Young guns continue to impress at camp
Though still communicating via an interpreter, Alexander Perezhogin (above) has found plenty of ways to connect with Saku Koivu on the ice.
MONTREAL - With the NHL promising more offense in 2005-06, those on hand at the Pierrefonds Sportsplexe on Friday got their first look at what may be the league's new reality. Led by captain Saku Koivu, Team White romped over Team Red by a 7-3 final.
After winning 3-0 on Day 1 of training camp, Team Red was outscored 11-4 in its two subsequent scrimmages.
ON THE SCORESHEET: After a couple of quiet days offensively, the Canadiens erupted for a combined 10 goals on Friday with 10 different players getting in on the action. Koivu got things started for Team White, while the other goals went to Kevin Lavallee, Richard Zednik, Chris Higgins, Jeff Paul, Mark Streit and Jim Vandermeer, who scored a beauty as time expired. Scoring for Team Red were Sheldon Souray on a blast from the point, Marcel Hossa, and Mike Ribeiro, who converted a slick set-up from Guillaume Latendresse.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: Jose Theodore, who was perfect on Day 2, allowed two goals on Friday while his Team White cohort Carey Price was beat once. For Red, Yann Danis allowed four goals while Olivier Michaud was beaten on three occasions in his training camp debut. Jaroslav Halak was given the day off, but still practiced with Roland Melanson during the scrimmage.
COACH'S CORNER: Head coach Claude Julien continues to be impressed by the tempo and intensity of camp thus far.
"I keep waiting for the action to slow down but it keeps getting faster," he said after the scrimmage. "Our veterans are working really hard out there, and as for our young guys, you just can't say enough about their effort. These kids know there are spots available and they're hungry, and it shows. That's all a coach can really ask for at a training camp. Hopefully they'll be able to keep this up during the preseason. They clearly have no intention of making our job of making cuts an easy task."
KOIVU KENOBI: In addition to appearing to be in the best shape of his life, captain Koivu is also enjoying being flanked by youngsters Higgins and Alexander Perezhogin. With both Higgins and Perezhogin widely believed to have an inside track on cracking the team's lineup to start the season, having Koivu as their on-ice mentor was by no means an accident.
"They're both working really hard and each of them has improved every day, which is the important thing," said Koivu. "Higgins has come a long way since his first camp two years ago, and while Perezhogin isn't quite as polished, it's obvious how talented he is."
Koivu did more than just help mold his young linemates. He scored the game's opening goal on his first shift and worked a little of his magic in an impromptu shootout after the game. Koivu was the only one of six shooters to score in the exercise, turning Olivier Michaud inside-out before stuffing the puck into the net.
SHOOTOUT SIGHTING: Those who turned out for Friday's scrimmage were treated to a preview of the much-talked about shootout that will be introduced this season. Apart from Koivu, the remaining shootout guinea pigs had little success. Corey Locke did manage to hit the post versus Price, while Zednik, Andrei Kostitsyn, Perezhogin and Pierre Dagenais were all unable to score.
GETTIN' HIGGY WITH IT: Higgins, who spent the summer training with fellow Long Islander Mike Komisarek back in New York, came into camp as one of the heavy favorites among the younger talent. He hasn't disappointed anyone thus far. The hardworking 22-year-old has picked up where he left off in Hamilton last season, and appears poised to crack the Montreal lineup this year.
"I got the chance to see him play a number of times last year and he was not only the best Hamilton Bulldog on the ice, but more often than not he was the best player on the ice," said Julien. "He's a natural center, but we're very comfortable sliding him in on the wing as well. Chris is a really good two-way player who can play in almost any situation."
Another thing in Higgins' favor is the promotion of his former Bulldogs' coach, Doug Jarvis, to assistant coach with the Canadiens. It's a move that could make his transition to the NHL that much easier.
"I really enjoyed playing for Doug," said Higgins. "He gave me a chance to prove what I could do last year by putting me in every situation: power-play, penalty kill, you name it. I'm feeling really good right now and much better than I did at my first camp back in 2003. Playing with a veteran like Koivu has been great for me as well.
"I couldn't ask for a better situation," he added with a smile. "Saku tells me where he wants the puck and I do what I can to get it there."
THE OTHER ALEX: Joining Higgins on the fast-track to the Bell Centre is his former Bulldogs' linemate Perezhogin. The slick Russian's speed and puckhandling skills have many thinking that his Canadiens debut may be right around the corner.
"I heard nothing but positive things from our scouts who saw Alex play in Russia last year," said Julien. "From what I've seen so far, they were absolutely right. This kid can play and I can't wait to see him in game situations."
"Training camp has been a great experience so far," said Perezhogin with the help of interpreter and Russian journalist Genadi Boguslavski. "Getting a chance to play with a player like Saku Koivu is an honor and a pleasure. He's always giving Chris and I tips and pointers on and off the ice."
Koivu, for his part, has enjoyed the mentor role despite the language barrier.
"He's great kid who wants to learn," he said of Perezhogin. "I don't speak any Russian yet, but down the road, with Alex Kovalev on my line, I may pick up a few words."
NOTHING TENDER ABOUT LATENDRESSE: Though he had a pretty assist on linemate Ribeiro's goal on Friday morning, Latendresse also flexed a little muscle on Day 3 of camp. The power-forward-in-waiting delivered a couple of thunderous hits during the scrimmage that drew oohs and ahs from the crowd and media contingent alike.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.