OTTAWA – The Canadiens used their penultimate preseason game to give the kids their time to shine.
Icing a blue line brigade that boasted a combined 99 games of NHL experience heading into Wednesday’s game – 82 of which were owned by Raphael Diaz – Michel Therrien didn’t walk into the Canadian Tire Centre worrying about results.
“We tried to give an opportunity to the young kids; that’s been our plan since about a week ago and we targeted this game. I think besides two guys, that was their full lineup,” mentioned Therrien of facing veterans like Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek and Chris Phillips, whose 1,073 career games played are over 10 times more than the entire Canadiens D corps combined. “It was a demanding game for young kids. Look at our defense and we didn’t have much experience out there.”
Seeing action for the first time this preseason after injuring his shoulder during the first intra-squad scrimmage, Nathan Beaulieu finished the night with two shots, two hits, two takeaways, one blocked shot and a plus-1 differential. The 20-year-old blue-liner is hoping his debut performance was good enough to receive a callback for the preseason finale on Thursday night.
“Playing one game, it’s tough to stick around, but I can just hope for the best now. I haven’t heard anything,” he admitted. “Talking with management, puck movement is the biggest thing. I was a fresh guy out there since I haven’t played in a while. You’ve got guys who have played four, five, even six games now. I was fresh, I thought I moved my feet pretty well and my first pass was good.”
Despite getting on the board less than two minutes into the game thanks to a top shelf slapshot from Magnus Nygren, the Habs still left the nation’s capital nursing a 5-2 loss.
“A couple of their big guys got points early and that seemed to shut it down a bit,” explained Beaulieu of All-Stars like Ryan and Erik Karlsson flexing some offensive muscle in the first period. “It was a good squad over there and the game was very intense. The result wasn’t what we wanted, but for my first game, not playing for a couple of weeks, I was pretty satisfied.”
Going toe-to-toe with a lineup chock full of veterans isn’t easy, but Therrien is hoping the lessons his young squad are leaving Ottawa with are worth a lot more than two points or a preseason win.
“The confidence, right from the get-go you could tell they were on their heels. They were fumbling the puck. That’s all part of experience. They need to play these types of games together so if they get called up one day, they’ll know what to expect,” suggested the Habs bench boss. “There’s nothing wrong with learning the hard way.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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