The Canadiens drafted Kyle Chipchura in 2004, knowing they were getting a centreman who before too long would make a name for himself in the NHL. On Saturday, Chipper scored his first goal, 3 1/2 games into his NHL career. It wasn’t exactly what he imagined it would be, but then, for the industrious fourth-liner centring Steve Bégin and Tom Kostopoulos, it probably should have been a seeing-eye shot whipped at the goal.
Freshly minted Canadien Kyle Chipchura photographed on draft day in June 2004.
Dave Sandford, Getty Images
ONE DOWN, HOW MANY TO GO?
Kyle Chipchura quickly learns you needn’t be fancy to score in the NHL
In the scrapbook of his imagination, Kyle Chipchura picks up the puck behind his own net, weaves through five defenders, dekes the goalie out of his longjohns and goes upstairs on the backhand.
In real life, Chipchura muscles Buffalo Sabres defenceman Andrej Sekera off the puck along the boards, works himself into the faceoff circle and fires a 47-foot, seeing-eye wrist shot at the Buffalo net that finds its way past goalie Ryan Miller.
In both cases, the red light signals Chipchura’s first National Hockey League goal.
It took the 21-year-old blue-chip Canadiens prospect 31/2 NHL games and four shots on goal (travelling a total of 153 feet, for the trivia-minded) to break the ice, scoring unassisted against the Sabres Saturday in Montreal’s 4-2 victory, the club’s first at home in three tries this season.
Chipchura surely has earned a spot in the lineup tonight, when the Canadiens (3-2-2) entertain Boston (7:35 p.m., RDS, CJAD Radio-800). The big, bad-again Bruins (5-2-0) lead Montreal by two points in the Northeast and are coming off Saturday’s 1-0 shootout win over the New York Rangers.
“When you get to the NHL, you realize there aren’t too many goals like that,” Chipchura said of the rink-length rush of his dreams. “You just throw it on the net and realize that you’re going to score this way, or by crashing the net.
“To finally get a goal in the NHL is pretty unbelievable. Beige and TK (linemates Steve Bégin and Tom Kostopoulos) and I are a hard-working line that’s not going to get flashy goals. To get one by just throwing it on net, that’s fitting for all three of us.
“At least it wasn’t a tap-in.”
Kostopoulos retrieved the puck, soon to be returned to Chipchura on a Canadiens-mounted souvenir plaque.
For head coach Guy Carbonneau, the victory was a two-point trophy, a reward for his team’s efforts which he believes have gone unrewarded.
“I always say, when you work, good things happen,” Carbonneau said, singling out his third and fourth lines for their defensive-zone work and welcome contribution to the scoresheet.
“I wanted to keep playing the way we have been – play hard and make sure the details were there. (Saturday) the third and fourth lines played really well in our zone, got the puck out, and in the neutral zone they made the right play and created some offence.”
Third-line centre Bryan Smolinsky scored his first goal as a Canadien, between Mikhail Grabovski (who earned his first NHL point with an assist) and Mathieu Dandenault.
Carbonneau was hard pressed to recall his own first NHL goal – “My God, that was a long time ago,” he joked of having to rewind 25 years – but was happy for Chipchura’s maiden marker.
“I like Kyle because I think he’s a smart hockey player,” the coach said. “He’s not the fastest player, but I’ve always said he was going to find a way to play in the NHL because he’s that smart. He still makes mistakes (but) he’s going to learn.
“The only way to learn is to make those mistakes, but you have to play to do that. Kyle had some really good games and some games he’s struggled, but he’s come back the next day, knows why, and works harder.”
HIGGINS’S SLEEPLESS NIGHTS
If Chipchura’s first goal wasn’t necessarily a thing of beauty, it still beat Christopher Higgins’s empty-netter to seal the win over Buffalo – after Higgins had been credited with the game-winning pinball special that finally went to first star Roman Hamrlik.
Not that Higgins was about to look a gift net in the goal mouth.
“It goes through your mind that you’re struggling to bury your opportunities,” he said. “I’ve had a bunch this season I should have scored and I’ve had a couple of sleepless nights thinking about them.
“But I’ve not really worried about not scoring. I know if I keep getting pucks on net, they’ll go in.”
It’s hardly personal; Higgins feels a great responsibility wearing the alternate captain’s A on his jersey this season, something quite clear when he smashed his stick on the boards in anger after the Sabres had banged in two second-period goals nine seconds apart.
“It’s changed my approach to the game,” he said. “Every time I put this sweater on, I notice the A. In the games when your legs don’t feel good or you don’t feel in the game, seeing the A kind of slaps you across the face and wakes you up. You realize that people are watching you and will follow your lead.
“You worry about getting yourself up for the game, but equally you want to get the team ready to play.”
Carbonneau hopes Saturday’s result, which earned his team the day off yesterday, sets the table for a big week ahead.
“We’ve been playing well and there was no result for it,” he said. “Fortunately, apart from Ottawa and Philadelphia, everybody is in the same pack. We knew if we had a good game (Saturday) and a good effort (tonight), we can be right back in the middle of things.”
After Boston, the Canadiens head out for their first back-to-back games of the young season, Friday in Carolina and Saturday in Pittsburgh. They’re back home next Tuesday to face Atlanta.