A lot can happen in 10 months. The last time I wrote a game recap for the Montreal Canadiens, Jeff Gorton had just been hired to be the new link between management and ownership. In a corresponding move, Marc Bergevin had just been let go and his replacement, the former agent Kent Hughes, was yet a few weeks from being named his successor.
In December, 2021, Dominique Ducharme was still the head coach, being less than half a year removed from a Stanley Cup berth. In the lineup, Kale Clague was making his first start after being claimed off the waiver wire. For that night, he was paired up with Brett Kulak. During the game, Jonathan Drouin scored a goal with his leg and Ben Chiarot was reigning steady as the team’s offensive talisman for the season.
So here we stand now, having finally lived through a proper pre-season again for the first time in three years. It was a pre-season in which the Canadiens did everything they could to remain winless, but where nobody – apart from Joel Edmundson – probably expected much more anyway.
In this, the first competitive lineup for the 2022-23-season, Martin St-Louis sent out an intriguing mix of youth and experience, with first overall pick Juraj Slafkovský playing on the third line together with veterans Christian Dvorak and Brendan Gallagher.
Among the other rookies, the Czech-Albanian-Canadian sensation commonly known as Arber Xhekaj was paired up with Chris Wideman, while fellow rookie Jordan Harris partnered up with Johnathan Kovacevic on the second pairing, in the very first of potentially many trials by fire for both players. This specific pairing went into last night’s game with a combined tally of 14 NHL games between them.
One of the pre-season’s true bright spots, 2020 first-rounder Kaiden Guhle, also made his NHL debut, playing on the top pairing with heavy senior David Savard. Jake Allen, fresh off a contract extension, got the nod to start between the pipes.
Montreal received a couple of early opportunities to practise their power play when Mark Giordano and Michael Bunting were sent to the box for unnecessary fouls in the neutral zone. There were no goals to write home about, but at least there were some creative looks compared to the last few years.
The first goal of the game instead went to the guests from Ontario. Mitch Marner did well to find the open space behind the Montreal net and 27-year-old recent Calder Trophy finalist Michael Bunting positioned himself in the slot to receive the puck and fire it past Allen.
Less than a minute was played of the second period when the Habs tied the contest up at one. Powerhorse Josh Anderson demonstrated his physical ability behind his own net to let his team win the puck back.
What followed was captain Nick Suzuki and his vice-sheriff Cole Caufield being sent away on a two-man-rush against one poor, lonely T.J Brodie. Suzuki waited until the opportune moment to dish the pass across the ice and Caufield did the rest, lashing the puck into the net from a narrow angle. The pocket-sized future Rocket-winner looked visibly relieved in opening the scoring account so soon, especially when having last year’s season in close memory.
Toronto would regain their lead halfway through the second period, when Denis Albertowitsch Malgin ended up in the right place to score an empty-netter rebound from the crease and open his account with the Maple Leafs. The Canadiens’ defence just seemed completely out of sync on this goal, not knowing who should be where and who should cover whom.
A few of the Habs youngsters have come further in their development than others. Last season, Cole Caufield had just one single goal to his name with half the season played. This year, he had two in just the opening game, with the second one being as important as it was pretty. Montreal’s number 22 took possession in the neutral zone and then never let go of the puck, showing pass for the Toronto defence up until the last second, when he absolutely ripped the puck by a bewildered Matt Murray.
Before the period was over, both teams had prime chances to go into the second intermission with a lead to their name. For Montreal, it was summer acquisition Kirby Dach who had a puck dancing on the goal line below Murray for so long that the referees felt obligated to check the video.
On the other side of the rink, Toronto received a penalty shot when Alex Kerfoot was disturbed by Xhekaj on a breakaway. In the end, Allen went victorious out of the duel and the game remained tied at two goals a-piece.
