MONTREAL – In their final preseason game, the Habs’ key players made the most of their opportunities and came away with a convincing 3-1 win over the Senators on Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
On game day, the buzz mainly revolved around Brian Gionta’s return to action. The right winger took 20 shifts, logging a total of 15:46 of ice time. He also directed three shots at goaltender Craig Anderson and set up linemate Tomas Plekanec on the game-winning goal late in the second period.
Rather than dwell on his own contributions, however, Gionta preferred to direct the credit toward teammate Daniel Briere, who was the chief architect behind the Habs two other goals.
“[Briere] is a veteran who plays with a lot of composure, and we saw that on the two goals he set up. He was patient with the puck and found the open man. They were both great set-ups,” praised Gionta.
Indeed, Briere managed on two separate occasions to find the quiet area behind the Ottawa net, elude the Sens defensemen and serve a perfect pass to his linemates, leaving Anderson helpless.
“[Briere] has a lot of patience with the puck,” acknowledged Max Pacioretty, who converted a feed from Briere to register his fifth goal of the preseason in the third period. “It’s just a pleasure to play with him and I hope that we can keep it going in the future,”
The 6-foot-2 winger crashed the net hard, beat the Ottawa defender to the puck, and scored his team’s third goal with a tap-in.
Still, with 16 NHL season and 659 regular season points under his belt, Briere is not about to let the accolades go to his head.
“Let’s just say that Thursday night’s match won’t make much history,” joked Briere. “We actually would have liked to create a bit more offensively, but we didn’t give [the Senators] much to work with in our end, so that’s a good thing.”
Even when pressed about the two goals he factored in on, the Gatineau native was quick to give his teammates credit for their efforts.
“[Galchenyuk] made a great play on his goal to find the hole and beat Anderson. He’s a great player and I’m just beginning to discover his talent,” said Briere of the sophomore left winger.
As for his usual linemate David Desharnais, who was on the ice for Pacioretty’s goal, the newcomer was equally generous with his compliments.
“[David] is explosive. He’s always on the puck. On the third goal we scored, it all started with him creating a turnover. I can’t count the number of times he’s done that since the start of camp. He always finds a way to get his stick or his skate on the puck; he’s a lot of fun to play with. I feel fortunate to play on his line, and I hope that we can be productive all year,” offered Briere.
Flying under the radar on Thursday night was goaltender Carey Price, who limited the opposition to only one goal on 16 shots in the first period before the Canadiens found their rhythm and roared back into the match. The 26-year-old finished the game with 29 saves on 30 shots in his most impressive preseason tilt to date.
Goaltenders are known to be somehwhat sensitive to their surroundings, and Price definitely had a few things to say about the shallower nets in use beginning this year.
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“[Having more space behind the goal] makes a big difference. The guys can use the area behind the net a lot more. I like it, it’s a good change. Generally, I’m pretty good at taking away the bottom of the net, so it’s an advantage for us,” explained Price.
In any case, small changes like these added up to a decisive edge for the Habs with the regular season on the horizon.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
NOTE: Nathan Beaulieu and Gabriel Dumont were released from training camp immediately after the game against the Senators. Both will join the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. Left winger Michael Bournival and defenseman Jarred Tinordi, meanwhile, remain with the squad, and will start the season with Montreal.
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