It’s only two games into the Montreal Canadiens’ exhibition season, but the 6-3 reversal at the hands of the Boston Bruins permits a few insights. Here are seven things we learned from the game:
1. Just about three years to the day after he told Montreal fans to “chill out” after giving up a few softies against these same Bruins, goalie Carey Price gave up a stinker to journeyman Nick Johnson in the first period, whiffing on an inoffensive long-distance shot with his glove hand. There will be a tendency to freak out about that goal – and the fact he gave up three on 22 shots – but it’s his first action of the preseason, and Price is working with a new goalie coach. So everybody take a deep breath and relax.
2. Penalty killing was the one thing the Habs really sucked at last season (other than winning in the playoffs), and it still needs a lot of work. Montreal gave up four power-play markers in six attempts on Monday to a team that was 26 th in the NHL with the man-advantage last season, including two in the first period. Ugly. The Habs didn’t have their full complement of PK specialists on hand, but nor did Boston have key power-play performers Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara.
3. Douglas Murray: Still slow. The ponderous defenceman was never especially fleet of foot to begin with, but the free-agent signing plainly struggled to keep up in his first preseason game. On the first shift, new Bruin Jarome Iginla sped around him to the outside for a half-chance. Expect to see a lot of that. At one point in the first, P.K. Subban skated 40 feet out of his way to help Murray out of a pickle. Expect to see a fair bit of that too. On the plus side, Murray’s partner for the night, Francis Bouillon, looked sharp. So did youngster Jarred Tinordi, playing his second game in two nights. In his first on-ice meeting against kid brother Malcolm, who stoned the Habs over a period and a half, P.K. was, well P.K.. A power-play howitzer and a couple of giveaways, otherwise strong. The other veteran d-man in the lineup, Josh Gorges, wasn’t especially noticeable, which for him is a good thing. Rookie Darren Dietz did just fine, but he’s 20, so he didn’t survive the post-game cuts and will continue his development in Hamilton.
4. Also, Iginla? Not done. He scored a pair of vintage Iginla goals on the power play – a one-timer from the left dot and a gorgeous wrister from the slot that flew past Murray’s attempt to block it. He could easily have had a hat trick. “It feels good to play games again . . . I got some good looks and had some fun playing,” he said after. It was Iginla’s first game with winger Milan Lucic, who notched three assists, and centre David Krejci, who may just be the crafty pivot Iginla has been craving for the better part of a decade. These guys will do some damage in the East this year. So will the Bruins’ fourth line, by the way, which continues to be the best fourth unit in the NHL. Now they just need to find some folks to play on the third line with Chris Kelly since Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin and Jaromir Jagr left town.
5. Former first round draft pick Louis Leblanc clearly isn’t in the Habs’ plans. The 22-year-old was picked 18 th overall in 2009, and though he played 42 games in 2011-12, he hasn’t cracked the lineup since because of injury and poor form. He came to camp with the mentality that this was a make-or-break year. Despite a decent showing in a public scrimmage on Saturday, and in his one and only preseason game, Leblanc was sent down to the minors late Monday night. Don’t bet on seeing him back anytime soon – the team preferred to keep journeymen Nick Tarnasky, Martin St-Pierre, and middling prospect Patrick Holland, acquired in a trade for forward Mike Cammalleri. It’s tough for Leblanc, a former Harvard student who has worked hard to get himself into shape; the decision will only fan the debate on whether he should have been a first-round pick in the first place.
6. The future is brighter for several of the other kids. Dietz looks a prospect, so do junior-agers Zach Fucale, Martin Reway, and Charles Hudon, a speedy, intense 19-year-old who should play for Canada at the World Junior Championships with Fucale. Goalie Robert Mayer played well, and will split starting duties in Hamilton, first-year pros Sven Andrighetto, Steven Macaulay and Stefan Fournier, a behemoth forward who tussled with Boston’s Adam McQuaid, a very tough customer. “I didn’t want to grab just anybody,” Fournier said, matter-of-factly, after the game. Oh, he also marveled at going from busing the tables of Habs’ players last summer at Weinstein and Gavino’s, a Crescent St. eatery, to playing with them at the Bell Centre. It’s easy to forget some of these guys are still kids.
7. There are now 38 players in camp, including five who are injured. The next week or so is going to be pretty demanding for the remaining players – a group that includes 2012 second-rounder Sebastian Collberg – who will play five games in six nights beginning Friday.