Canadiens host Panthers, look to tie home winning streak
MONTREAL — The Florida Panthers rallied for a crucial win in their most recent outing. Now they're hoping it gives them some momentum as they embark on a four-game road trip.
Trailing 2-0 in the third period against the Islanders on Saturday, the Panthers tied it late in regulation and emerged victorious when rookie Denis Malgin scored late in overtime. With the win, Florida continued its pattern of alternating wins and losses in its past seven games.
“That was a big win for us,” goaltender Roberto Luongo told reporters after the game. “Not just the matter of getting a win, but something of a rallying point for guys. Hopefully, we can build around, take the momentum, the emotions of the win and carry it through the next little while here.”
Last season's Atlantic Division champions, the Panthers (7-7-1) entered the 2016-17 campaign expected to once again challenge for the title. But early-season injuries to key players have plagued the club, which finds itself sixth in the division, albeit only five points out of second place. The team' infirmary is starting to clear out, however. Veteran Jussi Jokinen recently returned and center Nick Bjugstad could make his season debut later in the week.
Jonathan Marchessault has been a pleasant surprise for Florida and leads the team with eight goals and 14 points. The early season hasn't been as kind to star defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who finds himself with two points on the year thus far, both goals.
“I got to get into the offensive zone, I got to get pucks to the net,” he told the Sun-Sentinel. “I can't be looking to pass or make plays. My job is getting pucks to the net, not be the rush, but be supportive in it.”
In his third NHL season, Ekblad started the year as now the mentor after being the protege to former Panthers Brian Campbell and Willie Mitchell. Head coach Gerard Gallant paired him with rookie Mike Matheson, a Montreal native, but the duo struggled and was split up before Saturday's game, putting Ekblad with Mark Pysyk.
“It takes time to gel, time to get used to each other, time to build that kind of chemistry,” Ekblad said to the Sun-Sentinel. “I always had an older guy to lean on. Now, after three years, it's my job to instill that knowledge that I learned from them on him and support him and work off each other.”
It's the first of four meetings between the two clubs. Last year, Florida swept the season series.
The Canadiens (13-2-1) are coming off just their second regulation loss of the season after falling to the Blackhawks on Sunday night in Chicago. After a one-and-done road trip, the Habs return to the cozy confines of the Bell Centre, which hasn't been welcoming to visitors this season.
Montreal is a perfect 10-0-0 at home, outscoring its opponents 37-12 in those games. Only one team has managed to get more than two goals into the Canadiens' net at the Bell Centre. It broke a franchise record and is the second-longest home winning streak to start an NHL season, tying the 1924-25 Ottawa Senators.
The 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks hold the record, which stands at 11. The Canadiens can match that with a win against the Panthers.
A large part of Montreal's success — at home and overall — has been the remarkable play by Carey Price between the pipes.
“The way Carey is playing, he gives us a lot of confidence as a team,” coach Michel Therrien said following Saturday's home win over Detroit. “He's a true leader.”
Center David Desharnais was slated to sit out a second straight game on Saturday but drew back in after Brian Flynn was a late scratch due to an upper-body injury. The Canadiens had the day off on Monday but they did call up forward Chris Terry from the AHL's St. John's IceCaps. Terry leads the AHL club with 15 points in 10 games.