As the third period wore on with neither team getting a breakthrough, I remained impressed with how this team – which had just gone winless against teams like Winnipeg and Ottawa for a whole bunch of games – were now going toe-to-toe with one of the Division favourites. Especially impressive is the fact that they were now doing so with a handful of younger, inexperienced players taking on heavy duties.
Slafkovsky had demonstrated his physical prowess on more than one occasion and, as should be the case with an 18-year-old rookie, he seems to get more and more comfortable handling himself at a higher level. Harris, Xhekaj and Johnny Kovacevic had decent season debuts on the back end, while Guhle looked like a seasoned vet as soon as he first set foot on NHL ice.
The game continued to go back and forth without anything critical occurring for the first 17 minutes of the last period. And then, naturally, everything exploded all at once.
Montreal started it off by taking its first lead of the night. They did so just after succesfully killing off a high sticking-penalty on Harris. Harris was actually the one who found Dach in front of the net with a pass which blew the Toronto defence wide open. Dach redirected the puck on and another new recruit, Sean Monahan, got the pleasure of scoring the go-ahead goal on his 28th birthday.
Naturally, a Canadiens win never happens without constant oscillations between heaven and hell. Less than a minute later, William Nylander had tied up the contest yet again on a goal that was as close to offside as it could ever get without actually being offside.
Everything looked set to be decided with a five-minute overtime period, which in itself would be quite the successful start to the Canadiens season. But, as Eyes On The Prize’s oracle editor Andrea Rowe wrote earlier in the evening when she attempted a sudden hostile takeover on my recap: “The Habs are so lucky to have Josh Anderson.”
With a mere 19 seconds to go before the buzzer, captain Suzuki and his veins of ice decided not to shoot against the fluttering Matt Murray, but instead held onto the puck for just a split second before handing it over to the aforementioned Anderson. With a proper snipe of a wrist shot, Josh the Powerhorse sent the Bell Centre into an unexpected frenzy, as the Canadiens battled through for their very first victory since April 29.
I believe it was Starship who once sang that “Nothing’s gonna stop us now.” Only time will tell if that is indeed the case for the 2022-23-version of the Canadiens as well.
At the very least, we can stay happy until the Canadiens play their next game, which will be at 7:00 PM on Friday, when the Habs face off against their notorious bogeyteam from Motown.
Canucks keep surprising with ‘inexplicable’ comeback vs. Canadiens
VANCOUVER – Two weeks into his Calder Trophy season four years ago, Elias Pettersson was thrown violently to the ice in Florida by defenceman Mike Matheson, who had been embarrassed by the rookie Vancouver Canuck earlier in the shift.
Pettersson suffered a concussion, Matheson a two-game suspension and the incident set off an inferno of debate about the culture of both the Canucks and the National Hockey League.
But even then, as a 19-year-old with the physique of a 2-iron, Pettersson was tougher than he seemed. Tougher mentally and physically. Four years later for Pettersson and two teams later for Matheson, the Canucks’ elite two-way centre victimized the Montreal Canadiens’ defenceman in overtime to give Vancouver an inexplicable 7-6 victory in front of fans who have rarely been so entertained.
Pettersson may or may not have caused Matheson to blow a tire and lose the puck by touching the defenceman’s leg with his stick, but there was little doubt about the significance of the goal it caused – for the Canucks and Pettersson.
Stronger in every sense than he was four years ago, Pettersson skated the puck to the net from a sharp angle as Matheson retreated and tucked a forehand deke through the pads of Montreal goalie Sam Montembeault.
Asked after the game if he realized in the moment whom he had just pilfered and embarrassed, Pettersson looked a long time at the questioner before deadpanning: “I’m going to say, ‘No comment.’” He knew.
This was Pettersson’s revenge.
At least that’s the storyline we’re going with in a game that could have spawned an alternate universe. For the first time since 1973, the Canucks rallied from a four-goal deficit to win. After the Canadiens scored four times in the first period, the Canucks eventually blew a 5-4 lead late in the third, trailed 6-5, then tied it on Andrei Kuzmenko’s power-play goal with Vancouver relief netminder Collin Delia on the bench for an extra attacker.
