MONTREAL – Scott Gomez said it was nice to score at the Bell Centre, but it wasn’t as good as it will feel to get one that counts in the regular season.
Gomez scored the opening goal and fellow newcomer Mike Cammalleri had another as the Montreal Canadiens opened their NHL pre-season schedule with a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
“I’d like to say it’s a great moment, but I’m sure that when you score a regular season goal with this sweater on it’s going to be a lot different,” said Gomez, who joined the Canadiens in a trade from the New York Rangers this summer.
“It’s a good feeling, but a pre-season goal is still a pre-season goal. It’s still hockey and I still love to score. I don’t get too many of them. It’s neat to see young guys score because I’ve been in that situation. They’ll probably be on the phone all night with mom and dad and friends. But the older you get. . .”
Matt D’Agostini also scored for the Canadiens, who led 3-0 after two periods.
David Booth scored his second of the pre-season to get Florida closer and Evgeni Dadonov pulled the Panthers to within one in the third period for the Panthers (2-1-0).
However the comeback stalled when Steven Weiss was assessed a five minute match penalty for spearing Ryan O’Byrne late in the game.
“A win’s a win, whether it’s pre-season or not,” said Gomez. “We got a little sloppy at the end, but that’s expected in a pre-season game.
“The young guys played great and the fans got their money’s worth at the end.”
Carey Price stopped all nine shots he faced in the first half of the game. Curtis Sanford allowed both Florida goals on 21 shots.
Newly acquired goalie Scott Clemmensen played two periods, allowing three goals on 26 shots, while Alexander Salak was in goal for the third as the Panthers played their third game in as many nights.
It was Montreal’s first game since sweeping off-season changes saw 11 players leave and seven new ones arrive.
Most prominent among them were Gomez and Cammelleri, who have played on a line with Andrei Kostitsyn since the first day of camp.
“We got some production out of them, but there’s lots of work still to be done,” said coach Jacques Martin. “We’ll probably experiment more as camp goes on and see who plays with who.”
At 18:24 of the first period, Cammalleri and new defenceman Jaroslav Spacek combined to set up Gomez for the opening goal, a redirected pass that went in off the post with the teams each down one man.
Kostitsyn fed Cammalleri in the slot for a goal on the rush 8:21 into the second period, while D’Agostini slipped the puck between Nathan Horton’s skates, collected it on the other side and fired a shot just under the crossbar at 12:51 for Montreal’s second goal playing four skaters against four.
The Panthers got back in it when Horton sent Booth in on the left side. His first backhander was stopped but he followed up to score 5:27 into the third. Second effort by Dadonov led to a goal on a shot through traffic at 10:38 to cut the score to 3-2 but Florida would get no closer.
Montreal went 0-for-8 on the power play, but they only started work on special teams on Thursday morning.
“We’re not going to get frustrated with the power play,” said Cammalleri. “But I can tell you this (Andrei) Markov is pretty good back there with the puck. That puts a smile on my face.”
The Panthers dressed nine NHL regulars, while Montreal iced 13.
Top Florida draft pick Dmitry Kulikov played a third game in a row as veteran defenceman Keith Ballard was a late scratch. He had five shots – one fewer than Booth – and was plus-1. Defenceman Bryan Allen, who missed 80 games last season after knee surgery, saw his first pre-season action for the Panthers and looked strong.
The Canadiens began a string of five games on as many nights. They play host to the Senators on Friday, play at Ottawa on Saturday, face Boston in Quebec City on Sunday and return home to play Pittsburgh on Monday.