The Habs were back on the ice on Thursday for their third preseason contest as they completed their set against the Panthers. Claude Julien once again dressed a rather long list of veterans for the contest as Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi, Artturi Lehkonen, Paul Byron, Jordan Weal, Nate Thompson, Dale Weise, Victor Mete, Shea Weber, Brett Kulak, and Carey Price were all in uniform. They were surrounded by Xavier Ouellet, Maxim Lamarche, Alexandre Alain, Alex Belzile, Lukas Vejdemo, Phil Varone, Josh Brook, Keith Kinkaid, and Nick Suzuki. Brook and Suzuki were without a doubt the names to keep an eye on during this contest. Suzuki was a stand-out as were many other Habs. The Habs really controlled this game from start to finish despite the need for a shootout before they could claim victory by a 5-4 score.
The Habs came out flying as they opened the scoring at the one-minute mark. Weal went wide on Anton Stralman before releasing a rather weak backhand that squeaked by goaltender Samuel Montembeault short side.
On the next shift, Suzuki was held entering the offensive zone and the first penalty was called. The power play did not capitalize, but the Panthers did not either on their chance when Dale Weise took a rather dumb charging penalty in the offensive zone.
After another failed Habs man advantage, the Panthers tied the game when Varone got caught deep in the offensive zone as the third man. The result was a 3-on-2 that should have been harmless but Price slid way too far and couldn’t recover before Owen Tippett took advantage of the opening to tie the game. The rest of the period was all Habs, but they couldn’t regain the lead though they ended the period with a 13-6 shot advantage.
The second period saw the offence fire up on both sides. 90 seconds into the period, Lamarche coughed up the puck at his defensive blueline which opened the door to Anthony Greco who broke in alone and tucked the puck five-hole on Price. One minute later, a sloppy line change led to yet another break as this time it was Jonathan Ang who slipped one five-hole on Price.
This was just about the end of the Florida offence in the second as the Habs took over from here and never looked back in the period. Gallagher started the response when he capitalized on a nice pass from Lehkonen to the slot. Kulak tied the game seven minutes later when Suzuki found him with a gorgeous pass to the slot after Weal took a hit to create this opening for Suzuki. A few moments later, Lehkonen won a race and immediately fired towards Gallagher in front of the net as the latter simply had to deflect the puck home as the Habs ended the period with a 4-3 lead and a 27-9 shot advantage.
The third period started without Byron who was taken out of the game as a precaution. Julien opted to double-shift Alex Belzile who was offering a second honest effort in as many nights. This usage may have been a bit much as Belzile took a penalty on his second shift of the period.
The Habs killed this but couldn’t do it a second time when Domi was guilty of a high stick near the midway point of the period. On the power play, Vincent Trocheck took advantage of Ouellet playing the puck instead of covering his man. Trocheck, therefore, found a wide-open Brett Connolly next to Price who easily tapped home the tying goal. Montreal returned to complete domination in the second half of the period but they could not capitalize which meant overtime despite an overall shot advantage of 43-17.
The Habs continued their absolute domination at 3-on-3, but many chances were missed as the period ended with only a 3-1 shot advantage though it seemed like a 12-1 shot advantage to all fans watching.
In the shootout, Trocheck scored while Frank Vatrano was stopped by Price. This mattered little though as all three of Suzuki, Weal, and Varone scored to secure the Habs perfect pre-season record. Of note before going into the three stars, Alex Belzile and Brett Kulak both played excellent games and easily could have figured in tonight’s three stars for the Habs.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Brendan Gallagher
Gallagher took the first period to get ready for the season, and then we saw what we always see from the diminutive forward. His effort was through the roof and his play was controlled chaos all over the ice. He seems to make everyone around him better all the time, and this was no exception as Lehkonen looked like a player who could score 70+ points playing next to Gallagher. Gallagher finished off two nice passes from Lehkonen to contribute for his team.
Stats: 2 goals, +2, 6 shots, 1 hit, 18:01 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Nick Suzuki
Much like Ryan Poehling and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, I find that Suzuki can be invisible for long stretches of play. This is important because it means that even when not scoring, all three of the youngsters are solid enough to not be getting noticed for negative reasons. All three also have enough skill that they don’t require five chances to present themselves before they finish the plays. If Suzuki created questions around his readiness to be in the NHL this season in his first preseason game, he showed some very interesting aptitudes in this contest. It will be interesting to see how he fares as camp progresses because he certainly earned some serious consideration to start the year in Montreal tonight.
Stats: 2 assists, +3, 4 shots, 3 hits, 18:48 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jordan Weal
Weal looks like a less talented Gallagher. He’s always in the right spot, forechecks his butt off, willing to take hits to make plays for his teammates, and never seems to take a shift off. He was noticeable all night long in this contest and earns the third star of the night.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 18:34 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Artturi Lehkonen
If he continues to be a bit snake-bitten in terms of scoring goals, Lehkonen sure made his mark on this one with his usual excellent forechecking ability while adding some precise passing to Gallagher to set up a couple of goals. Seeing his name on the scoreboard bodes well; here’s hoping he can keep it up when it counts.
Stats: 2 assists, +1, 6 shots, 2 hits, 19:12 T.O.I.