Led by a rookie forward and a journeyman goaltender, the Calgary Flames continued their strong start to the season.
Sean Monahan had a goal and an assist and Joey MacDonald made 33 saves to lead the Calgary Flames to a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday.
“Obviously it’s a great start,” said Monahan, who has scored in three straight games and is tied at five points for the team scoring lead with Jiri Hudler. “We haven’t lost a game in regulation. Losing’s something I don’t like to do, so it’s been a lot of fun. I’m getting more comfortable every day.”
Calgary coach Bob Hartley praised the effort of his rookie centre, who turns 19 on Saturday.
“I sometimes pinch myself and wonder if I need to check his birth certificate, the poise he is showing for an 18-year-old kid,” Hartley said. “He is having fun, he is bringing passion, he is bringing excitement and he’s learning. He is a pretty special kid.”
Sven Baertschi and Curtis Glencross also scored for Calgary (2-0-2). The last time the Flames recorded points in the first four games of a season was back in 2009-10 when they went 4-0-0 before going 0-2-1 in their next three games.
MacDonald started his third straight game after backstopping Calgary to a 4-3 road win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, before helping the Flames salvage a point in a 5-4 overtime loss at home to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.
“Tonight we stuck with it,” said MacDonald, who previously played for the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings before the Flames claimed him off of waivers part way through last season. “It’s a learning experience for the young guys to show them how important it is. They came out hard.”
P.K. Subban had a goal and an assist for the Canadiens (1-2-0), who hadn’t played since skating to a 4-1 win at home over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.
“We weren’t ready to play right from the start, including myself,” Subban said. “We can continue to say it’s the beginning of the season and we’re just getting things going, but we’ve got to come out better than that.
“We knew this was a hungry team, we knew they were a young team. They had some young players in the lineup and we’ve got to take advantage of that. I don’t think we did a good enough job.”
Lars Eller, with his fourth goal and sixth point, also scored for Montreal, while Carey Price made 22 saves.
Both Calgary and Montreal finished 1 for 3 on the power play.
Despite being outshot 12-4 in the opening frame, the Flames took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
Monahan opened the scoring at 9:09 of the first period when he tapped a rebound into the net behind Price.
Monahan started the play with a behind-the-back pass to Lee Stempniak, who fired a shot on goal that Price stopped with his right pad. The puck bounced right to Monahan, who drove straight to the net after making the pass.
“That’s always a good feeling,” Monahan said. “There’s nowhere else to put it than in the back of the net. I jumped all over that and I was pretty excited.”
Baertschi then scored his first of the season with 1:27 remaining in the first when he tapped a cross-crease pass from Monahan behind a sprawling Price. Hudler helped set up the play by jarring the puck loose from Montreal defenceman Jarred Tinordi by virtue of a big hit behind the net.
During a Montreal man advantage in the second period, MacDonald stopped a Subban point blast before stacking his pads to prevent back-to-back shots off the stick of Andrei Markov from getting into the net behind him.
“It’s just battling,” MacDonald said. “You never give up on the puck. It might not be the nicest style, but you’ve got to stop the puck. When your team sees those saves, it kind of gives them a little momentum. I think we kind of built off that.”
Then on a Calgary power play, Glencross tipped a point shot by Dennis Wideman past Price at 16:22 of the second.
Just 84 seconds later with the Calgary captain Mark Giordano in the penalty box for tripping, Subban fired a point shot into the top corner to end MacDonald’s shut-out bid.
At 10:40 of the third, Eller pulled Montreal within a goal. Subban let go a shot from the point that went wide, but bounced off the boards and right onto the stick of Eller, who swatted the puck into a wide-open net.
The Canadiens pressed hard to tie up the game until Subban took a cross-checking penalty with 1:49 remaining in regulation.
“We worked so hard in the third and in the second to bring ourselves into striking distance of tying the game up,” Subban said. “Right when we were about to turn the corner, you take that penalty so it really sucks.”
Notes: Montreal forward Rene Bourque played in his 500th NHL game. Bourque started his career in Chicago with the Blackhawks, with whom he played 183 games before suiting up for 249 contests with the Flames and the last 68 with the Canadiens. a Hudler’s next goal will be the 100th of his NHL career. a Monahan, Stempniak and Hudler have all recorded at least one point all four games the Flames have played this season.