Coming to this game of the 9-9 Junior de Montreal what was foremost in my mind was the question of whether their Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde season would continue. This is a team that plays very well at home and then when they go on the road they seem to forget everything positive that they do at home and get shelled. The last crushing defeat on the road was at the hands of the last placed overall Val D'Or Foreurs. Val D'Or is a team that is struggling with only 2 wins in 19 games. We would soon find out if Montreal is truly a team that will go places in the playoffs or whether a bit of adversity would crush their confidence.
Despite the fact that it was a weeknight game the Montreal fans turned out in large numbers (attendance was 3,246) to support their team. I'm sure this large attendance was in part due to the fact that Montreal-area high school Royal Vale was in attendance, but the fact that team offensive star Angelo Esposito was making his return after missing some games due to an upper body injury factored in to people's decision to buy a ticket.
Esposito was in and captain Matt Fillier was out with a back injury. This would hurt the Junior as he is a character player and a leader for the team. His style of play is exactly what the team seems to missing right now. This is a team that really seems to be lacking confidence in itself lately. They are all gripping their sticks a little too tightly. Some of the games that they have won recently (twin 3-2 wins against Rouyn- Noranda and Gatineau, for example) they have just played well in spurts and then hung on for dear life.
Obviously coach Pascal Vincent was hoping that Esposito would inject some instant offense into the team. Right from the beginning he was giving the young star plenty of ice time with playing him on the penalty kill, power play and double shifting him 5 on 5. Not showing much signs of rust from his layoff, Esposito made things happen offensively when he was on the ice. Obviously he was also trying to inject some of the leadership void left by Fillier's absence by going down to block a shot from the point on a penalty kill. Not something you see offensive stars doing all that often! Offensively, he schooled a few of the Foreurs defencemen with his outside speed which led to a couple of good scoring chances. Esposito was definitely the Junior's most effective player by far offensively.
The trio of Guillaume Asselin, Louis-Marc Aubry and Pier-Antoine Dion were the strongest line overall as they often pinned Val D'Or in their own end, but despite all this it did not equal anything on the scoreboard. The closest they came was when Asselin hit the post off a wrist shot on a power play in the 2nd period.
There were plenty of power play opportunities during the game for both teams (8 for Montreal and 6 for Val D'Or) as the two officials called some dubious penalties. For the most part the defences held up well against the numerous man advantages and there were even some 5 on 3s for both teams. Montreal cashed in on a 1st period 5 on 3 power play with (who else?) Esposito converting a rebound off a Dmitri Kostromitin point shot. Unfortunately that was all she wrote when it came to offence for either team.
Montreal's defence, at times, seemed determined to even up the score as they often coughed up the puck under only the slightest pressure from Val D'Or. This, to me, was another sign of a team with not much confidence in itself. Despite the fact that they were severely outshot (Val D'Or: 41 and Montreal: 26) Jake Allen remained cool under the pressure and to be fair many of Val D'Or's shots were from the outside.
Hopefully this victory by the slimmest of margins (1-0) will give the Montreal side some much needed confidence because they are going to be playing much tougher opposition in their next two outings. On Friday they will be playing Gatineau in Gatineau and on Saturday they have a home game against the Shawinigan Cataractes. They cannot rely on goaltender Jake Allen to post a shutout every outing! Especially against more formidable opposition.
-On Ice Officials: Referees: Eric Charron, Nicolas Dutil
Linesmen: Serge Carpentier, Stéfan Capano
-Goals: 1st Period
14:47 – Montreal: (pp) Angelo Esposito assisted by Dmitri Kostromitin and Nick Layton
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 26
Val D'Or: 41
-3 Stars: 1) Jake Allen – Montreal
2) Jean-Sébastien Boucher – Val D'Or
3) Angelo Esposito – Montreal