MONTREAL – Opportunity knocked for Canadiens prospects in Sunday night’s preseason opener against the Sabres, and despite a 5-4 shootout loss at the Bell Centre, they certainly answered the call.
While young guns aplenty delivered against Buffalo, the line of Michael Bournival, Martin St-Pierre and Michael McCarron offered up a standout effort, amassing six points between them in their first taste of preseason action ahead of the 2013-14 campaign. Wreaking havoc on Sabres defenders at every opportunity, the Canadiens’ most dominant forward line earned additional minutes with every poignant shift.
Tallying twice against Sabres starter Jhonas Enroth, Bournival garnered praise from head coach Michel Therrien, who applauded the 21-year-old left winger’s relentlessness and competitive spirit against a Sabres contingent that was out to push a youthful Habs lineup around from the start.
“I really liked many aspects of his game. His speed, his work ethic, and I also liked the fact that he scored,” offered Therrien, who provided Bournival with 16:39 of ice time. “[I also enjoyed watching] his play along the boards. There were many factors that contributed to me liking his game. I really like his speed, and the fact that he’s a worker who never stops giving it his all. His speed allows him to create a lot of things out there on the ice.”
McCarron, who picked up primary assists on Bournival’s first-period tally before setting up St-Pierre's power play marker in the third, also impressed the Habs bench boss by registering a team-leading five hits along with two shots on goal and a plus-1 differential in just under 15 minutes of work in his NHL preseason debut.
“That was his best presence on the ice,” confirmed Therrien, who also saw defenseman Greg Pateryn amass three assists on the night and goaltender Zachary Fucale stop 13 of 15 shots in relief of starter Peter Budaj. “It’s not always easy for those big guys like that to play in scrimmages against veteran players from their own team. This is the next step in training camp, playing in exhibition games and competing against other teams and other players. We saw that [on Sunday]. He stepped up his game physically.”
Playing the type of hockey that has defined him early on his career, the 18-year-old Grosse Pointe, MI native credited his stellar effort to maintaining his composure ahead of puck drop and establishing good communication with his linemates early on.
“I just acted like it was a normal game and I showed up like I do every other game and it worked for me,” explained McCarron, who went to the net repeatedly against Sabres head coach Ron Rolston’s club looking to capitalize on scoring opportunities. “They were a little bit chippy. Lots of guys were chirping, but I wasn’t too surprised by that. Each day I’ve been here, the play has gotten faster and faster. I adjusted pretty quickly, and our line was talking a lot out there and it made everything a lot easier on us. We clicked really well.”
Like McCarron, Bournival believes that the trio’s high-tempo playing style was the reason behind its effectiveness.
“It went well. We were intense. We finished our hits. That’s what we need to do. We’re energy guys and that’s what we brought,” confirmed the Shawinigan, QC native, who registered 10 goals and 30 points in 69 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2012-13. “When I left Hamilton last year, they told me that I needed to work on finishing my checks. I’m trying to get involved in the play in that way.”
That same mentality is exactly what Therrien will be expecting of his troops as the preseason schedule rolls on. Despite being outhit by the Sabres by a slim 24-22 margin, the Canadiens' up-and-comers refused to be intimidated and fought for every inch of ice available in a contest that could have ultimately gone either way.
“The [guys] stood up. It was physical at times, but the guys stuck together, so I wasn't worried about that at all,” confirmed Therrien, whose squad will battle the rival Bruins on Monday night at the Bell Centre. “They really did stand up for each other and I’m really pleased about the way they competed.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Game Highlights: Canadiens-Sabres
The Numbers Game – September 15, 2013