The Canadiens won the game and they also won the fight everyone knew was coming.
The Canadiens got goals from Nick Suzuki, Corey Perry, Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin and Joel Edmundson (empty-netter) to beat the Canucks 5-2 Saturday night in Vancouver. The Canadiens end their season opening six-game road trip with a very impressive 4-0-2 record, earning 10 out of a possible 12 points while outscoring the opposition 29-18.
Before the game even started, Edmundson got the attention of Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers during the pre-game warmup, challenging him to a fight once the puck dropped. It would be payback for the vicious hit Myers put on Joel Armia late in the Canadiens’ 7-3 win over the Canucks Thursday night.
The NHL Department of Player Safety decided not to suspend — or even fine — Myers for the brutal hit that left Armia with a concussion and out of the lineup indefinitely. That unfortunate decision left it up to the players to try and settle the score on the ice.
“I just went up to him and asked if he would give me one and he said yeah,” Edmundson said about the pre-game invitation to fight. “It was really short and the first shift we got out there together it happened. Our team wasn’t a big fan of the hit and he stepped up and he didn’t back away. So you got to respect that.”
It took only 3:09 into the game before Edmundson — who is 6-foot-4 and 227 pounds — and Myers — who is 6-foot-8 and 229 pounds — dropped the gloves and went at it. Edmundson won a unanimous decision, hitting Myers with at least six punches to the head, including a solid left hand at the end before the linesmen stepped in.
It was a tough night for Myers, who finished the game minus-4 after getting beaten up by Edmundson. Perry’s goal also appeared to go in the net off Myers’s stick.
“It’s just awesome for a guy to step up like that,” Drouin said about Edmundson. “When we saw he didn’t get suspended, we knew it was going to happen, someone was going to fight Myers. Just for him to step in like that and he had a great fight, too. It’s just huge leadership.
“He comes from a team that won a Stanley Cup (2019 in St. Louis) and he’s hard to play against,” Drouin added. “We’re very fortunate to have a defenceman like that who’s so steady and can stick up for his teammates with his size and you saw his toughness as well.”
Impressive debut for Perry
Perry made his Canadiens debut, taking Armia’s spot in the lineup, and was very impressive.
The 35-year-old, who had been on the taxi squad since the start of the season, logged 15:19 of ice time on the third line with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Tyler Toffoli and his goal gave the Canadiens a 2-0 lead at 11:42 of the first period after Suzuki had opened the scoring at 10:54.
“It was nice to get in, get a game in and get your feet wet and go from there,” Perry said. “The first couple of shifts I turned the puck over the one time. (The pace) was quick the first couple of shifts, but once you get in the flow of the game … I’ve played a few games in this league so it comes back. But I felt good overall. The hands felt good. I played with some pretty good players tonight, so they made it easy on me.
“You want to play every single game,” added Perry, who signed a one-year, US$750,000 contract as a free agent during the off-season after helping the Dallas Stars advance to the Stanley Cup final last year. “It’s a different situation but, at the same time, we have depth on this team and some great players on this team. I’m here to win and I believe in this group. You can see it through the first six games, through training camp, that everyone’s here to win and show everybody that we mean business. It’s a step in the right direction coming off this road trip and we just got to continue that.”
Perry’s goal came on a two-on-one break with Kotkaniemi going hard to the net. It looked like Perry was trying to pass the puck, but it appeared to go in the net off Myers’s stick.
“I’ll always say I wanted to shoot,” Perry said with a chuckle. “But I think I did see (Kotkaniemi) back door and I think it went off the D-man’s stick or something and in the net. (Kotkaniemi) made a great play going that close and it kind of opened up the seam for me.”
Drouin wasn’t surprised by Perry’s performance.
“I’ve watched Corey Perry for a lot of years now,” Drouin said. “I knew it was coming. He’s so slick with his stick, he’s got a long reach. He’s a veteran as well, so he knows how to play the game. He’s been in this league for a while, so I’m not surprised at what he’s done.
