Looking for their fifth win in a row despite all the injuries (add Jean-Christophe Laflamme to that list), Montreal would be facing their division rivals the Gatineau Olympiques. I was looking forward to this game as they are two talented teams who don't like each other, so I was thinking that would translate to goals and hits/fights. As they have built up quite a rivalry it would be up to the two referees to keep the peace and not let the physical play get out of hand.
This was game number 47 for the Junior and the season is ticking away. It is time for them to get healthy to see what kind of team they really have. Since Laflamme was out injured Philippe Fontaine was back in the lineup. Due to all the injuries several Montreal players have stepped up and distinguished themselves during this rough patch.
Large winger Raphaël Pouliot has added a dimension to the Junior's game that wasn't there before. He is very big and very physical. Pouliot, rewarded for his good play last game found himself on the 2nd line with Trevor Parkes and Jérémy Gouchie. Defenceman Jonathan Narbonne has been completely reliable. He doesn't cough up the puck like he did last year. One season's worth of maturity has made a world of difference. Unsung hero Dylan Anderson (9 goals, 8 assists) does much of the work down low defensively and always gives you full effort. He is also strong on the penalty kill. In this game coach Vincent Pascal would show his confidence in Anderson by having him divide the time up playing against Philip-Michaël Devos, the league's top scorer, with Gouchie.
Making back-to-back starts was goaltender Jean-Francois Bérubé. His last few starts before this weekend have been of the shaky variety to say the least. He must be itching to have a good game to show that he is capable. Bérubé juggles a couple of the early shots, but most importantly, he stops them.
On this freezing cold Sunday afternoon, the first half of the 1st period is played rather quickly with not many scoring chances early. Everything is as expected in that it was like a chess match and we would have to see which team would bend first. Montreal coach Pascal Vincent was shuffling up his lines trying to find a winning combination. The two stars: Louis Leblanc for Montreal and Devos for Gatineau were silent so far. Despite the 0-0 score after the 1st it was entertaining with good skating and hitting.
The 2nd period began with Montreal killing off the last 40 odd seconds of a Nicolas Chouinard holding minor. During the penalty kill they managed to generate a high quality scoring chance of their own. Using his breakaway speed, Gouchie managed to get behind the Olympiques' defence and beat goaltender Francois Lacerte (the backup) cleanly only to have his shot hit the inside of the post and stay out. Gouchie is a good two-way player, who should make a living as a professional hockey player. Maybe the Canadiens should take a chance and sign this guy to a rookie contract (like Detroit did with Trevor Parkes) as he is an undrafted player.
A few minutes later Montreal did manage to score and it was one of the nicer goals of the season so far. Leblanc finished off a pretty give and go with Philippe Lefebvre (who had to control the puck with his skates and kick it up to his stick before the return pass to Leblanc) from the improbable area of behind the goal line. He showed his great hands by reaching back behind himself to backhand the pass in the net. Highlight reel goal!
The deadlock was broken and Montreal had drawn first blood. Montreal was making inroads offensively after the goal. The scoring chances in the first half of the period went overwhelmingly Montreal's way.
It is only after a fight (that was more a wrestling match with no real punches thrown) between Montreal's Pouliot and Gatineau's Mitchell Porowski (who received a game misconduct for removing Pouliot's helmet during the fight) that Gatineau woke up offensively.
Tye McGinn had a breakaway attempt that was broken up by a diving Charles Landry. Gatineau started to force the tempo in the latter part of the 2nd period. Devos and McGinn were double shifted for the rest of the game.
You knew because of Gatineau's firepower that Montreal could not expect to just sit back in the 3rd period and defend as it would cost them. The good news was that they didn't and that Bérubé had been solid through two periods showing plenty of confidence and controlling the rebounds better. His counterpart Lacerte was not doing too shabby either. He even robbed Anderson as he dove across the goal parallel to the ice to make a save. Anderson had a couple of other chances to score around the midway point of the 3rd, but couldn't
During the up tempo 3rd period that featured very few stoppages in play, Gatineau did have their chances and hit the post a couple of times, but never managed to get the puck across the goal line. Bérubé was especially lucky when a puck deflected off Cody Linteau, changed direction completely only to hit the post and come right out.
Montreal iced the game with a power play goal by Charles Landry, his 9th of the season, when he pinched in from the blue line. Leblanc found him with a great pass.
It was an important win for Montreal. With two games in hand they go up on Gatineau by 8 points with the victory and also move into 2nd place overall for the time being in front of Quebec. Gatineau was fielding a healthy team and Montreal was missing at least four important forwards. Statement win! It was also the first shutout of the season for Bérubé.
This was the last home game in a while (February 8th) for the Junior. They are going on an East Coast swing with their next game being in New Brunswick against Acadie-Bathurst.
-On-Ice Officials: Referees: Nicolas Dutil and Marc Muylaert
Linesmen: Harold Dorvil and Sylvain Losier
-Goals: 2nd Period:
4:01: Montreal – Louis Leblanc assisted by Philippe Lefebvre and Charles Landry
14:31: Montreal – (pp) Charles Landry assisted by Louis Leblanc and Nicolas Chouinard
-Shots on Goal: Montreal: 27
-3 Stars: 1) Louis Leblanc – Montreal
2) Jean-François Bérubé – Montreal
3) François Lacerte – Gatineau
-Final Score: Montreal: 2