TORONTO – The new guys seem to be fitting in just fine with the Montreal Canadiens.
Centres Dustin Boyd and Jeff Halpern both scored and played strong defensively in their first game as a Canadien as Montreal lost 3-2 to the rival Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
Lars Eller also made his debut with the Habs. The 21-year-old Dane was the prized prospect coming back in the trade that sent playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues.
With Mike Cammalleri serving a one-game suspension for a slashing incident in the pre-season, Eller moved up to the wing on a what’s expected to be a scoring line with centre Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn. While he didn’t land on the scoresheet, Eller showed some jump and had some chances.
“He used his speed, he used his skill, he went to the net,” said Canadiens coach Jacques Martin. “He had a couple of scoring chances, didn’t finish, but I think for his first game, he played pretty well.”
As for Boyd and Halpern, captain Brian Gionta credited both players not only for putting the puck in the net, but also for their work in killing off five Toronto power plays.
“They worked extremely hard,” Gionta said. “They were big on the PK for us and both of them got rewarded for going to the net hard and it paid off for them.”
Halpern wasn’t nearly as charitable when assessing his performance, saying he didn’t think his feet were moving as fast as they needed to be.
“I played good at times, but wasn’t real proud of the debut,” said Halpern, who signed a one-year deal as a free agent with Montreal over the summer. “The goal helps in the time of the game, but I think that was pretty disappointing.”
Montreal goaltender Carey Price responded the constant scrutiny he’s been under lately with a solid performance. After giving up two goals before the game was 10 minutes old, the 23-year-old seemed to settle down.
The only goal he said he wanted another crack at was Clarke MacArthur’s game-winner, which came early in the third period after MacArthur’s quick backhand beat Price on the stick side.
“I’d like to play the third (goal) different, I kind of got caught in between,” Price said. “But that’s hockey, it’s making quick decisions and sometimes they’re not always right.”
Price was battling the flu in advance of the game and was asked if he felt the effects of his illness at all on the ice.
“A little bit, but it’s time to play,” he said. “I had all summer off.”
Gionta praised Price for making a big save late in the game on Phil Kessel that kept the Habs within a goal.
“He played extremely well,” Gionta said. “That save at the end of the game, I think on Kessel, was huge. If we capitalize there in the last 30 seconds, that’s the key to the game right there, that save. I thought he played extremely well, made the big saves and did what he needed to do.”