“I’ve seen him in practice and it’s a huge add on to our team to have such a veteran presence like that, that size, that reach,” Drouin added. “It brings a different dimension that we didn’t have last year. Him and Andy (Josh Anderson) are big boys that can play with the puck around the net and they’re very good at it. It was a huge game from (Perry) but, again, I’m not surprised to see it.”
Perry becomes only the third player in Canadiens history to wear No. 94, joining Yanic Perreault (2002-04) and Tom Pyatt (2010-11).
Julien not worried about Price
The Canadiens outshot the Canucks 33-25 and Carey Price made 23 saves, improving his record to 2-0-2.
Coming into the game, Price’s stats didn’t look good with a 3.50 goals-against average and an .887 save percentage. But coach Claude Julien said before the game that he wasn’t concerned.
“I think when you look at that game in Toronto (a 5-4 overtime loss in the season opener), he was really good,” Julien said. “He played really well in Toronto. So he had an average game the last outing here (a 6-5 shootout loss to the Canucks on Wednesday night) and he’s the first one to say that. But overall he’s been good and we have no worries at all about that.
“It’s unfortunate that sometimes those numbers can be, I guess … a bit of a … I don’t know what word to use,” the coach added about Price’s stats. “But it throws you off a little bit because those five goals the other night against (Vancouver), I would say maybe one or two goals probably he’d like to have back from that game. The other three there were screens, there were good shots and all that stuff. But he’s been good and he’s had that one average game that we all know he had. Other than that, we’re not worried at all about him.”
After the game, Price had a 3.14 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage.
Suzuki’s streak continues
Suzuki’s goal increased his point streak to six games to start the season.
“I skated with Nick back in London (Ont.) over the (off-season) break,” Perry said. “I knew exactly what he’s all about. He’s got skill, he’s got vision, he’s got finish, and he’s the real deal.”
Defenceman Jeff Petry saw his five-game point streak come to an end.
Drouin’s goal on a beautiful breakaway move — going forehand to backhand before beating Canucks goalie Braden Holtby through the five-hole — was his first in his last 20 regular-season games dating back to last Oct. 31. He also picked up an assist, giving him 1-5-6 totals after six games.
Drouin is one of five Canadiens players with six or more points in the first six games, along with Toffoli (5-3-8), Petry (2-5-7), Tomas Tatar (3-3-6) and Suzuki (2-4-6). Every Canadiens player has at least one point and the only three who haven’t scored a goal yet are Phillip Danault, Paul Byron and Brett Kulak.
“We have a deep team,” Edmundson said “We have different guys stepping up every game, so it’s fun to see. All four lines are firing and we’re playing solid defensively on the back end. So it’s been good. It’s nice to see everyone contributing, so just got to continue that.”
Danault turned down $30 million — report
Mattias Brunet of La Presse has reported that Danault turned down a six-year, US$30-million contract extension from Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin during the off-season.
Brunet reported that the offer to Danault was made after Petry signed his contract extension during the off-season and before Gallagher signed his contract extension. Petry signed a four-year, US$25-million deal that takes him through the 2024-25 season, while Gallagher signed a six-year, US$39-million extension that takes him through the 2026-27 season.
Danault is in the final season of his three-year, US$9.25-million contract with a salary-cap hit of $3.083 million.
The 27-year-old Danault posted 13-34-47 totals in 71 games last season, along with a team-best plus-18. Danault is also the Canadiens’ best faceoff man. This season he has 0-3-3 totals and is plus-4.
Danault earned some high praise from Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon on a recent episode of the Spittin’ Chicklets podcast.
“I think an underrated guy would be Phillip Danault in Montreal,” MacKinnon said. “I don’t know if he gets Selke recognition or not, but he should, man. He’s so hard to play against. He’s such a good centreman, man. He’s all over me every time we play Montreal, home or away. I find it’s definitely really hard to get space against him. Hopefully he wins the Selke one day … I think he deserves it. I think he’s good against everybody, not just me.”
Last season, Danault finished sixth in voting for the Selke Trophy, which goes to the best defensive forward in the NHL.
