It was only the third game of the season.
Carey Price was brilliant, to the tune of 44 saves. And he could not be faulted on any of the shots that beat him.
The Canadiens came from ahead to blow 2-0 and 3-2 leads, but the team salvaged a point.
And there was enough excitement up and down the ice to keep the opening night crowd rocking – from Brian Gionta’s mostly-French player introductions right through the loud booing of referees Don Van Massenhoven and Steve Kozari.
Price was profoundly pissed and did not want to talk about his own stellar performance. And Jacques Martin repeated his usual mantra about special teams: Two power-play goals for the Lightning, another goose egg for the Canadiens’ PP, which is 0-for-the-season.
This is the time of year when the Leafs are in first place, and perhaps we shouldn’t be reading too much into game results … at least not for a while.
But there were disquieting signs at the Bell Centre, ominous intimations that this team will be in a wire-to-wire battle for a playoff spot.
Simply put, the beginning of this season looks uncomfortably like the end of last season: a Canadiens goaltender standing on his head to keep the team in games against a superior opponent.
• Question for discussion: Was Jacques Martin schooled by Guy Boucher, and if so, what are the implications for the season that awaits us?
Tampa Bay just kept coming and coming and coming some more.
Steven Stamkos had eight shots on goal and scored on the power-play to send the game into OT.
Teddy Purcell, the pride of Newfoundland (thanks for that note, J.T.), had eight shots as well.
Dominic Moore won 10 of 18 faceoffs and assisted on Ryan Malone’s OT winner. In the first fan election of the season, Malone won automatically because he scored in OT. That';s one of the system’s rules. Malone had six hits and spent the night in and around Price’s kitchen, wreaking havoc and causing jitters among Canadiens defenders.
The usual suspects showed up. Martin St. Louis had five SoG and scored on a short backhand. Vincent Lecavalier seemed to be on the puck on every shift.
In addition to 48 shots on goal, TB had 20 misses and 17 shots that were blocked by Canadiens defenders (including five by Josh Gorges, best of the Dmen in the season to date). That’s 85 touches worth of puck possession, to 27 SoG, 14 misses and 13 blocks for the Canadiens.
There were some good shifts. Tomas Plekanec scored, added an assist and finished plus-2. Linemate Andrei Kostitsyn scored a beauty 31 seconds after St. Louis had tied it 2-2 … and there was treason to believe that would be enough.
Credit Guy Boucher with inculcating is philosophy of utter relentlessness. The Lightning forechecked aggressively, won many puck battles and were at their best when the game was in the balance.
That was the scary aspect of this game.
Yes, the season is very young. But if the Canadiens find themselves battling Tampa Bay for a playoff spot among the lower seedings … well, it could get very interesting.
I thought the TB defence would be suspect. And it’s not like they’re the ’76 Canadiens on the back end, but that Victor Hedman kid played a game-high 26:14, had four shots on goal and used his considerable size effectively.
Tampa Bay has an unusual schedule. From Jan. 23 to Feb. 25, the Lightning will play 12 straight games at home.
In the race for playoff positions, Boucher’s team could sail into March looking pretty good.
But that’s a long way off.
In the short term, Tampa Bay served notice that they are a difficult team for the Canadiens, or anyone else, to handle.
In lamenting his team’s numerous penalties, Jacques Martin said “this league is too good and teams are too close” to have breakdowns in discipline that cost Ws.
Some observations from Seat 39 in the pressbox:
• The power play has now gone 0-for-3 in each of the Canadiens’ games.
• Roman Hamrlik played 20:07. His timing in the O-zone looked a bit off, but Hamrlik showed no other ill effects of his inactivity.
• P.K. will be high risk, high reward all season long. Will his creativity and spontaneity survive Martin’s attempts to rein him in? And will the coach’s survive Subban’s youthful indiscretions?
• Quality minutes again from Jeff Halpern and Dustin Boyd.
• Benoit Pouliot had five hits. But he hasn’t scored since March.
• Gionta (minus-2 in the game) and Gomez skated miles and miles and miles but still lack finish in the O-zone. Gomez plays on the peripgery, and it ain’t working.
• Ryan O’Byrne took an early penalty … again … but bounced back to play a decent game and finished plus-1.