Suffering Canadiens withdrawal? The Gazette has the answer with the ultimate fantasy experience as beat writer Pat Hickey, Gazette techie Eric Tobon and assorted friends around the National Hockey League produce The Season That Isn’t by simulcasting the games on the EA Sports NHL 13 game. Here’s how things might have looked in Thursday’s season opener against the Ottawa Senators.
The penalty kill was one of the few bright spots for the Canadiens last season, but it got off to a shaky start in Thursday night’s season opener at the Bell Centre.
Erik Karlsson gave the Ottawa Senators a 2-1 victory when he scored a power-play goal at 4:58 of the third period. Jason Spezza opened the scoring for Ottawa with a power-play goal, while — surprise! — Scott Gomez scored for the Canadiens.
The Senators were handed a golden opportunity when defenceman Alexei Emelin received a major penalty for driving Spezza into the boards on the opening shift of the third period. There was less than a minute remaining in the penalty when Karlsson, the Norris Trophy winner, beat a screened Carey Price.
“Karlsson showed why he’s the top scoring defenceman in the league,” Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. “No goaltender was going to stop that shot. We put ourselves in a bad position with penalties and we have to move bodies in front of the net so Carey has a chance.
“Emelin is a physical player, and I like that,” Therrien added. “I thought it was a borderline hit, but he has to be aware of his position on the ice.”
The first Ottawa goal was pure magic from veteran Daniel Alfredsson, who has averaged better than a point a game against the Canadiens. After Price stopped Karlsson’s first-period drive from the point, Alfredsson one-timed the rebound to a wide-open Spezza for a 1-0 lead.
Gomez, who has become Therrien’s No. 1 reclamation project, may have benefited from the fact nobody expects him to shoot. He was left alone at the side of the net and buried a perfect pass from Brian Gionta at 15:51 of the first period to tie the score.
“Gomer didn’t even have to work on that goal,” Gionta said with a grin. “My kid could have scored on that play.”
Said Gomez, who went more than a year between goals before he scored on Feb. 9 last season: “I guess they’ll have to start a new pool on when I’m going to score my next goal.”
Gomez, who scored only two goals last season, has been moved from centre to play left wing on a line with Gionta and Tomas Plekanec. They accounted for six of the Canadiens’ 30 shots against Craig Anderson.
Defenceman Andrei Markov showed no ill effects from multiple knee surgeries over the past seasons. He played a shade under 20 minutes, but it was impossible to judge his effectiveness as the quarterback on the power play. The Canadiens drew only one penalty, but the advantage was negated when a sloppy line change resulted in a too-many-men penalty.
The game marked the first time the Canadiens have opened at home since 1999. The announced crowd was a sellout of 21,273, but there were pockets of empty seats, which may have been a reflection of the lockout or a lingering disenchantment with last year’s performance.
Notes – Colby Armstrong is out for 7-10 days with a pulled hamstring. … The Canadiens are on the road Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. … In the EA Sports simulation of Thursday’s game (easports.com/nhl), with the unsigned Mathieu Darche and the injured Rene Bourque both in the Montreal lineup, the Canadiens beat the Senators 5-3 with both Darche and Bourque scoring.
The Tournee des Joeurs game in Quebec City Thursday night featuring locked-out NHL players, drew a sparse crowd of 5,600. You can read Pat Hickey’s column on the game by clicking here.
You can read Brenda Branswell’s story about how the first official night without hockey at the Bell Centre on Thursday had an impact on local restaurants and bars by clicking here.
You can also check out our interactive graphic on the sweater Max Pacioretty is wearing in the Swiss A league, which makes him look like a billboard on skates, by clicking here.