The Habs kicked off their season against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night after an offseason that saw the two teams battle for star Sebastian Aho and another important talent in Jake Gardiner. While the Hurricanes came out on top of both those encounters, the Habs were certainly hoping that the opposite would be the outcome on the ice. There was no surprise on the Habs roster as Cale Fleury and Nick Suzuki made their NHL debuts while Carey Price found his usual blue paint to faceoff with Petr Mrazek. Unfortunately, this very entertaining game did not go the Habs way as they fell 4-3 in a shootout after an absolutely breathtaking season-opener for both of these teams.
After a first three minutes that was dominated by the Habs, Jordan Martinook took an interference minor for the season’s first power play. This early occasion was not seized but looked promising with some zone time. The Hurricanes found their legs after the penalty, but defensive coverage was solid by both teams as the game established a fast and intense pace.
With four minutes left in the period, Max Domi found Suzuki all alone in front of the net, but Suzuki fanned which led to a Dzingel breakaway that found the crossbar. A few moments later, a Jake Gardiner giveaway started another strong shift for Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jonathan Drouin who were without a doubt the best forwards for the Habs in the first period.
With 2:41 left in the period, a lost defensive faceoff by Nate Thompson was compounded when the pivot did not follow his counterpart to the front of the net. This allowed Lucas Wallmark the chance to deflect a Brett Pesce point shot and jump on the rebound to beat Price for the game’s first goal to end the period.
The Hurricanes came out strong for the second period and were quickly sent to a power play after a double faceoff violation by the Habs. The Canes hit the post early, and the momentum continued until Martin Necas tipped a Dougie Hamilton point shot to extend the lead.
The Kotkaniemi line continued its strong play and caused a Pesce interference penalty against Joel Armia. The first power play unit didn’t amount to much, but the second unit scored when Tomas Tatar intercepted an attempted clearing, skated in unchallenged, and beat Mrazek low blocker side to cut the lead to 2-1.
A few moments later, Drouin absolutely took over a shift. He controlled the puck into the offensive zone and then was aggressive to regain the puck. He found Artturi Lehkonen who got open and fired a shot that Mrazek did not control. Kotkaniemi was all over the rebound to tie the game with his first career goal away from the Bell Centre.
The second half of the period started with a rather soft holding call against Ben Chiarot though the Hurricanes never got their power play going that time. The breakneck speed of the contest continued but now it was the Habs’ turn to attack.
They took full advantage of this momentum with a fourth line goal and it was a beauty. Victor Mete started the play with an excellent backcheck. He stole the puck and sent it across to Shea Weber. Weber found Thompson in stride and the centre skated through a check to gain the offensive zone. Once in the zone, he passed it to Paul Byron on his wing who held it just long enough for Jordan Weal to get open for a quick one-timer in the low slot for the first Montreal lead of the night heading into the game’s final period.
The third period kept up the pace, but the Habs were mostly on the receiving end for the first half. Three minutes into the period, Martinook took a stupid penalty when he boarded Kotkaniemi from behind while they were nowhere near the puck. The man advantage was ineffective and then was made worse when the Habs were called for too many men on the ice moments later.
This enabled the Canes to really take control and immediately after the penalty expired, the chaos continued in the Habs’ zone until Erik Haula jumped on a loose puck to tuck it in the empty net as Price was still completely on the other side of his crease.
The tables turned for the last seven minutes as the Habs increased the pressure in the offensive zone and forced the Hurricanes to be excellent defensively and force overtime. The overtime was just as entertaining and fast as the game, but alas, the shootout was required.
The shootout saw Hamilton beat Price five-hole before Byron was stopped by Mrazek. Haula was then stopped as was Drouin. Teravainen was then unable to get one past Price’s glove before Mrazek concluded his perfect shootout by stopping Suzuki to give the home side the victory.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jonathan Drouin
If Drouin wanted to make fans forget about his pathetic end to the 2018-2019 season, he started off excellently on this first game. Yes, it will take more than one game, but the preseason nay-sayers looked a little foolish as Drouin was easily the best on the team on this night.
Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 1 hit, 16:39 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Carey Price
Price allowed three goals in regulation but saved his teammates butts on many chances, specifically in the first and third period as he ended the night facing 42 shots. Not bad for a first game! Included in those 39 stops were some nice lateral movements and one desperation stop with his stick. This team is in business if this is what they get from Price all season long.
Stats: 40 saves, 43 shots, 2.81 G.A.A., .930 save %, 64:55 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Jeff Petry
Petry was solid defensively, kept plays alive offensively, he delivered some hits, and looked dangerous all night long. If Petry can play this game 82 times this season, there will be little questions about this team’s blueline. A great game by him.
Stats: 0 points, +1, 5 shots, 4 hits, 25:46 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Kotkaniemi appeared to get better as the game kept going and he really took over in the third for the Habs to turn the tide and apply some pressure in the offensive zone. He won a large number of battles in the offensive zone and created some chances for his linemates. If he wasn’t the best on the team in the third, he would not be named here because it feels silly to not be talking about Cale Fleury and his excellent first game as a Montreal Canadien.
Stats: 1 goal, 0 (+/-), 3 shots, 2 hits, 12:54 T.O.I.