I can tell you for a fact that Junior coach Pascale Vincent was not a happy camper after Sunday's game. I'm sure practice this week was not a skate in the park for the team. These are the types of growing pains to be expected from a young team – inconsistent play. After playing a fairly uninspired game against Acadie-Bathurst last weekend the good news is that the Junior seems to be a team that hears their coach's messages and translates them quickly into how they play on the ice. A good quality for a young team.
The PEI Rocket is a strong team and come into the game with a 4-1-2 record. Their roster is filled with 5 NHL drafted players, including the newest member of the team, ex-Drummondville netminder Marco Cousineau (drafted by the Anaheim Ducks). The Junior, on this last day of September, would be facing the man with a stellar 1.34 goals against average and a 0.957 save percentage. A seemingly tough test for the home team.
What Coach Vincent told his troops was that unless they work harder than the opposition they will be an average team this year. Obviously that would be unacceptable to everyone involved – coach, players and fans. Based on player availability and performance Vincent tweaked his lineup for this game (Trust me it won't be the last time that happens!) with Loik Poudrier and Matthew Brenton in and Evgeny Solomonov and Marc-André Levasseur out.
For the first 10 minutes of the 1st period the Junior played a very tentative game. They seemed overwhelmed by their opposition. The only thing of note that did happen over that span was the poorest excuse for a fight that I've seen in a long time. Pier-Antoine Dion dropped the gloves against Eric Bouchard, but it was more "swing your partner round and round" than punches. The teams did trade off penalties with the Junior even killing off an extended 5-on-3 against. There was a constant parade to the box.
On an aside note, if you thought Brian Gionta (5'7") of the Montreal Canadiens or Eliezer Sherbatov (5'8") of the Junior were small then you should check out all 5'5" of PEI's Jérémi Janneteau. He is a small man playing a big man's game.
Speaking of small men, Sherbatov has really become one of my favourite players to watch early in the season. Every time he is one the ice something good happens offensively. If he doesn't get a scoring chance he creates ones for his linemates. Sherbatov is gifted offensively, has good vision and is a smart player.
The Rocket even built up a 7-0 shot advantage over the first half of the period with the first Junior shot coming at 10:31. Though it took over 10 minutes for the Junior to register their first shot they certainly made it count. Not surprisingly the lead up to the scoring play was started by Sherbatov accepting a hit at centre in order to make the play and then Louis-Marc Aubry and Nicolas Chouinard finished it off. One shot, one goal – that makes for a high shooting percentage!
This did not stop the parade to the penalty box for the Junior and they were playing with fire. Thankfully, their penalty killing seemed up to the challenge. Chouinard even had an excellent chance with a breakaway while shorthanded, but was stopped by Cousineau. The period was penalty after penalty with no real flow to it. Refs were not letting anything go on this evening.
You knew it had to happen – the Junior's luck ran out on the penalty kill when PEI tied up the game 1:00 into the 2nd period with a power play goal by Jarrad Struthers. Things went from bad to worse when Jake Allen let in a weak goal just over 6 minutes later. The wrist shot hit him on the chest, popped over his head and into the net.
After they had clawed their way back into the game the Rockets seemed just as determined to give it away by getting two penalties back to back to go down two men. Montreal cashed in twice on the ensuing power plays with goals by Jeremy Gouchie and the 2nd of the game by Chouinard.
Fans of the Junior must have been happy to see the team bounce back after relinquishing a soft goal. Of course, they were also greatly helped by the rash of penalties taken by the Rocket.
Montreal's good play continued with a late period goal off a nice rush by defenceman Xavier Ouellet. The goal was tallied by Guillaume Asselin, his 4th of the season. Montreal was now dominating the game.
Early in the 3rd period Montreal seemingly put the game out of reach with Dion's second goal of the season at 1:52. PEI made it a little tighter when they scored a power play goal at 11:24, but the fan's nerves were settled when Dion scored his second just under 4 minutes later.
Six goals by the home team! That did not happen too often last year! What was most important is that they worked hard and got offensive contributions from each of the four lines. This year's team reinforced Coach Vincent's belief that with some hard work this team will be a tough one to play against and a successful one to boot.
The Junior's next home game is against the Saint John Sea Dogs this Friday. There is a planned pregame ceremony to honor former Hab standout Emile "Butch" Bouchard that night, so that should be quite memorable.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Pierre-Luc Bédard and Jean-Philippe Sylvain
-Goals: 1st Period:
10:31 – Montreal – Nicolas Chouinard assisted by Eliezer Sherbatov and Louis-Marc Aubry
1:00 – PEI – (pp) Jarrad Struthers assisted by Jean-Philippe Mathieu and Jordan Escott
7:13 – PEI – Jean-Philippe Mathieu unassisted
11:07 – Montreal – (pp) Jeremy Gouchie assisted by Guillaume Asselin and Alex Wall
13:06 – Montreal – (pp) Nicolas Chouinard assisted by Hubert Genest and Eliezer Sherbatov
18:19 – Montreal – Guillaume Asselin assisted by Loik Poudrier and Xavier Ouellet
1:52 – Montreal – Pier-Antoine Dion assisted by Toni Ritter
11:24 – PEI – (pp) Ben Duffy assisted by Joel Champagne and Adam Polasek
15:04 – Montreal – Pier-Antoine Dion assisted by Toni Ritter and Chris Thorne
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 41
-3 Stars: 1) Nicolas Chouinard – Montreal
2) Eliezer Sherbatov – Montreal
3) Pier-Antoine Dion – Montreal