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Stop the presses! The Habs beat the Panthers 3-1! The panic is now over!  (Well, maybe…)

In this first game of the back-to-back to end the preseason, what was on display on Friday night was desperation for the bleu-blanc-rouge. The players on the ice understood that this was, for many, their last chance to impress before the games start counting. The play was therefore executed with speed and intensity both on the puck, and in positioning. The outcome was favourable and the effort sufficient to allow fans everywhere to take a deep breath and remember that these are still meaningless games.

Montreal came out and decidedly controlled the opening ten minutes. Despite this solid effort, it was a frustrating ten minutes to watch as the forwards seemed content to skate on the outside of the Florida zone. This lack of aggressiveness towards the net meant that not many scoring chances were created despite the zone time. The Canadiens continued to skate hard, and they finally got on the board moments after an inoffensive power play. Andrew Shaw worked a give-and-go with Philip Danault at the offensive blue line before finding Paul Byron crashing the net who deflected the puck past Roberto Luongo.

Strangely, the goal seemed to spark the Panthers who started skating and took control of the rest of the period. Charlie Lindgren looked sharp in the Habs net, but with three minutes left in the period, the same line that scored the goal got caught defensively. Evgenii Dadonov broke through in the neutral zone and while on a partial breakaway, Jeff Petry pushed him into Lindgren with the puck making its way in the goal. There is little doubt that Petry deserved a penalty, but it’s hard to imagine how a save could be possible while being hammered into one’s own net. It was a strange call, but the game was tied from the play. Overall, Lindgren was a bright point this period, as was the Danault, Byron, and Shaw line. Jakub Jerabek had a few soft plays in the defensive end, but his decisions with the puck were much improved.

The second period started out quite slowly as both teams appeared content to play a neutral zone chess match with little scoring chances being generated. Half-way through the period, Danault was charged for a minor penalty. Artturi Lehkonen, Tomas Plekanec, Jordie Benn, and Karl Alzner went to work effectively killing the penalty. Andreas Martinsen and Byron seized an opportunity while killing this same penalty and found themselves with an odd-man rush. Martinsen attracted the defender enough to feed the streaking Byron who was now alone as the diminutive forward slipped the puck five-hole on Luongo to restore the lead for the Canadiens. In addition to the go-ahead goal, this was Byron’s second on the night, his first short-handed of the pre-season.

With the outcome of the first penalty being so positive, Danault decided that he would try it again. This time off for holding, the penalty would prove to be nothing else than an opportunity for Lindgren to shine. Montreal would also get a power play that didn’t amount to much before the end of the period. Jerabek continued to make solid decisions with the puck over this period, while also making some good defensive plays. After a rather solid first period, Alex Galchenyuk fell into the same type of play he’s made all preseason, making bad blind passes and lazy defensive zone coverages. Admittedly a considerable fan of the potential that Galchenyuk represents, it’s getting hard, even for me, to defend his play this preseason.

The Habs would come out flying in the third as they seemed to be winning races for loose pucks all over the ice. On one of those won races, Benn fired a pass up the ice and found Shaw on the far blue line. With a defender on his heels, Shaw opted for the simple backhand but placed it well enough to beat Luongo and extend the Montreal lead. While the Habs were busy defending that lead, it was possible to get a better look at some important defenders. Jerabek played excellent defensively, Brandon Davidson made some strong plays to exit the zone safely, and Victor Mete continued to display himself as the biggest surprise in this year’s preseason.

A few moments after the halfway point of the period, Martinsen caught Vincent Trocheck with his head down and hammered him into the board. What ensued is easily the dumbest play in all professional sports as a clean hit “has to be answered and accounted for”. The Panthers, for some ridiculous reason, took exception to Martinsen’s clean hit. At least the officials got the call right and Montreal was on the man advantage when all was said and done. Mete, Artturi Lehkonen, and Charles Hudon controlled the play well and provided Petry with an open cage that he would somehow miss. The Panthers would completely lose their cool and essentially looked like fools “gooning” it up for most of the last five minutes of the game; their first loss this preseason.

Good, Bad, and Random Thoughts

Good: Solid Blue Line

This really had to be Brandon Davidson’s last chance, right? Well, at least he played a decent game this evening while paired with Jakub Jerabek. Jerabek showed some excellent puck-moving skills on the evening and even played solidly in his own zone. He still tends to be slightly soft when playing without the puck, but he’s learning and likely needs time to adjust. Benn easily played his best game of the pre-season, same goes for both Karl Alzner and Jeff Petry. The sixth defender on the night was Victor Mete, playing his first game without Shea Weber. Mete continued to show great speed, decision-making and an uncanny understanding of when to take risks to help his forwards in the offensive game. It seems absolutely impossible at this stage that Mete starts the season anywhere other than Montreal.

Bad: Where Will He Play?

This question since the beginning of camp has been what to do with Alex Galchenyuk. While more combative and creative in his last two contests, Galchenyuk remains guilty of some ugly looking turn-overs trying to be way too cute with the puck in the offensive zone. While his play would warrant a look with more skilled players (judging by overall talent and effort level), how can the coach really justify giving Galchenyuk such an occasion when all other forwards have found a line that seems to function?

The Pacioretty-Drouin-Gallagher line looked in control of the play during their last game. The Hudon-Plekanec-Lehkonen line has likely been the best for Montreal throughout camp. And now tonight, Byron-Danault-Shaw played a heck of a game together, suggesting that Galchenyuk could be starting the season on the fourth line. Unfortunately, this is not a good spot for the player who needs to understand that he’s a trigger-man and not a playmaker. The only saving grace might be that Ales Hemsky finds himself in the same predicament. Perhaps playing them together with a defensively responsible centre (likely Torrey Mitchell) would be the solution for both Galchenyuk and Hemsky to be useful in the line-up?

Thoughts: What was the point of signing Montoya?

Charlie Lindgren should be in Montreal. For the better part of last season, he carried the IceCaps. He’s also outplayed Al Montoya for two training camps now. This year, the competition between the two hasn’t even been close. Management will likely send Lindgren to Laval, using the excuse that they want him in game shape should a severe injury occur to Price. Here’s where I don’t agree with this decision: Carey Price is signed for another nine years, Lindgren wants a chance to play at this level. If they always keep him in Laval “in case”, he’ll eventually leave with the Habs getting nothing in return. Over the last few seasons, a few select goaltenders have been traded at a decent price if other teams truly believe there’s a chance to be a number one (Darling, Talbot, Raanta). Lindgren has that type of potential, but will never garner that interest while playing in Laval. With Michael McNiven likely in Brampton, it’s not like the system is bare even after Lindgren. Why not give Lindgren 20-25 games this season, raise his value across the league, rest Price for the playoffs, and then acquire assets for a netminder that the organization is never going to use as a full-time starter? Instead, fans will be treated to 15 games of Al Montoya hoping that the forwards can score enough goals to save the below average goaltending.