MONTREAL – It’s only September, but some Habs veterans already appear to be in mid-season form.
Despite suiting up for their first game action in four months on Thursday night, a few key leaders were able to pick up right where they left off last May. While preseason games are usually more about rookies looking to impress the team’s brass with standout performances – like Christian Thomas, who now has two big exhibition outings under his belt – the second game of the 2014-15 preseason belonged to the already well-established members of the Canadiens roster.
“I liked the way the team played tonight,” confirmed Michel Therrien, who iced a squad that included just four players – Thomas, Greg Pateryn, Charles Hudon and Nikita Scherbak – who were in the lineup against the Bruins for the team’s first game of the preseason. “We were facing a very good team with two explosive lines up front. We put the pressure on them and we were hard to play against. The guys came to work. Even if it was only a preseason game, I saw a lot of leadership from our players tonight.”
Roaring out of the gate with the “A” stitched to his sweater for the first time in the NHL, P.K. Subban was back to his old tricks against the Avs, earning first star honors after blasting a one-timer past Reto Berra and adding a pair of assists in the 3-2 overtime win.
“The intensity was good out there for both teams, but at the end of the day, good or bad, it’s still preseason,” said Subban, who played a game-high 29:43 on Thursday night. “It’s all practice until the regular season starts. It’s not easy when you haven’t played in a couple of months to just jump right into it. You just have to turn the page and get ready for the next one.”
Also leading by example and hitting his stride early on in his first preseason game of the year, fellow assistant captain Max Pacioretty wasted little time wiring his first wrister over the shoulder of an unsuspecting NHL goalie with his first goal of the exhibition calendar.
“I’m just looking to improve every day personally and together as a line and hopefully we continue to do that,” shared Pacioretty, who finished one goal shy of hitting the 40-goal benchmark last season. “We gave up more chances than we would have liked, but it’s preseason and you’re trying out plays and trying to get used to each other. I’m happy with the way the game evolved.”
The flood gates may have opened for Pacioretty after getting on the board on just his fourth shot of the year, but the 25-year-old sniper is hoping they stay just slightly ajar until the goals and wins start counting for real.
“You definitely want to feel good, but you don’t want to waste all your goals in the preseason,” joked the young power forward, who accounted for seven of his line’s combined 11 shots against the Avalanche. “You definitely want to feel good about yourself but at the same time you want to peak for Game 1. You don’t want to empty it out now and then fade off for that first game of the year. We’re trying to build up every day to get ready for that first game.
“As the game went on, it definitely got a lot more heated on both sides,” he added. “And that’s what we’re looking for right now. You don’t want to empty the tank, but you want to get aggressive and have NHL-like battles. I think we got that, especially towards the end of the game.”
Currently undefeated in preseason action through two games, with the power play clicking at a rate of 40% and the team averaging 32 shots and 28 hits a night, things seem to be rolling along as planned for the Canadiens this fall. While the team has plenty of positives to focus on, no one in the Habs dressing room is about to start planning the parade just yet.
“I’m not going to look too much into this game,” stressed Subban. “It’s just a matter of trying to move the puck around and trying to create something out there and find some chemistry. We’re all trying to learn together. The key is that you want to see everyone take a step forward every year. Every year is a new beginning. We have to use the preseason as practice to get ready for the regular season and we have to step up and support each other. That starts now.” Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com. SEE ALSO Game highlightsThe Numbers Game - September 25, 2014 Divide and conquer