Thursday, September 22, 2011

21/09/11: Buffalo 3, Montreal 1; but a good building block

It may have been the second loss in as many preseason nights for your Montreal Canadiens, but it was hard not to walk away with at least a little smile from last night's game at the Bell Centre.

Perhaps it was because Peter Budaj delivered a solid half game performance, seeming like he will be a perfectly acceptable back-up to Carey Price.

But that wouldn't be enough. Was it that P.K. Subban showed no signs of his training camp injury in being by far the team's best player and scoring a goal (followed by a celebration that delighted fans in the building but is sure to draw ire from people around the league given that it's just a preseason game)? Likely not, as Subban was just being Subban, though it does seem at this point that he may end up being the team's most important player not named Carey Price.

If it wasn't either of them, perhaps it was merely the fact that a team composed mostly of young players hung in there against a near-full Buffalo Sabres roster who, admittedly, weren't playing particularly passioned hockey? While this is true, it is still exhibition play, and so the outcomes are of little importance.

No, I think the biggest reason for Habs fans to have been happy last night was a first exposure to the stud that will be Nathan Beaulieu. Now Beaulieu didn't have a perfect game. He had a couple of giveaways, a few poorly executed passes, and some failed powerplay set-ups. But on the whole, the fact that he didn't look out of place is perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay the 18-year old kid. Beaulieu showed great skating and stickhandling ability, and set up teammates with a few very slick breakout passes. Ladies and gentlemen, we've got ourselves a top notch prospect. Expect Beaulieu to require a few seasons of development before he is a full-time Hab, but he appears to have a bright future ahead of him.

As for the rest of the team, fans who came to see Brendan Gallagher and Alexander Avtsin may have left disappointed, as Gallagher was basically quiet except for one very strong offensive zone shift, and Avtsin did little to be noticed aside from being pasted into the boards on a few occasions. Andreas Engqvist further extended his lead for a roster spot with sound defensive play over Aaron Palushaj who continues to float through camp with little impact.

Gabriel Dumont had a nice debut, showing his willingness to hit anything that moves and lots of combativeness for such a small player.

As far as the veterans go, Max Pacioretty had a solid outing with a number of chances / shots on goal, and doesn't appear to have lost any speed since his injury. His center for the night, David Desharnais, did a fine Scott Gomez impersonation through the neutral zone at times, but was of little influence on the game's result. The same could be said for Brian Gionta who had a quiet night and wasn't particularly noticeable, with the entire trio finishing a -3.

Next up for the Habs is a duel in Ottawa on Friday, the first of 4 games in 4 nights, meaning few cuts should be expected between now and then. The chemistry experiments continue as all players try to round themselves into shape.

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