on-4 and instead hooked Mark Stone. To his credit at least, Semin drew a penalty after coming out of the box but, you guessed it, the Canadiens couldn’t capitalize. The 2-1 score held up until the buzzer to end the second with the shots on goal in the period favouring the Habs by a 9-6 count.
The play was more tentative in the early going of the third but as Ottawa stepped up their offensive aggression, both teams traded some chances. Devante Smith-Pelly helped break up a scoring chance and then in the offensive zone, Brian Flynn was stopped twice in close. The Sens couldn’t clear the puck as it got back to Subban at the point who weakly fired one at the net. Torrey Mitchell got a stick on it and beat O’Connor who barely flinched as the puck went by.
Moments later, Marc Methot hit the post but that was as close as the Sens could get. A late penalty to Mitchell gave them a power play to end the game but Condon was sharp to preserve the 3-1 victory. O’Connor made 31 saves in the loss while Condon turned aside 20 shots. Neither team scored with the man advantage with Ottawa going 0/4 and Montreal an ugly 0/7.
HW Habs 3 Stars of the Night
1st Star: Tomas Plekanec – He wasn’t flashy but Plekanec was very effective. His second goal, the one that turned out to be the winner, was a strong defensive zone read that really gave Montreal control of the game. This was the 23rd multi-goal game of Plekanec’s career.
Stats: 2 goals, +2 rating, 3 shots (8 attempts), 2 giveaways, 2 blocks, 18:34 TOI
2nd Star: Mike Condon – The rookie wasn’t tested a ton but he looked surprisingly calm for most of the night, especially in the last minute with the Sens pressing. He also didn’t hesitate to come out of the net to play the puck and did well doing so which helped in transition.
Stats: 20 saves on 21 shots, 1.00 GAA, .952 SV%
3rd Star: Brian Flynn – He didn’t play much but he made his presence felt. He led all players in shots, had a few good scoring chances, and played a big role in the fourth line having some strong shifts in the offensive end. Not bad after getting roughed up pretty well the night before in Boston.
Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 6 shots, 1 hit, 9:54 TOI
Honourable Mention: Nathan Beaulieu – He had a quiet but effective night. I thought he played a bit safer in his own end than usual and made one particularly strong block that may very well have saved a goal. It’s nights like this that will gradually earn him more ice time.
Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 2 shots, 1 hit, 1 giveaway, 1 takeaway, 2 blocks, 16:24 TOI
Stat of the Night: This marked the first time since October 14th, 1967 that both starting goalies made their NHL debuts in the same game.
Elsewhere Sunday, Montreal’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s was unsuccessful in picking up their second straight win to start the season. Angelo Miceli scored in the back half of the second period to take a 1-1 tie into the final frame but Bridgeport fired five goals past Dustin Tokarski in the third for a 6-1 victory. Brett Lernout picked up his first career pro point with an assist on Miceli’s marker.