The Canadiens continued their preseason schedule with a matchup against the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, featuring a very different lineup from what we saw on Monday night. The lineup saw a number of NHL regulars including Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Joel Armia, Nick Cousins, Ben Chiarot, Jeff Petry, and Christian Folin. Also dressed for the game were team hopefuls: Charles Hudon, Ryan Poehling, Riley Barber, Matthew Peca, Jake Evans, Alex Belzile, Mike Reilly, Otto Leskinen, and Cale Fleury. Charlie Lindgren played the whole game, with Michael McNiven backing up.
Before puck drop, many members of the Renous community were honoured for their hard work and dedication. The New Brunswick town did a wonderful job of hosting this game and made Kraft Hockeyville 2019 very successful. The Renous crowd was treated to a back and forth affair, but in the end, the Habs prevailed 4-3, sending most of the fans home happy.
The Canadiens came flying out of the gate. They were playing with great pace, were winning all the one-on-one battles, and were not giving any space to the Panthers squad. Less than six minutes in, Leskinen started the play in the Habs zone with a long pass to Evans. Evans gained the zone and sent a cross-ice feed through the Panthers’ defence onto the tape of Belzile, who sent a touch pass to a wide-open Peca, who tapped it home. The Habs were finally rewarded for their fast start with a 1-0 lead.
Just over two minutes after the goal, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was sent to the box for slashing, and the Panthers went to work on their first powerplay. Both Panthers units were stymied as the Habs gave them no time or space to make any plays. The powerplay expired with only one scoring chance for the Florida squad.
The teams exchanged chances for most of the period, until the 6:18 mark when Jonathan Drouin was caught for tripping. The ensuing Panthers powerplay went much like the first, with the Canadiens forwards being aggressive, and then falling back when needed. The penalty was killed off, but a tired Chiarot and Fleury were stuck on the ice. An Aaron Ekblad shot from the point was blocked, but the rebound came to a wide-open Evgenii Dadonov, who put it home to tie the game. The goal gave Florida some life, but the Canadiens held on to take the 1-1 tie into the dressing room.
The Habs had their energy back to start the second period and were back to carrying the play. Less than five minutes in, another great shift from Poehling and Barber lead to the puck coming back to Petry at the point, who wound up and fired a shot that went of a stick in front and into the top corner, restoring the Canadiens lead.
The Habs were given their first opportunity on the powerplay eight minutes in when Joel Armia was tripped up. It did not look good at all, and Drouin was ineffective in his position at the top of the blue line. Any chances the Habs had with the powerplay were matched by the shorthanded Panthers.
It was the Canadiens turn to sit in the sin bin when Peca was called for tripping. The third time was the charm for Florida as Mike Hoffman took advantage of blown coverage in the Canadiens zone and fired a one-timer into the top corner of the net.
The line of Cousins, Poehling, and Barber continued to be the Habs best line in the second period. They were applying constant pressure in the offensive zone and generating chances off the cycle. They seemed to be effective on every shift, despite the otherwise choppy play of the second period.
Late in the second, Montreal was given a scare, as Poehling was hit hard into the glass, and left the ice holding his head. The ensuing powerplay was marginally better than the first but still did not generate many high-danger chances. Thankfully, Poehling came back before the end of the period. The teams took a 2-2 tie into the second intermission.
The third period did not start as planned for the Habs, as the Cats were able to take the lead. The Habs started scrambling in their own zone, and nobody was able to pick up Jonathan Huberdeau, who fired the puck past Lindgren.
The Habs had a good response and started to take the play back to the Panthers. Then just passed the halfway point of the third the Habs responded. Petry made a beautiful pass off the boards to Barber. Barber corralled the pass and made a nice move around the defenceman and fired the puck into the back of the net.
Shortly after, Evans was caught for hooking and was sent to the box. The Canadiens dropped back into a very effective box and were able to hold off the Panthers’ offence. Poehling intercepted a cross-ice pass and brought it out to centre. Coming in on the lone Florida defender, he noticed Belzile coming in on the right wing. Poehling was able to pull off a perfect toe drag around the outstretched defender and slid a perfect pass over to Belzile, who tapped it home for the lead.
Before the end of the powerplay, Owen Tippett was in alone but Lindgren was up to the task and made a huge save. He was able to make a couple more big stops before the penalty was over.
With two and a half minutes to go, Hudon drew a penalty with a hard drive to the net. The Habs had some chances on the powerplay but were more concerned with conserving the lead. The Panthers pulled the goalie late, but the Habs were able to hold them off and hang on for the win.
This was another very good game for many of the Habs fourth-line competitors. Impressive performances from the likes of Belzile, Poehling, Peca, Barber, Cousins, and Evans will leave the coaches with many tough decisions to make as training camps move forward.
HabsWorld Habs Three Stars
First Star: Riley Barber
Barber is one of the many forwards who are challenging for a fourth line spot on the team. He was all over the ice along with his linemates of Poehling and Cousins. Almost every shift this line was in the offensive zone and putting pressure on the Panthers defenders. He created the Habs second goal with a strong forecheck and scored a very nice goal to tie the game in the third
Stats: 1G, 1A
Second Star: Ryan Poehling
Before training camp started, Marc Bergevin clearly stated that Ryan would have to earn his way onto this team, and he would not be handed a spot. Poehling, like Barber, was all over the ice, and was constantly causing problems for Florida’s defencemen. His performance was capped with the amazing set up on Belzile’s game-winning goal. If he continues to play like this, it will be awfully tough to send him down.
Third Star: Jeff Petry
Petry did not dominate this game from start to finish by any means. However, he came up big when the team needed him most. He scored a goal in the second period to give the Canadiens the lead at the time. He also made a great pass on Barber’s tying goal in the third. Petry was also relied on for some special teams minutes and was on the ice to preserve the lead in the final minutes. Petry will be a very important piece on the Habs’ blueline this year as he looks to improve on a career season.
Stats: 1G, 1A
Honourable Mention: Alex Belzile
Belzile is another forward who is working hard to make this team. He will need many performances like this one to be considered for a spot. Belzile made the great pass over to Peca for the first goal of the game. He also came up with the clutch penalty kill and shorthanded goal to take the lead late. Although he is still on the outside looking in, strong play like this could earn him consideration for an in-season call-up.
Stats: 1G, 1A