A dream return to Bell Centre ice by Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin was spoiled by St-Eustache native Alexis Lafreniere. His third period goal was the difference as the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 to keep the Habs winless through three games.
The Montreal Canadiens do pageantry and ceremony like no other franchise in sports. The club and their fans did not disappoint after a 585 day wait for a full barn. You could feel the presence of the fans in every second. 21,000 strong turned the Bell Centre into a cauldron of noise that bubbled up and burst at the introduction of each player.
The loudest of cheers were reserved for two wounded Habs, each in different stages of their recovery. You couldn’t help but think that wherever he is, Carey Price was watching the moment PA announcer Michel Lacroix announced his name to delirious applause. La foule’s customary chants of ‘Carey, Carey, Carey’ hit differently knowing the Montreal Canadiens star goaltender is dealing with his own personal issues away from the team.
Last out of the tunnel and on to the ice was hometown boy Drouin, whose connection to the fans this season will be special. After dealing with anxiety and insomnia that forced him to leave the team last season, Drouin was cheered seemingly every time he touched the puck in pre-season. The Montreal Canadiens winger bit back either a smile or a tear as he skated on to the ice to rapturous applause.
After all of that, there was a hockey game to play. With both teams searching for their first win of the season, the opening twenty minutes was a rather cagey affair. The Montreal Canadiens showed the battle and commitment in all three zones that head coach Dominique Ducharme demanded from his team after their 5-1 loss in Buffalo. Big winger Josh Anderson had the best chance of the period on an odd-man rush. But Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin just got his right shoulder on the puck.
The Montreal Canadiens continued to grow at even strength. But four straight penalties interrupted their momentum and it eventually proved costly. Mathieu Perreault took an offensive zone hooking penalty and on the subsequent power play, a shot from the point deflected off of Alexander Romanov’s leg and behind Jake Allen to put the home team behind 1-0.
Credit to the Habs, their response at even strength the rest of the period was exemplary. They carried that strong play into the final frame until Drouin had his storybook moment. Christian Dvorak picked up a loose puck behind the Rangers net and centered the puck to a wide open Drouin. The Montreal Canadiens winger calmly took the puck from backhand to forehand and roofed it past Shesterkin for good measure. to tie things up at 1-1.
That lead however only lasted a matter of seconds. Lafreniere took the wind out of the crowd’s sails as he finished off a pass after Zibanejad knifed through Ben Chiarot and David Savard. Both Habs defencemen looked confused about which rushing Rangers forward to cover and in the end, they didn’t really cover either one. The St-Eustache native had his own dream moment on Bell Centre ice to give New York a 2-1 lead.
The Montreal Canadiens had several chances to tie things up but couldn’t solve Shesterkin. Both Dvorak and Joel Armia had chances in tight but were stymied by the big Russian. Centreman Jake Evans even had a partial breakaway after he turned Jacob Trouba inside out but he fired the puck right into Shesterkin’s gut.
The home team continued to push but in the end, Kevin Rooney scored into an open net to send the Montreal Canadiens to 0-3 on the season.