Kotkaniemi continues to improve
Kotkaniemi continues to grow into his body on the ice, although he still falls down quite a bit.
The 20-year-old is still like a Great Dane puppy growing into his body, now measuring 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds and already in his third NHL season. He was held off the scoresheet Saturday night, but has 1-2-3 totals to start the season and is plus-4.
“I guess since the bubble this past summer in the playoffs he’s really come back and he’s really embraced the opportunity and he’s done the things that we kind of hoped would happen with him,” Julien said before the game. “You can’t stress it enough. He came in as an 18-year-old, had a great camp and it was great. But I don’t think he was ready to I guess experience what was to happen next. The fact that things sometimes get a little harder and you run into a wall and then you don’t necessarily always know how to handle it.
“But he’s come back in that bubble and I think he’s got a really good feel now on what he needs to do to be successful,” the coach added. “He’s grasped that. He wants to be that guy. He’s got great teammates that surround him right now to encourage him to play the way that’s going to give him some success. So I think there’s a lot of things happening with him right now that tells me he’s getting better all the time and what you’re going to see from him moving forward is what you’re starting to see now. In the last few games, more confidence, more assertiveness. And I think we all know he’s got an unbelievable shot. When he learns to use that in the right times and maybe just even a quicker release of the puck he’s going to score even more goals.”
Kotkaniemi has impressed the veteran Perry, who made his NHL debut with the Anaheim Ducks during the 2005-06 season when Kotkaniemi was a 5-year-old living in Finland.
“I didn’t know much about KK, but I knew he was coming into his own,” Perry said after the game. “He’s impressed me. He’s strong on the puck and he makes plays and he can shoot it.”
What about Mete?
Victor Mete remains part of the Canadiens’ 21-man roster but has yet to play a game this season.
Mete would have dressed as a seventh defenceman Saturday night if Byron couldn’t play after taking a Shea Weber slapshot off the foot in Thursday’s game. Byron missed practice Friday, but took part in the pre-game skate Saturday and was deemed fit to play.
If Mete had played, Julien might have been forced to use him as a winger.
“He could because we’ve done that before,” Julien said before the game. “There was a time there where I’ve had to put Victor up on the wing and he played a few shifts. So that’s a possibility if Paul Byron can’t go, then we may use (Mete) at times in that position.”
During the first intermission on Hockey Night in Canada, Elliotte Friedman noted that the Canadiens won’t put Mete on waivers for fear of losing him, but added: “I do think there are some other teams circling around this year and seeing how the Canadiens are going to deal with this as the season progresses.”
The Canadiens wouldn’t have been able to call up forward Michael Frolik from the taxi squad to take Byron’s spot because that would have put them over the NHL salary cap.
Speaking of the taxi squad, Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette explained in an article earlier this season where that term comes from.
“We have to go back to 1947 when Paul Brown, the coach of the eponymous Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference, wanted to keep some promising young reserves,” wrote Hickey, who is a sports encyclopedia. “The players were placed on the payroll of the Yellow Cab Company, which was owned by Browns owner Arthur (Mickey) McBride.”
Texas Stars sign Scherbak
The Texas Stars announced Saturday that they have signed right-winger Nikita Scherbak to an AHL contract for this season, which is scheduled to start on Feb. 5.
The Canadiens selected Scherbak in the first round (26th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft, but he only played 29 games with the team, posting 5-2-7 totals. Los Angeles claimed Scherbak off waivers from the Canadiens on Dec. 2, 2018, but he only played eight games with the Kings, scoring one goal.
The 25-year-old played 31 games in the KHL last season, split between Omsk Avangard and Chelyabinsk Traktor, posting 3-8-11 totals.
The Canadiens will fly home from Vancouver on Sunday and enjoy a day off Monday in Montreal.
The Canadiens will then practise Tuesday and Wednesday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard before playing their home opener Thursday night at the Bell Centre against the Calgary Flames (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM). It will be the first of five straight home games for the Canadiens.