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Canadiens Game Day: An impressive debut for new goalie Jake Allen

Jake Allen played 24 games last season with the St. Louis Blues, posting a 2.15 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.
Jake Allen played 24 games last season with the St. Louis Blues, posting a 2.15 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.

The last time the Canadiens got a shutout from a backup goalie was during the 2017-18 season, when Charlie Lindgren had two and Antti Niemi had one.

Jake Allen came within 2:09 of ending that slump in his Canadiens debut Monday night, instead settling for a 3-1 victory over the Oilers in Edmonton.

With the Canadiens on a power play late in the game, Jonathan Drouin — the last man back — tried a risky move at his own blue line and lost the puck to Devin Shore, who went in and scored short-handed.

The Canadiens outshot the Oilers 34-26.

Russian rookie Alexander Romanov opened the scoring with his first NHL goal at 9:54 of the first period, Shea Weber made it 2-0 at 19:49 of the second period with a power-play goal, and Artturi Lehkonen scored short-handed at 12:15 of the third period. Weber’s goal originally didn’t count because the referee made a brutal call of goalie interference against Jeff Petry, but Canadiens coach Claude Julien challenged the call and the goal counted after video review.

While a shutout would have been nice, the Canadiens will be thrilled to get a victory from their new backup goalie in only the third game of the season as they improved their record to 2-0-1.

Last season, the Canadiens had a 31-31-9 record and only four of their wins came with their backup goalie and none of them were in regulation time. The Canadiens didn’t get their first win from a backup until the 13th game of the season, a 5-4 overtime win over the Vegas Golden Knights with Keith Kinkaid in net. Their second win by a backup didn’t come until the 32nd game with rookie Cayden Primeau in goal for a 3-2 OT win over the Ottawa Senators. The last two wins by a backup came from Charlie Lindgren — a 5-4 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils in the 56th game and a 4-3 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes in the 68th game.

With no confidence in his backup goalies, Julien played Carey Price in 11 straight games and 17 out of 18 at one point down the stretch as the Canadiens battled to stay in playoff contention.

Allen’s performance Monday night will definitely give Julien confidence to play him again, probably as early as later this week when the Canadiens have back-to-back games against the Canucks in Vancouver on Wednesday and Thursday.

“I don’t think personally that was a question for us, whether he would be reassuring,” Julien said after the game when asked about Allen’s performance. “But the one thing you do hope is that when he plays his first game he has a good outcome so that it builds confidence for him, it builds confidence for the team, everything else. You know, had it gone the other way — let’s say he had a tough night — then we know he can do a job, but then it puts question marks and then people start wondering whether he’s the answer and all that stuff. So I think tonight he just proved that he is the real deal and showed to everybody that he’s ready to play.

“I think we were better defensively but, at the same time, he still had to make some big saves at certain times of the game where it could have gone the other way,” the coach added. “But he really played an outstanding game and then deservingly was first star tonight.”

Last season, Price played in 58 games, tying with Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets for the most among NHL goalies. Price finished the season with a 27-25-6 record, a 2.79 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. After playing in the first two games this season, Price has a 1-0-1 record with a 2.92 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.

The goalie game

Julien was asked Monday morning how he plans to set up his goalie rotation this season.

“I’ll give you the same answer I give every year,” the coach said, despite the new goaltending tandem. “We actually make a yearly plan and then from there we actually do go week-by-week. Because depending on what’s going on — you never know if there’s an injury and you have to tweak your plan — sometimes something happens, whether a goalie is really hot or he comes off, whatever, a shutout and you say: ‘Geez, do we put him back in next game when he wasn’t supposed to?’ There’s some adjustments along the way. But we kind of make a plan to start, but every year so far it’s been hard to stick with that plan because of different situations happening.”

Allen played 24 games last season with the Blues, posting a 12-6-3 record with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin acquired Allen from the St. Louis Blues during the off-season, along with a seventh-round pick at the 2022 NHL Draft, in exchange for a third-round pick and a seventh-round pick at last year’s draft. Bergevin then signed the 30-year-old goalie to two-year, US$5.75-million contract extension that runs through the 2022-23 season with an annual salary-cap hit of $2.875 million. Allen is earning $4.35 million this year in the final season of a four-year, US$17.4-million contract.

The Blues used the two picks they acquired from the Canadiens in exchange for Allen at last year’s draft to take Boston University defenceman Dylan Peterson in the third round and left-winger Chase Bradley of the USHL’s Sioux City Muskateers in the seventh round.

A memorable goal

Romanov’s first NHL goal came on a quick shot from the point after Jake Evans had won a faceoff in the Oilers’ zone to start the play.

The 21-year-old Russian didn’t realize he had scored at first.

“Firstly, I’m not understand that I scored,” Romanov, who continues to improve his English, said after the game. “Second, I was so excited … I had no words what I need to scream. I don’t know … it’s amazing.”

When asked about the Canadiens’ impressive back-to-back wins over the Oilers, Romanov said: “I think because we’re playing hard. We had many hits in the game. We’re playing like a team. We’re playing like a family.”

Romanov, who logged 17:43 of ice time with three shots and four hits Monday night, continues to impress Julien, and his teammates were thrilled to see him score his first goal.

“The guys were happy,” Julien said. “You know they’re happy, you know they’re laughing and everything else. They love this kid. He’s a happy-go-lucky guy. Loves the game. He’s in a good mood every day and there’s so much to like about him. When it comes to game time and practice and everything else, he’s so dialled in. So he’s a real pro. He’s a young player that’s still going to learn a lot, he’s going to make mistakes. But just his enthusiasm and overall game is really good for a young player.”