And then Pettersson won it 13 seconds into overtime.
“If they had called a penalty there, I would have been upset,” he said. “I didn’t touch his skates. I saw that I had an open lane (to the net). And I saw their goalie had one knee down at the post and it looked like if I made a long move, I might be able to get it through.”
Later, in his press scrum, Pettersson told reporters: “I don’t know if it was relief to score a goal or whatever, but just, overall, the emotion all game, to be down four and come back, be down one again and then tie it at the end, it was a game that had a lot of emotions and I’m glad we came up on top tonight.”
A game with 13 goals deserves that many clauses in one sentence.
“Man, we got the two points; that’s all I can say,” Canuck captain Bo Horvat said. “At the end of the day, I don’t care how we did it, we got it done. Obviously, it was not pretty. We made it pretty hard on ourselves but we showed a lot of resilience tonight. And Dells stepping in (for starting goalie Spencer Martin) and playing as well as he did … it was a fun one. It was a Monday Night Football game.”
Maybe the Canucks would be good at football. They appear to have some flaws as a hockey team.
Unable to figure how to defend leads and win, now they don’t even know how to lose properly. Canuck teams don’t come back from 4-0 late in the second period. They don’t score seven goals in the final 23½ minutes.
They don’t finish a four-game homestand at 2-2 when they led for less than seven minutes in more than four hours of hockey.
“That’s just the rollercoaster of emotions — kind of how you do not want to play the game, really,” Canuck veteran J.T. Miller said. “You want to play even-keel. But when you give up four that quickly, it was kind of a shell shock because … we had been absolutely dominant. Shots were 9-0 (at the start). A couple breakdowns and we’ve just got to get out of that habit of giving them up bang, bang, bang, bang. You’re not going to come back from 4-0 every day. But we talked about getting two in the second (period). But we had so many guys step up. Petey’s line was awesome; Petey was dominant.”
After Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win against Arizona, when the Canucks chased the mighty Coyotes all game, Pettersson’s line was reconfigured by desperate coach Bruce Boudreau. Brock Boeser, who went from being a healthy scratch to outed on the trade block to goal-scoring hero in one eventful Saturday, was deployed Monday alongside Pettersson and winger Ilya Mikheyev.
Mikheyev scored twice on perfect passes from Pettersson, who finished with three points, giving him 32 in 26 games this season.
Horvat, Conor Garland and Jack Studnicka, with the Canucks’ first go-ahead goal at 8:49 of the third period, also scored for Vancouver.
It was impossible to foresee when the score was 4-0 that Studnicka and Delia would become key figures in a Canuck victory. But most of their season has been a surprise. The Canucks are Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.
“It’s funny, I feel like every game, it’s so live or die,” Miller said. “It’s 82 games. We’ve won a lot of games in the last 15 or 20 (but), it’s a process. It’s not going to be pretty every night. I’m just proud of the group. We had a lot of different guys step up tonight, which is awesome.”
The Canucks have lost seven games this season after leading by two or three goals. But now they’ve won one when they trailed by four.
Darnell Nurse sounds off on Edmonton Oilers slow starts after Stuart Skinner faces 50 shots
Another slow start for the Edmonton Oilers wasn’t their undoing against the Washington Capitals in Monday’s 3-2 loss, but it certainly didn’t help either.
The Oilers were outshot 22-12 in the opening frame, with Stuart Skinner turning aside all 22 in his eventual 47-save performance in the loss.
“We come in here and we talk about it every day,” Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse said of his team’s starts. “We sit here after the game, talk about it over and over and over. … We want to have good starts each and every night but, you know, we’re sitting here and it’s a part of our game. We’re almost a quarter of the way through the season.
