Going into the 2009-10 season no one really knew what to expect from this almost totally revamped version of the Montreal Canadiens. Last season there was plenty of high hopes for the team and they seriously underachieved. Swept out of the first round by the Boston Bruins left many with a bad taste in their mouths. Including general manager Bob Gainey and he decided to drastically change his team. Gone were 10 players from last year's team and in were 7 new players.
With a ton of new players on the team, a new coach (Jacques Martin) and even new owners (Molsons) it is hard predict how this would translate on the ice. Would veterans like Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, Hal Gill, Paul Mara, Brian Gionta, and Jaroslav Spacek be able to work together? Would younger players like Carey Price, Andrei Kostitsyn, Sergei Kostityn, and Tomas Plekanec be able to bounce back from disappointing seasons last year? Would all the new players be able to formulate some good chemistry? Would new coach Jacques Martin be able to get the players to buy into his system? That's a lot of woulds and even though the game last night against the Florida Panthers was just the first preseason game there was plenty of importance placed on it from fans and the media alike.
The atmosphere at the Bell Centre was electric and the huge crowd (a sellout) was cheering enthusiastically for every player – even last year's whipping boy Ryan O'Byrne had the crowd in his corner. The team responded to all this positivity by dominating the first two periods of the game. They were so dominant that by the time Habs starting goaltender Carey Price relinquished the net to Curtis Sanford (10:26 of the 2nd period) he had only faced 9 shots on goal. By that time the Canadiens had peppered Florida goaltender Scott Clemmenson with 22 shots and had a 2-0 lead.
New players Mike Cammalleri and Scott Gomez were expected to be the two main catalysts for the team's turnaround. The two undersized forwards are highly skilled offensive players who are both natural leaders and hard workers. Coach Jacques Martin's stated to the press that his forward lines were to be made up of a passer, a player with size and a scorer. Gomez is the passer and Cammalleri is the scorer. Add the size in winger Andrei Kostitsyn and you have the team's projected number one line.
Well, the number one line went a long way to proving their worth as they accounted for 2 of the team's 3 goals. Gomez notched the first late in the 1st period off a great tic-tac-toe passing play between Spacek, Cammalleri and Gomez. Gomez showed that his size is not going to prevent him from going to the front of the net where the traffic is as he deflected a pass past Clemmenson from right in tight.
After some more domination the line cashed in again when Kostitsyn dug out the puck from the corner and found Cammalleri alone in the slot. He demonstrated his scorer's touch by one timing the pass through the five-hole on Clemmenson. The home team was ahead 2-0 and the fans were ecstatic. The euphoria went up a notch when Matt D'Agostini stripped Panther winger Nathan Horton of the puck deep in the Florida end and his laser beam of a wrist shot over Clemmenson's shoulder found the back of the net. The rout was on, but wait….
They say that the 3-0 lead is the most dangerous in hockey. It is far enough ahead that the team with 3 goals relaxes and close enough that the team behind throws everything at them including the kitchen sink to get back into the game. And get back into the game the Panthers did. Peppering Price's replacement Curtis Sanford with 17 shots in the 3rd period alone.
By the mid-way point of the 3rd the Panthers, by virtue of goals by David Booth and Evgeni Dadonov, had pulled to just one goal of the Habs. Thanks to a 5 minute match penalty assessed to Stephen Weiss (for spearing) and a 2 minute delay of game (for putting the puck over the glass) penalty to Kenndal McArdle, the Canadiens found themselves on the powerplay for a good part of the last 10 minutes of the 3rd period. Though they did not cash in on the extended power play (including an over 1 minute 5 on 3 advantage) they were able to hang on for the win.
The good guys came out with a 3-2 victory in their first preseason game. The fans came out with plenty of good feelings about their new and seemingly improved team. New owners Molsons must have come out with a feeling that if their team keeps playing that way that they will have a full building every night. Let's hope all these good feelings lasts until deep into the spring of 2010.
-Officials: Referees: Eric Furlat and Stephane Auger
Linesmen: Pierre Champoux and Michel Cormier
-Goals: 1st Period:
Montreal – 18:24 – Scott Gomez assisted by Jaroslav Spacek and Mike Cammalleri
Montreal – 8:21 – Mike Cammalleri assisted by Andre Kostitsyn
Montreal: 12:51 – Matt D'Agostini unassisted
Florida – 5:27 – David Booth assisted by Nathan Horton
Florida – 10:38 – Evgeni Dadonov assisted by Graham Mink and Gregory Campbell
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 31
-3 Stars: 1) Mike Cammalleri – Montreal
2) Scott Gomez – Montreal
3) Matt D'Agostini – Montreal