MONTREAL – With the first round of cuts looming, Montreal Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau sees a bright future ahead for the team but not much hope for a surprise star emerging in training camp.
Alex Kovalev scored the lone goal in the shootout and Carey Price made 36 stops to lead the Canadiens to a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers in NHL pre-season action Sunday night.
It was the sixth game in seven nights for the Canadiens (4-2-0), who will be making their first cuts Monday morning. Approximately 20 players are expected to be sent back to their junior clubs or to the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs, but that doesn’t mean many of those youngsters haven’t left an impression on Carbonneau.
“I don’t think they changed my mind, I was pretty set on what I wanted to do before training camp, but it definitely gives a lot of hope for the future,” Carbonneau said. “Last year, the fact that we had no injuries was unbelievable and we hope it repeats itself this year. But we know now that we have depth at every position and we can move forward.”
One of the guys who solidified his spot on that depth chart is Yannick Weber, a Swiss-born defenceman cut out of the mold of fellow Swiss and former Hab Mark Streit. Weber scored his second power-play goal of the pre-season to tie Sunday’s game, beating Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun with a wrist shot upstairs.
“It’s not my decision to make, we’ll see what happens (Monday) morning,” Weber said. “I think I did a pretty good job tonight and (Friday) night against Ottawa. I’m more confident in myself, I tried my best and it worked out pretty well.”
Kovalev was the final shooter of the shootout and made no mistake, deking Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun before putting a backhand upstairs to send an announced sellout crowd of 21,273 at the Bell Centre home happy.
Kovalev also spent time on the first power-play unit with Weber manning the point – the spot Streit used to fill – and he feels the young prospect is not too far from the NHL.
“I think he’s ready,” Kovalev said. “We had a lot of younger guys last year who needed six or seven games to get adjusted. But it’s only the second game I’ve played with him and he looks comfortable already.”
Andrei Kostitsyn also scored in regulation for the Canadiens, while Anthony Stewart and Nathan Horton replied for the Panthers (2-2-2).
Price (1-0-0) played his first full game of the exhibition schedule and was solid in nets for the Canadiens, saving his best for the late stages with a spectacular glove stop on Horton in the dying seconds of regulation and a sliding save off Ville Peltonen in overtime to maintain a 2-2 tie.
He said all the off-season work to shed some extra pounds he was carrying last season is paying off.
“I feel a lot lighter and I don’t get as tired,” Price said. “I noticed that especially late in the third period, I feel a lot better. Even after TV timeouts, I feel like we’re starting a new game.”
Vokoun (0-1-1) was equally solid in the Panthers net, making 33 stops and limiting a very effective Canadiens power play to two goals on nine chances despite a flurry of chances.
The Panthers’ Horton had a busy night, getting into a fight with Habs defenceman Ryan O’Byrne and being foiled by Price on a penalty shot in the second and in the shootout in addition to his goal in the first.
“I didn’t shoot where I wanted to because I didn’t want to show him where I was going during the season,” Horton said with a smile of his penalty shots on Price. “I tried to hit him so he would think I’m going there next time. How’s that for an answer?”
Stewart opened the scoring at 3:12 of the first when he came down the right wing and beat Price with a very stoppable wrist shot to the glove side for his second of the pre-season.
Horton made it 2-0 early in the second with a power play goal off a rebound at 4:23, beating a screened Price high glove side.
Kostitsyn got Montreal on the board at 10:57 of the second with a power-play goal off a Tomas Plekanec feed for his team-leading third of the pre-season, and Weber tied it at 14:22 when Plekanec sent him in alone.
Notes: The Panthers made 23 cuts Sunday, including the 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft Keaton Ellerby. He’s expected to pair with Rory Fitzpatrick on the Rochester Americans’ top defence pairing this season. Among the Panthers scratched Sunday were forwards Cory Stillman, Stephen Weiss, David Booth, Radek Dvorak, Brett McLean, Rostislav Olesz and defencemen Bryan McCabe and Bryan Allen.