With the Pittsburgh Penguins christening their new digs at the Console Energy Center, Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens stole victory out of their clutches in the span of 24 seconds, to spoil their party.
And what a party it was.
Both teams played with the intensity that is expected of two teams that have bitter memories of their 2010 playoffs clash. And, while the Canadiens played a solid game, they got themselves into penalty trouble in the second and third periods and the Pens were able to grab the momentum as a result.
But the story of the night was goaltending with both tenders making spectacular save after spectacular save. Price let in a weak second goal but aside from that was simply scintillating. For his part, Marc-Andre Fleury also played well but let in the tying and winning goals 24 seconds apart—with less than two minutes to play— to seal the deal for the Canadiens.
Pens scorers: Evgeni Malkin (1), Mark Letestu (1)
Habs scorers: Michael Cammalleri (1,2), Scott Gomez (1)
Final Score: Habs 3 – Pens 2
1. Price is starting to assume his role.
If Price played well against the Leafs, then he played a thousand times better tonight against the Pens.
Price was standing up tall, not going down too early, aggressively challenging shooters at the top of his crease, displayed excellent rebound control and was, at the end of the day, the reason the Canadiens won.
Like last year, Price played excellent from the beginning of the game and the Habs couldn’t score. Unlike last year, however, the Canadiens pulled this one out of the fire to give Price the win he deserved. This win should be good for his and the team confidence and could help set the tone for Price this season.
2. The power play continued to fire blanks.
Yep, it’s only game two of the season. But the Canadiens were again blanked on the PP.
We all know that Andrei Markov is the backbone of the Canadiens power play and without him the Habs tend to have little success in that department. That being said, Markov is not coming back until at least the end of October, so that Habs need to figure out how to score in the interim. Their speed will continue to draw penalties and they can’t continually go 0-for-3 like they did tonight.
3. The second line is not working and something’s got to give.
Yes, it was only the second game of the season, but the Habs second line of Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Benoit Pouliot is just not getting it done. Aside from the goal the Gomez scored—from a terrible angle that Fleury should have stopped—he and his linemates have been completely ineffective through two games.
Gomez, for his part, doesn’t seem able to make a tape-to-tape pass. Gionta keeps getting knocked down, and Pouliot doesn’t seem to have cohesion with either of them. It will be interesting to see how long Jacques Martin lets the top two lines stay intact before he decides to try Lars Eller in the top-six.
4. Trouble in the hen house.
The Canadiens were very happy to get Cammalleri back in the lineup and his two-goal effort showed how important he is to the Habs’ offense. But further down the lineup things didn’t look so good.
Playing on the top line with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn in game one versus the Leafs, Lars Eller looked like a bonafide top-six forward. Tonight, however, he was on the third line with Jeff Halpern and Maxim Lapierre and was mostly invisible. Considering his skill level, that is not a good thing.
Speaking of being invisible, neither Pouliot nor Andrei Kostitsyn seem to be getting it done so far in the top six. With both players playing for new contracts at season’s end, these two players are expected to be contributing a lot more on the ice. Kostitsyn doesn’t seem to know how to go to or stand in front of the net and Pouliot seems to be losing all of his battles along the boards. Again, it’s only two games, but how long will Martin wait before trying some changes to those lines?
The Canadiens matched up well against the Pens tonight, but if they have two duds in the top-six they will not be a very effective team over the course of 82 games.
5. The back end is getting better.
Markov and Roman Hamrlik can’t come back soon enough but as bad as the Canadiens defense was in game one against the Leafs, they played a much more cohesive game tonight.
Hal Gill, who didn’t have a good game against the Leafs, was back to his old Sidney Crosby-frustrating-self, using his reach and size to shutdown the best player in the world. Jaroslav Spacek had a better game and also took a few good shots on the power play—something that will be needed in Markov and Hamrlik’s absence.
While the veterans were good, young P.K. Subban was stupendous. Clearly targeted by the Penguins for physical and verbal abuse, Subban was also booed by the Pens faithful every time he touched the puck. He was also high-sticked by Mike Comrie in the second period, sending him to the dressing room with blood streaming from his eye.
Despite all of this, Subban played one of the best games of his short NHL career. He was solid defensively, frustrating Malkin on several occasions, he was active offensively and, more importantly, he reacted like a tenured veteran in the face of the attention he was getting from the Pens.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Subban will be a candidate for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year this year.
Standings and Next Game
The Canadiens now have two points in the virginal standings and that doesn’t really that much at this time of the year. What is important, however, is that they won a character type game that is sure to buoy their confidence.
The Canadiens now have three days off before their home opener against the Guy Boucher-coached Tampa Bay Lightning. With the former Hamilton Bulldogs coach at the helm of a team filled with Quebec-born players, that is sure to be a doozey of a game.
Happy Thanksgiving to all the readers in Canada. Enjoy the weekend!