If the game in Quebec left a sour taste in the mouth of fans for the lack of action and veteran effort, tonight was the antithesis as the game was action-packed from start to finish. Montreal made a multi-goal comeback, six goals were scored, and the goaltenders were forced to make some important saves, mostly at the Washington end. Montreal dressed another half-roster, but this time the vets came to play, and a few kids were present to make a solid first impression to Claude Julien.
The game started the same way it did in Quebec as the Canadiens paraded themselves to the penalty box with alarming regularity. Ten minutes into the game, Washington was already headed to a third man advantage, having capitalized on both previous chances. On the first Washington goal, returnee Mark Streit looked very much like a 39-year-old veteran playing in his first exhibition game. He was caught flat-footed, allowing Evgeny Kuznetsov to easily access Price and tuck one home. Streit was replaced with Brandon Davidson next to Jordie Benn for the second penalty kill and the result was similar as Davidson lost a foot race to the same Kuznetsov who scored his second. Shea Weber would take his regular spot next to Benn for the rest of the evening when shorthanded. Once the sequence of penalties had concluded, Montreal got their own opportunities, but couldn’t capitalize. Artturi Lehkonen was all over the ice creating some space for his linemates this period, while Victor Mete and Daniel Carr also played solid periods. Streit and Nikita Scherbak struggled, while Charles Hudon was in the right spots on the ice, but was far too easily knocked off the puck.
Hudon was determined to stay on the puck for the rest of the night as he came out flying in the second. To start the period, Jakub Jerabek showed off some mobility in creating an excellent pass option for Hudon. Jerabek then delivered the puck to Mete who found a streaking Hudon in the high slot for a slick looking power play marker a minute into the second period. Hudon would continue his solid play on the second man advantage of the period as he dangled a Capital defender only to ring one off the iron before taking a rather stupid penalty. Montreal would get another power play opportunity after the Hudon bench minor, and this time the top line went to work. Drouin scorched a clapper off the post before starting another pretty play as Max Pacioretty completed a tic-tac-toe with Drouin and Ales Hemsky. On the whole, Hudon really dominated this period, even after his penalty; Carr also looked dangerous all period long with some desperation on the forecheck. On the other side of the puck, Davidson had a rough period, losing puck battles and foot races all over the ice.
The third period looked much like the second in that Montreal controlled most of the play. The exception appeared to be the Davidson-Benn duo who couldn’t keep the Capitals out of their zone. It eventually cost the Habs the game as a point shot found its way into the net with former Canadien Devante Smith-Pelly getting credit on the redirection. The Habs pressured late, creating a series of excellent scoring opportunities, none better than a feed that found Streit alone in the red zone, but the defender chose to try a low-percentage pass which failed. In the end, Tom Wilson found the empty net. Amongst the many positive notes for this period (and game) was the continued puck-hounding by Carr, the solid decision-making ability of Mete, even in such desperate situations late in the game. Mete was a stand-out on the blueline on this night. He might not make the team, but he definitely created a situation where the coaching staff will want to see him again, maybe even numerous times before camp expires. If he continues to play like he did tonight, who knows, perhaps a nine-game regular season sample is in order.
Observations on the Night
1: Dangerous Powerplay
Nothing happened on Tuesday night’s man-advantage attempts but tonight was a completely different story. Drouin is as advertised here as he kept his legs in motion and opened the ice. This is superb in that it created a variety of options in addition to the Weber blast from the point. Add to Drouin a D-corps who looked far superior, and by this, I mean that all four of Weber, Streit, Mete, and Jerabek outplayed all four of Petry, Alzner, Morrow, and Gélinas. The outcome was the buzzing of the Montreal PP all night as they would eventually deliver both Montreal goals on a 2/9 night.
2: Hemsky and Streit Conundrum
Both Hemsky and Streit looked incredibly dangerous on the aforementioned man advantage. Unfortunately, both looked risky at times when playing at even strength. Streit was caught completely flat-footed on the first Kuznetsov marker, and Hemsky was guilty of some bad turnovers in the offensive zone, not to be outdone by his amateur looking giveaway in the neutral zone that led to a Washington 3-on-1. Both are veteran players, and both looked slightly better as the game wore on, but there should be some concern as they face opposition that isn’t quite at the NHL level. Both displayed some nice hands and game awareness, but at what point does one consider their defensive liabilities as too much to handle as the trade-off for their offensive prowess? It wasn’t consistent enough to merit costing ice time, but it is something to keep an eye on as camp moves forward and competition increases.
3: Wingers on the Draw
By now, this topic has become widespread around the NHL, but can they drop the puck already? The desire to curb the cheating on the draw is understandable and a great idea, but sitting and watching grown men twitch as the centres get kicked out three times in a row on a faceoff in the neutral zone is as boring as it gets. If it’s an obvious infraction, call it immediately and move on. It’s hard to watch the linesmen sitting on the puck, waiting for someone to twitch, just so he can make a point about the new enforcement of the old rule. At this pace, wingers will be taking more draws than the appointed pivots by the time the season is over.
4: Internal Competition
The Hudon-Plekanec-Lehkonen line has been the best line since the beginning of camp. Tonight, they were the best on both teams. The positioning of all three players appears to be so effortlessly flawless that they consistently hemmed the opposition in their zone, forced many turnovers, while they created numerous scoring chances. The Galchenyuk-Danault-Gallagher line better wake up before the end of camp if they don’t want to end up with third line minutes to start the season. A personal note on this one: Artturi Lehkonen has really grown on me. It appears that he makes anyone he plays with look good. I still don’t completely understand why he’s not in the “top-six” on the team, he’s so smart and consistently dangerous.