“The more we just talk away and pester at it, we need to just show up and play. Relax, pin our ears back and come out on the on the attack.”
The Oilers were outshot 50-30 on Monday, including 19-7 in the second period, when Skinner allowed two goals.
“We weren’t as quick and physical as we wanted to be in the defensive zone,” Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft said. “Our goalie stood tall. We’re 2-2 going into the third period. We made a critical error, and it ended up in the back of our net.”
Skinner Unfazed as Oilers Allow 50 Shots
Skinner, who has moved into the starting role ahead of Jack Campbell over the past month, saw his record drop to 7-6 on the season, with a .916 save percentage and a 2.93 goals-against average.
The 50 shots faced against the Capitals were a season high for Skinner, who said the early barrage helped put him the zone.
“I think if you get a few [early] chances on you and make all the saves, it’s a little bit of a confidence booster,” Skinner said. “They got on the power play and I got a few shots on the power play, so after that I was ready to go.”
The loss dropped the Oilers to 14-12-0 on the season as the team currently sits in the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
Recap: Brazil vs South Korea – World Cup 2022
Neymar has returned from injury to help Brazil thump South Korea 4-1, setting up a World Cup quarter-final clash against Croatia.
Four unanswered Brazilian goals in the first half at Stadium 974 on Monday set an imperious tone for a team with their sights firmly on a sixth World Cup title.
And while the game settled in the second period, it was never sluggish or scrappy, and a spirited South Korea fought hard to score a consolation goal in the 76th minute.
It took just seven minutes for Brazil to get off the mark, with Raphinha picking up the ball just outside the box and rushing in on the right side, sending in a pass to Neymar. The Paris Saint-Germain number 10 was brought down by his marker and the ball ended up at the feet of Vinicius Jr, in acres of space.
The Real Madrid star steadied himself before placing it to the right of Kim Seung-gyu in the South Korean goal.
Just three minutes later, Richarlison was brought down by Jung Woo-young inside the box, and the referee pointed to the spot. Neymar, who had reportedly flown his barber out to Qatar to dye his hair blonde following previous victories over South Korea with bleached hair, wasted no time in slotting it into the bottom-right of the net. Brazil was up two-nil with less than 15 minutes on the clock.
South Korea had their share of chances, with Hwang Hee-chan, fresh off scoring the winner against Portugal, having a go from a distance but sending the ball comfortably over the bar. Moments later, Allison was forced to make a diving save to his left, his first save of the tournament.
But Paolo Bento’s men were simply outclassed in every part of the pitch.
A remarkable piece of skill in the 26th minute saw Richarlison juggling the ball, heading it to himself three times while evading defenders on the edge of the South Korean box. He then passed the ball before running through on goal to receive the return, firing the ball in for Brazil’s third.
Just 10 minutes later, Vinicius Jr set up Lucas Paqueta with a cheeky chip, and the midfielder shot low and right. Kim Seung-gyu could do little but look at the ball nestling in the back of the net.
With four goals before half-time, Brazil was putting down a marker for any teams who think they might have a chance of lifting the trophy on December 18.
Son Heung-min nearly clawed one back for South Korea straight after the restart, but Alisson — who must, through this game alone, be in contention for the Golden Glove — got enough of his arm onto the shot to tip it wide.
Faced with the intensity of Brazil’s onslaught, South Korea tried to slow the game, but more chances for Raphinha and Vinicius Jr followed despite the best efforts of the men in red.
Then came the 77th minute, and out of nowhere, Paik Seung-ho scored from outside the box. A free kick for South Korea was bundled clear by the Brazilian defence, falling to Paik, who belted it past Alisson’s dive to find the top-right corner. Finally, the South Korean fans had something to cheer about.
South Korea continued to work hard in defence and create chances in attack, but that goal was to be their only score, and they head home having been soundly beaten by one of the best teams in the world.
Brazil will face Croatia in the quarter-finals at Education City on Friday.
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