MONTREAL – When the Montreal Canadiens acquired Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez in the off-season, it was partly because of the success they had together with the New Jersey Devils a few years ago.
The two ex-Devils worked their magic in the third period as the Canadiens scored three times in a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in NHL pre-season action on Monday night.
Gionta had two goals and set up another by Gomez, while Guillaume Latendresse also scored for Montreal (3-2), which finished a run of five games in five nights.
“Brian’s always been a great player,” said Gomez. “The thing with Brian is he works so hard, you have to match that.
“He goes 100 per cent every time and to keep up with him, you have to pick up your game. But it’s been a while since we played together, we still need time. There were a couple of passes where I rushed him.”
Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin scored in the second period and Bill Guerin got a power-play goal in the third for the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins (2-2-0).
“The thing in the pre-season is we’re finishing strong,” said Gionta. “We’re building some chemistry out there and working hard.”
“In general as a team we just played better in the third period,” added Gomez.
The Canadiens trailed 2-1 going into the third when Gomez, Latendresse and Gionta all scored.
It marked the first time Gionta and Gomez played together on a line in the pre-season. They were joined in the third period by another top signing, Mike Cammalleri, after Max Pacioretty left the game with an upper body injury early in the third period.
Martin said the injury did not appear to be serious, but that Pacioretty would be re-evaluated on Tuesday.
The Penguins had their full five-man power play unit together for the first time. It produced Guerin’s goal in the third period, but also gave up a short-handed goal.
“It was OK,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby of his unit with Malkin, Guerin, Gonchar and Kris Letang. “We haven’t got a lot of chances to practise it.
“We’ve still got some kinks to work out, like timing. As we go on we have to improve, no doubt. but it’s good to have everybody together.”
Carey Price was sharp in stopping 14 Pittsburgh shots in the first period, and Montreal took the lead at 18:12 when Gionta had several whacks at the rebound of Jaroslav Spacek’s point shot before getting it past goaltender John Curry.
Gonchar tied it 3:27 into the second frame with a weak wrist shot through heavy traffic that was redirected past Price.
Ben Lovejoy came out of the penalty box and fed Malkin for an off-wing shot that caught the far post for the Russian’s second goal in as many pre-season games.
An otherwise quiet Crosby drew a double high-sticking penalty on Spacek near the end of the second period after he was clipped while breaking to the net.
But Crosby was beaten on a faceoff and again in a battle for the puck by Gomez, who exchanged the puck across the ice with Gionta before going to the net to tip in his pass in short handed at 1:40 of the third period.
The rebound of Andrei Kostitsyn’s shot off the end boards was stopped by Curry before Latendresse lifted in the rebound to put Montreal ahead at 7:22.
Andrei Markov pinched at the point to set up a three-on-one around the Pittsburgh net and Cammalleri set up Gionta in front for his second of the game and third of the pre-season.
Cammalleri was in the penalty box when Guerin picked the far post with a wrist shot at 16:46.
Crosby said he was glad to be back in action despite the short break since winning the Cup.
“Once you get back in the routine you get used to it,” he said. “I would say I welcome that.”
After the game, Montreal assigned defenceman Shawn Belle and forward Erik Nielson to AHL Hamilton. They joined 17 players cut earlier Monday.