Penalty-killers outstanding

Last season, the Oilers had the best power play in the NHL with a 29.5 per cent success rate, well ahead of the Boston Bruins, who finished second at 25.2 per cent.

On Monday night, the Oilers went 0-for-7 on the power play and gave up Lehkonen’s short-handed goal.

Meanwhile, the Canadiens went 1-for-5 on their power play and are now 4-for-10 on the season.

The Canadiens used seven different forwards as penalty-killers Monday night: Lehkonen, Nick Suzuki, Phillip Danault, Joel Armia, Paul Byron, Evans and Tyler Toffoli.

When asked after practice Sunday about the Canadiens’ penalty-killers being more aggressive this season, Evans said: “I think the biggest thing is just being smart.”

“As a group, we all have to be on the same page and know when we’re going to force guys and when we’re going to sit back,” he added. “But the biggest thing when you’re playing these top guys is that you don’t want to give them too much time and you don’t want to make them feel comfortable. So I think with the added depth this year there’s a lot of guys that can PK. So we’re going to be going all out when we’re out there and we can change quick and get some fresh guys out there, too.”

Shutting down McDavid

After limiting Edmonton superstar Connor McDavid to one assist in Saturday’s 5-1 win over the Oilers, the Canadiens kept him off the scoresheet completely Monday night, limiting him to two shots in 21:52 of ice time.

In 12 career games against the Canadiens, McDavid has 3-11-14 totals and he has failed to score in his last three games against Montreal.

Danault deserves a lot of the credit for that, but it takes a whole team to completely shut McDavid down.

Kotkaniemi’s line struggling

Lehkonen scored Monday night, while Toffoli, Brett Kulak and Byron picked up assists, meaning there are only three Canadiens yet to get a point this season — forwards Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Armia, along with defenceman Ben Chiarot.

Toffoli’s assist came on Weber’s power-play goal when his regular linemates, Kotkaniemi and Armia, weren’t on the ice. So that trio has yet to account for a goal after three games. Toffoli and Armia are both right-hand shots and natural right-wingers, who have both been tried on the left wing so far this season.

Julien has stuck with the same forward lines since the start of training camp.

“The good thing about our team right now is that we do have some options if there is a situation where we really feel like a line is really struggling and needs maybe a little spark or something like that,” the coach said Sunday when asked about the possibility of making changes. “We’ve got guys that we can move around. When you’ve got guys like Lehkonen and Paulie Byron playing more or less on the fourth line with a young Jake Evans you know that those guys can easily get plugged up to another line to help that line find its groove again and we can also move some of those guys around.

“Especially early in the season, you have to have a little bit of patience, especially with the number of new guys up front,” Julien added. “Give them a chance to build some chemistry with certain lines and you hope, I guess, that patience pays off in the long run. But if we really see something where we say it doesn’t really look like a really good fit then we need to make that change.”

Some stats

The Canadiens outhit the Oilers 31-17, led by Romanov and Kotkaniemi with four each.

Weber led the Canadiens in ice time with 24:55, followed by Chiarot (22:18) and Petry (21:36). Danault led all forwards in ice time with 18:36, followed by Suzuki (17:44) and Toffoli (16:03).

Weber, Brendan Gallagher and Kotkaniemi tied for the team lead with five shots each.

The Canadiens struggled in the faceoff circle, winning only 44 per cent of their draws. Kotkaniemi went 6-3 (67 per cent) and Danault went 10-8 (56 per cent), but Evans was 4-6 (40 per cent) and Suzuki was 4-10 (29 per cent).

Weber’s goal was the 103rd of his NHL career on the power play, moving him into 10th place on the all-time list.

The taxi squad

The Canadiens placed Romanov on the taxi squad on Sunday, but took him off on Monday to make him eligible for the game against the Oilers.

After the first game of the season, it was Evans who was placed on the taxi squad for two days as the Canadiens try to save money on the salary cap. CapFriendly.com explained that each day Evans was on the taxi squad instead of the active roster saved the Canadiens $6,465 against the cap.

Players loaned to the taxi squad this season are eligible to travel and practice with the full team, but do not count against the salary cap.

After practice Sunday, Evans was asked about being placed on the taxi squad.

“I was just told I was going to be on the taxi squad for a couple of days,” he said. “I think everyone kind of knows what’s going on with the team and the cap issues. For me, no matter what I’m in a great situation. I’m playing hockey and so there’s no reason for me to be angry about it. It’s helping the team out, too, so there’s no reason for me to complain. I’m playing hockey and making money off it. So I’m just happy with that.”

Julien was also asked about the taxi squad situation on Sunday.

“I hate to say this, but I think that’s a question for (GM Bergevin) to answer,” the coach said. “This is really not my department in how he plans doing it. I know he plans on doing some of that stuff for the cap purposes, but how he plans on doing it, whether it’s a rotation or whatever, I think it’s probably more complicated than that. I’ll have to let him answer at some point that question.”

Romanov and Evans both have two-way contracts this season. Romanov’s NHL salary-cap hit is $849,167, while his minor-league salary is $70,000. Evans’s NHL salary-cap hit is $750,000, while his minor-league salary is $225,000.

With Romanov coming off the taxi squad, CapFriendly.com had the Canadiens listed with $755,426 in current salary-cap space.

What’s next?

The Canadiens were scheduled to fly to Vancouver after Monday night’s game and enjoy an off-day Tuesday ahead of three straight games against the Canucks.

The Canadiens will face the Canucks Wednesday (10 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM), Thursday (9:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM) and Saturday (7 p.m., CBC, CITY, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5).

After that, the Canadiens will return to Montreal and play their home opener against the Calgary Flames on Thursday, Jan. 28 at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

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