OTTAWA - Paul Byron played an instrumental part in leading a relatively inexperienced Canadiens lineup to victory on Saturday afternoon.
The 27-year-old winger factored in on all three goals Michel Therrien's troops managed to score on Ottawa Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond in a 3-2 come-from-behind overtime win at the Canadian Tire Centre.
After lighting the lamp just 37 seconds into the first period, Byron chipped in with assists on Brian Flynn's equalizer late in regulation time, before feeding Phillip Danault for the game-winning tally at the 46-second mark of overtime.
Video: Byron scores 37 seconds in
While the Senators featured the likes of veterans Mike Hoffman, Chris Neil, Chris Kelly, Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turris up front, to go along with Dion Phaneuf and Erik Karlsson on the back end, Byron was just one of less than a handful of seasoned players the Canadiens countered with in their fourth outing of the preseason.
Once Torrey Mitchell was forced to leave the game after sustaining an upper-body injury during the opening 20 minutes of play, Byron knew full well that it was going to be up to veterans like him to lead the way for the remainder of the contest. And, that's exactly what he did - to the delight of the Canadiens' bench boss, of course.
"We had a lineup that was practically inexperienced against a team with a lineup full of regulars. It's still surprising that we're leaving with a win. The guys worked hard, despite the fact that they didn't have much experience," praised Therrien, before lauding Byron's effort in his hometown. "Guys like Paul Byron stepped up. He played an excellent game and took control of things. He's such a competitor. He was inspirational for everybody."
With Mitchell on the sidelines, Byron, Danault and Flynn combined forces to ultimately help the Canadiens claw their way back from a late deficit. The Ottawa native was particularly proud of the way the trio clicked and used their similar playing styles to their advantage.
"We're just three guys who work very hard. Everybody is playing the way we have to play. It's simple. It's strong. We're putting pucks in the right spots," shared Byron, who boasts a team-leading five points (2g - 3a) in his two preseason appearances so far this year. "When you play with two guys who are so smart on the ice, it's easy to play with them."
Danault had similar praise for Byron in the aftermath of Saturday afternoon's win, one in which his linemate continued to demonstrate the different facets of his game that make him an important piece of the puzzle for the Canadiens going forward.
"He's a guy with incredible speed. We're similar in a few aspects of our games. Offensively, right now Pauly is showing that he has a lot of skill and that he's a complete player defensively, too," mentioned Danault, clearly impressed by what Byron is capable of at both ends of the rink. "I'm really happy to be able to play with him."
Video: Danault wins it for team in overtime
No doubt the Canadiens' No. 41 is pleased with the way his preseason has begun, but he isn't taking anything for granted when it comes to his playing status. With so many youngsters fighting for roster spots behind him right now, he prefers to focus on capitalizing on every single start as opposed to just going through the motions before the regular season begins in mid-October.
"I don't think a spot's ever given to you. I think the message is pretty clear in camp that everyone's spot is up for grabs. It's a weight or a lift off my shoulders with signing a contract earlier in the year, but it's just the start for me," explained Byron, referencing the three-year contract he inked with the Canadiens back in February. "Management showed confidence in me by giving me that contract and I want to take my game to a whole new level. I believe in myself. With my skill set, my grit and my speed, I can do a lot of good things."
It's safe to say that Canadiens fans the world over are certainly in agreement there.