As the Habs took to the ice for their last preseason contest on Saturday night, they iced a roster that is likely to resemble the lineup in Buffalo on Thursday. After committing to a full effort on Friday and quieting the panic a little bit, they came out even stronger in this one and likely put most doubt to rest, at least until next Thursday. Montreal took full control on this night and skated away to a 9-2 victory.
The game started out horribly as Alex Galchenyuk was sent to the penalty box at the opening faceoff. To make matters worse, Kyle Turris buried a rebound from a scramble 15 seconds into the power play. Before the opening minute was over, Brendan Gallagher was stopped on a breakaway, and then the Habs took a second penalty. Karl Alzner was a bit luckier as the Habs would successfully complete the important penalty kill.
The play continued evenly for the rest of the first half of the period. A little after the ten-minute mark, Galchenyuk would accomplish a good fore-check causing a turnover and a good scoring chance. This is noteworthy because it really created momentum for Montreal for the rest of the period. On the third shift in a row spent in the Ottawa zone after the mentioned chance, Jonathan Drouin threw the puck on net and Brendan Gallagher took advantage of a Craig Anderson rebound to tie the game.
Play would quiet down for five minutes after this goal until both teams decided to open the game up to end of the period. Charles Hudon fed Tomas Plekanec but Anderson stood tall. The play immediately went the other way as Turris got a good shot off a cross-ice feed only to get stumped by a sliding Carey Price. Then Phillip Danault won a race to a loose puck to send Galchenyuk in with Shaw, the former burying a goal top-shelf. The line wasn’t done there as Danault found Galchenyuk again. This time, #27 found Shaw in front of the net to put the Habs up by two heading to the locker room just seconds after Galchenyuk’s tally. At the buzzer, Max McCormick charged Victor Mete who was uneventfully allowing the last seconds of the period to expire. It was a cheap shot; Mete defended himself well after the stupidity started and it ultimately got Shea Weber heated for the second period.
The power play was deployed to start the second after McCormick’s garbage play, and it would be compounded by Frederick Claesson taking another penalty in the first minute. On the two-man advantage, Weber would release the shot to give Montreal a 4-1 lead. While Ottawa was busy criticizing the officiating, the Habs would continue to pile-drive the Senators with puck possession as they were everywhere in the Ottawa zone for the entirety of the second period. Included in this total domination was a shot off the post from captain Max Pacioretty.
Ottawa was not completely quiet during the frame as Montreal would take two penalties to keep Price on his toes. The Ottawa power plays were ineffective though, not even good enough to generate any semblance of momentum for the Sens. While Montreal kept the momentum throughout the period, it is worth noting that Ottawa did have four good scoring chances on the twelve or so shots they had on Price over the first 40 minutes of play. The save on Turris (in the first) was likely the best-looking save, but Hoffman’s breakaway being turned away with two minutes to play in the second was the most important save to keep the Habs playing with full confidence heading into the third.
The third period continued in the same direction. Montreal killed a penalty to start the period. Once this was over, Pacioretty would start a tic-tac-toe with Drouin and Gallagher, the latter scoring his second of the night. Not even a minute later, the roles would reverse on what was a carbon-copy of the play as Drouin sent Gallagher streaking, who then found Pacioretty in front of the net to make the score 6-1. The Habs would let up, allowing Mark Stone to escape Jordie Benn coverage close the gap slightly.
Jacob de la Rose would then make his case to start the season in the line-up, scoring the next two goals. He followed up his innocent-looking shot to put home a shorthanded rebound. Then, he would score on a wrist shot from close to the blueline that beat Mike Condon, who was screened by Ales Hemsky on the play. The onslaught would be finalized by none other than Victor Mete. The rookie caused a penalty by beating Jean-Gabriel Pageau through the neutral zone. On the ensuing man-advantage, Gallagher beat Dion Phaneuf to a dump-in, and Mete would support the attack and end up in front of the net, making the score 9-2.
Observations of the Night
The Breakaway Pass
One noticeable change under Claude Julien is the presence of set plays all over the ice. One of those set plays is the frequent use of the breakaway pass. This is an exciting addition to the Habs arsenal, one that will hopefully remain throughout the season, as it appears to be an effective way to exit the zone. Additionally, with the speed of the forwards, even if the pass fails, the forwards are often able to beat the opposing defenders to the puck and negate the icing. This creates a quick transition without allowing teams to set up traps against them. It will be interesting to see how other teams will respond to this and other set plays from the Habs.
A Power Play with Options
While many are disappointed to see Shea Weber shoot less often on the power play, it appears that the presence of Drouin might actually be a very positive change for the Montreal power play. When Drouin sets up on the half-board with three shooting options, it makes the man-advantage that much more dangerous. Once they can establish that they are willing to use all options present, it should open up Weber a bit, and with other shooters like Galchenyuk and Pacioretty, and Hemsky down low, this could quickly become one of the most dangerous PP’s in the entire league.
The list is long here: Drouin-Gallagher-Lehkonen-Shaw-Danault-Byron. What was most remarkable from that list on this night (and increasingly as the preseason has progressed) was their absolute willingness to take the hit to make the play, as well as their refusal to lose puck battles. If that list of players can play like this 4/5 nights, this team will easily be contenders for the Atlantic Division title.
Yes, Mete got hit hard to hit the first. He also scored the ninth goal on the night to end the most magical of preseasons with a cherry on top. His quick and correct decisions with the puck, his excellent defensive reads despite the presence of physical play, his willingness to take a hit to make a play; these are all the qualities that have so quickly endeared him to all fans. There is very little doubt that Mete should start the season in Montreal, with a minimum of a nine-game trial being an extremely deserved reward for his play this September. It will be interesting to see over the next nine games where Mete lines up, how he adapts to real games, and if all of the mentioned qualities remain as the grueling realities of the NHL regular season begin to take their toll on such a diminutive rookie defender. Oh, did I mentioned he finished the game with a +4?