The first period of Saturday night’s game between the Canadiens and Vegas Golden Knights at the Bell Centre must have resulted in some bad flashbacks to last season for Montreal fans.
The Golden Knights totally dominated the Canadiens during the first 20 minutes, outshooting them 15-4 and taking a 2-0 lead.
But one thing about this new-look Canadiens team: they don’t give up.
On this night, they fought back, scoring the first three goals of the second period and eventually beating the Golden Knights 5-4.
Andrew Shaw scored twice for the Canadiens and was named the game’s first star, while Charles Hudon, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Tomas Tatar — with the winner at 12:17 of the third period — added singles. Brad Hunt, Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Tuch and William Karlsson scored for the Golden Knights.
Antti Niemi, starting in goal for the Canadiens in place of the struggling Carey Price, stopped 34 of 38 shots to improve his record to 4-1-0. Niemi kept the Canadiens in the game during the first period. The shots were 14-4 when Hunt opened the scoring at 17:40 of the first period on a power play.
Marc-André Fleury faced 27 shots in the Vegas net.
Former Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, playing his first game against his old team as a member of the Golden Knights, was held off the scoresheet despite having a game-high nine shots and was minus-2 in 20:46 of ice time.
The Canadiens showed a video tribute to Pacioretty on the scoreboard before the game started and he received a short standing ovation from the Bell Centre fans.
“I really wanted to win,” Pacioretty said. “I obviously always appreciate the support that I get from the fans here.”
He added about the game: “It seemed like the story of our year so far, mine in particular. It just seemed to not go in and it seemed all the opportunities against are going in.”
The Canadiens improved their record to 9-5-3, while the Golden Knights fell to 7-9-1.
Never give up
Remember the old “No Excuses” sign that used to hang in the Canadiens’ locker room?
They could put up a new one now: “Never give up.”
“I just think we’re buying into the systems, we’re competing,” Shaw said after the game while wearing the Game of Thrones cape given to the Canadiens’ player of the game. “We’re winning our one-on-one battles and then we’re skating. We’re doing a lot of skating … we’re frustrating teams.
“We didn’t have the start we wanted and we needed to have a better second period and that’s what we did.”
Coach Claude Julien wasn’t happy when he spoke to his players during the first intermission.
“He let us know he wasn’t happy,” Shaw said. “Things we needed to change, things we needed to do. We went out there and we fought and we competed and we got ourselves back in the game.”
Changing of the guard
At the Canadiens golf tournament four years ago at Laval-sur-le-lac, the club brought out the four members of the new leadership group following the departure of captain Brian Gionta to the Buffalo Sabres as a free agent.
There would be no captain for the 2014-15 season, but four players would wear an “A” on their sweaters as alternate captains: Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec, P.K. Subban and Pacioretty.
Four years later, they are all gone from the Canadiens. Plekanec was the last to depart on Friday when he mutually agreed with the Canadiens to go on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his one-year, US$3.5-million contract.
Pacioretty was traded to Las Vegas just before the start of training camp this season, while Subban is in his third season with the Nashville Predators after being traded for Shea Weber and Markov is in his second season with Kazan Ak-Bars in the KHL.
After Vegas’s morning skate Saturday at the Bell Centre, Pacioretty said he has unplugged himself from what’s going on with the Canadiens and only learned about Plekanec from some Montreal friends he spent time with Friday on what was an day off in the city for the Golden Knights following their 5-3 win over the Senators Thursday night in Ottawa.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Pacioretty said about Plekanec. “It’s crazy to think that none of us are still here from the guys that were around three or four years ago.
“It was really nice to see him play his 1,000th game and to get recognized as a guy who was able to play 1,000 games in this organization,” Pacioretty added about his former teammate. “It’s very difficult and he always did it with class. He was always a professional that showed up no matter what the situation was and put in the work to help himself be prepared and help his teammates be prepared. I reached out to him late last night when I did find out and I’m very happy for him because I think he’s in a very good spot. From what guys were saying, he might be willing to go back home (to the Czech Republic) and enjoy time with his family and that would be good as well.”
Plekanec said Friday that he’d like to continue his playing career in the Czech Republic.
Slow start for Pacioretty
Pacioretty is off to a slow start in Vegas with two goals and no assists in his first 13 games. He missed four games with an upper-body injury before returning to the lineup this week for games in Toronto and Ottawa.
Pacioretty admitted it felt a little weird skating onto the Bell Centre ice for Saturday’s morning skate.
“Not as weird as I thought,” he said. “When you go through, I guess, experiences like that (waiting to be traded), a whole summer of kind of waiting around and then it happens. It was weird being out there, but also a bit comfortable being on that ice. I’m used to practising out there, so just with a different jersey is a bit different. But it’s good to be back.
“I’ve never even seen the visitors’ locker room,” Pacioretty added. “So to see that for the first time was strange. But at the end of the day it’s another hockey game, another opportunity for our team to win and battle back a little bit and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
When asked what the fan reaction at the Bell Centre might be toward him Saturday night, Pacioretty said: “I’m not nervous. I have a great relationship with the city and the fans and I saw that yesterday being out and about as I was my whole life here in Montreal. I enjoyed the city yesterday and saw a lot of friends and got a lot of well wishes and nice words from the people that I ran into in the street. So, yeah, it was nice to see.”
Schlemko makes season debut for Habs
Defenceman David Schlemko made his season debut for the Canadiens after recovering from a knee injury suffered during the pre-season. Xavier Ouellet was scratched for the first time this season to make room for Schlemko in the lineup.
“We’re hoping he’s going to bring a little bit of what he brought to us in training camp before the injury,” coach Claude Julien said before the game. “I thought he was really good, he was in great shape. He moves the puck well. He has good vision out there, he sees the ice well. At the same time he’s got a good stick to defend. He’s a guy that’s got experience and we can certainly use that right now as well on the back end. We’re hoping that he’s going to be back to at least close to what he was before the injury because we liked his game at that point.”
Schlemko had a good game, logging 20:00 of ice time and was plus-2.
Return to Bell centre for Gallant
The Bell Centre is also a familiar place to Vegas Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant, who was an assistant coach for the Canadiens under Michel Therrien during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons before leaving to become head coach of the Florida Panthers.
During his first year as head coach of the Golden Knights last season, Gallant led them to a 51-24-7 record as an expansion team before advancing to the Stanley Cup final, where they lost to the Washington Capitals in five games.
“He’s a tremendous coach and an even better human being,” Pacioretty said about Gallant. “He’s a big reason why I’m in Vegas. A big reason why this team is what it is, why guys want to play here, why they had success last year. I really, really enjoy playing for him.”
The Canadiens will have the day off Sunday before flying to Western Canada on Monday for games against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night (9 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio), the Calgary Flames on Thursday night (9 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) and the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, SN1, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).
Last season, the Canadiens went 2-1-0 on their Western Canada trip, beating the Canucks 7-4 and the Flames 3-2 before losing 4-1 to the Oilers.