Though only two days into training camp, Claude Julien likes the manner in which his 2005-06 lineup is taking shape.
MONTREAL -- On the anniversary of the start of the NHL lockout one year ago, the Canadiens marked the occasion by delivering another spirited scrimmage for the fans who packed the Pierrefonds Sportsplexe on Thursday for Day 2 of training camp.
After being shut out, 3-0, by Team Red on Wednesday, Saku Koivu and Team White stormed back with 4-1 win in a scrimmage that managed to outdo the already high intensity and pace set on the opening day of camp.
HOW THEY STACKED UP: For the second day in a row, Team White and Team Red squared off with identical lineups. Team White consisted of Jose Theodore, Carey Price, Mark Streit, Jeff Paul, Francis Bouillon, Craig Rivet, Kevin Lavallee, Andre Benoit, Andrei Markov, Raitis Ivanans, Saku Koivu, Peter Vandermeer, Richard Zednik, Chris Higgins, Steve Begin, Tomas Plekanec, Maxim Lapierre, Alexander Perezhogin, Michael Lambert, Cory Urquhart, Francis Lemieux, Michael Ryder, and Jonathan Ferland. Team Red was made up of Jaroslav Halak, Yann Danis, Olivier Michaud, Mike Komisarek, Mathieu Dandenault, Sheldon Souray, Jean-Philippe Cote, Ron Hainsey, Jonathan Aitken, Andrew Archer, Radek Bonk, Pierre Dagenais, Alex Kovalev, Kyle Chipchura, Niklas Sundstrom, Jan Bulis, Corey Locke, Andrei Kostitsyn, Jimmy Bonneau, Duncan Milroy, Mike Ribeiro, Marcel Hossa, and Guillaume Latendresse.
ON THE SCORESHEET: While Day 1 was dominated by veterans like Kovalev and Ribeiro, Thursday belonged to the kids. Three of Team White's four goals came from players yet to play a with the Canadiens at the NHL level; Lambert, Benoit and Lapierre all lit the lamp, while Ryder also notched his first goal of the camp. The only goal by Team Red belonged to Hainsey.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: Theodore was perfect on Day 2 after allowing one goal on Wednesday. Team White teammate Price allowed the squad's only goal. For Team Red, Danis was beaten once while Halak was victimized for the other three goals. The battle for the back-up spot to Theodore that's resulted due to the injury to Cristobal Huet should intensify over the duration of the camp. Danis appears to have the inside track, thanks to a strong camp coupled with his season-long performance in Hamilton in 2004-05. Halak, however, has been spectacular at times as he looks to crack the Canadiens lineup and emerge as the steal of the 2003 draft as 271st overall pick.
COACH'S CORNER: Head coach Claude Julien liked what he saw on Day 1 and was just as pleased with the overall effort put forth on Thursday. "I saw a lot of good things out there again today," he said after the hour-long scrimmage, "but I'm like the players in that I just can't wait until Sunday when we start playing for real. The exhibition games are going to tell us a lot about who is ready to make the jump. We've made it clear that there are spots to be won, here, and the players all know it. Preseason is the preseason, but I expect some impressive performances over the next two weeks."
Julien admitted it was nice to get back behind the bench.
"Evaluating talent is part of my job, but I'm a coach and I missed coaching," he said. "I've been scouting for long enough now; I just want to get back to work. The players aren't the only ones who need to shake off the rust."
STREIT SHOOTER: With the departures of Patrice Brisebois and Stephane Quintal, and the lone key addition of Mathieu Dandenault to the Montreal blue line, opportunity knocks for a new face to fill a vacant spot on defense. Swiss rearguard Streit is among those fighting for that opening, and he clearly hasn't made the trip all the way from Switzerland for simply a two-week vacation in Montreal.
"What happens from this point on is not up to me," said the soon-to-be 28-year-old. "I played in North America about four years ago, but I wasn't ready back then. Now, I feel, is the right time for me to make this move. My puck-moving, quick transition style of play is hopefully what the Canadiens are looking for with the new rules beginning this year. The game is supposed to be faster and that's the way I like it."
ONE HUNGRY BULLDOG: Hainsey, having had a solid year with Hamilton in 2004-05, is vying for the same spot on the blue line as Streit. Armed with a new outlook and maturity, the older and wiser 24-year-old knows he's done a lot of growing up since being drafted 13th overall in 2000.
"When you look at the team's needs right now, this feels like it's my time to not only earn a spot in the lineup, but hold on to it as well," said Hainsey, who already boasts 32 NHL games of experience. "I'm just going to give it all I've got and hope that I can take advantage of this opportunity."
STUDENT TEACHER: It may not have been that long ago that Ribeiro himself was learning the ABC's of the NHL, but the 25-year-old now finds himself tutoring the Canadiens' star pupil at this year's camp, Latendresse.
When asked whether he sees any similarities between himself and the team's hulking second-round selection from this past July, No. 71 responded as only Ribeiro could.
"Sure we're alike in some ways, but I wasn't that big back then, I'm not that big now, and I'll never be that big," he said of the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder, who ranks among the biggest forwards in camp. "He's definitely farther along than I was at 18. I've enjoyed playing with him and he's a great kid, but it's so early on. The last thing you want is for there to be high expectations on a player this young."
The Canadiens' top point-getter in 2003-04 also admitted that this year's camp feels much different for a number of reasons.
"The enthusiasm that young players like Guillaume have brought to the camp and how anxious we all are to start playing for real has made this camp a lot of fun," said Ribeiro. "Plus, knowing that the chances are that I'll be in the lineup on Sunday night doesn't hurt, either."
FAMILIAR FACE: Former Canadiens tough guy P.J. Stock stopped by training camp on Thursday and got the chance to yuck it up with some of his former mates. The West Island native was all smiles despite retiring this summer due to an eye injury he suffered in 2003-04 while with the Flyers' AHL affiliate in Philadelphia.
"The doctors told me that I couldn't play anymore since I had a little double vision whenever I looked up," explained the 30-year-old, who played 20 games with Montreal in 2000-01. "I said, 'What's the big deal, then? I never look up, anyways!'"
Stock was clearly a favorite in the Canadiens dressing room despite his short stint with the team, as the likes of both Koivu and Rivet hurried over to see their old comrade. Stock's ties to the Canadiens training camp didn't end with his former Montreal teammates, either; he also played with auditioning enforcer Vandermeer while the pair were with the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms.
"Pete's an awesome guy, a real character," said Stock. "Hopefully things will work out for him here in Montreal and you all will get to know him for yourselves."
Vandermeer is one of several heavyweights in camp this year, along with Bonneau, Paul, and Ivanans. All are aiming for the enforcer role left open by the departure of Darren Langdon.
"He's a pretty good hockey player," Stock said of Vandermeer. "He's good wheels and Pete brings a lot more to the rink than his fists. Don't get me wrong, he's tough as nails. Don't let that smile of his fool you, either. Trust me, once he pulls those teeth out, he means business."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com.