Pregame festivities for the Montreal Canadiens’ home-opener featured players announcing their own entrances, and if there were any jeers when a deep, distinctive voice came over the Bell Centre public address system – “numéro six, number six, Shea Weber” – they were drowned out by a rafter-shaking ovation.
So that’s settled – and the proposition that P.K. Subban’s replacement would get the business from the Habs’ faithful was always a shaky one.
The 31-year-old Weber greeted the applause with his habitual stony game face. When asked prior to the ceremony what he thought about Montreal’s well-earned reputation for glitzy openings, he said: “I honestly don’t have any idea.”
In case you were wondering, no, he’s not the overly sentimental type (although in fairness he also doesn’t suffer clichéd questions from reporters).
Hockey players are creatures of routine and while Weber is in a new city, his pregame habits are already well-entrenched. And in that sense, the Habs’ opening home game against the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins was just another Tuesday night at the office.
With both teams shorn of their best players – Montreal goalie Carey Price and Penguins centre Sidney Crosby missed out with postflu and postconcussion symptoms, respectively – it may have felt that way to those taking their seats in the stands as well.
Both Montreal and Pittsburgh are off to decent starts this season – neither had lost in regulation going in – but Habs coach Michel Therrien made it clear after this team’s game-day skate that he wasn’t thrilled with the way his team was playing.
In fact he observed that most teams’ structure is unusually ramshackle to start this season, the result of player movement and the recent World Cup of Hockey.
“It’s normal, we’re all going through it,” he said.
Therrien feels his team hasn’t demonstrated the intensity going forward and (attention stats-geeks) the crisp puck-possession game he would like to see.
The Montreal gameplan is predicated on quickness and it was on display Tuesday night early when Alex Galchenyuk was stymied by acrobatic Pittsburgh goalie Marc-André Fleury on the opening shift. The gratification was only temporarily delayed; Max Pacioretty put his team ahead just 23 seconds into the game, a new team record for a home-opener.
The Habs captain would set up David Desharnais in the second period to give the Habs a 2-0 lead, before Alexander Radulov – from a peach of a pass by Galchenyuk – got the fans on their feet in the third with a dazzling first goal in Montreal colours.
Desharnais would add a second to make it 4-0 with six minutes to play.
Offence is nice, but the Habs will only get as far as Price can carry them this season – though Al Montoya has been more than capable in his stead; his is a more reassuring presence than any backup’s was last year.
If follows that Weber, the defender brought in to command the corners and net-front, will have an outsized role. On Tuesday he played a game-high 28:09, most of it nose-to-nose with Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin.
The British Columbia native’s brand is steady and efficient – the polar opposite to Subban’s breathless dynamism.
This is what it looks like: Shortly after Pacioretty’s marker, the Penguins swooped into the Montreal end and winger Patric Hornqvist drove hard to the net.
Weber stayed right with him, tied him up and blocked him out long enough for rookie teammate Artturi Lehkonen to come in and clear the puck from the crease.
Later on, Weber read a Pittsburgh clearing pass and scooted up the ice more quickly than former Team Canada winger Chris Kunitz to ensure it would be icing.
Agility may not be Weber’s thing, but there’s no issue with straight-line speed.
With the teams at four-on-four to open the third period, Weber calmly did what he does better than almost anyone in the league – batting a puck away from Pittsburgh’s Brian Dumoulin as he attempted a zone entry at the Montreal blue line.
Weber drilled teammate Brendan Gallagher with his trademark slapshot in the second, and took
a needless penalty to negate a power-play in the third.
But Weber is paid handsomely to be a stalwart, and for this game against a strong opponent, that’s exactly what he was.Report Typo/Error
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