The Montreal Canadiens almost always boast a major advantage in net – but even Carey Price needs a break every now and then.
Developing a consistent backup behind Price could allow him just that, and Mike Condon gets his first shot at that role in his debut Sunday night against the Ottawa Senators.
Montreal won the first two games of its season-opening four game trip, 3-1 at Toronto and 4-2 at Boston. The Canadiens enjoyed a more complete performance Saturday against the Bruins, outshooting them 38-21 after conceding a 37-29 advantage in Wednesday’s victory against the Maple Leafs.
Lars Eller scored twice in the second period while Alex Galchenyuk had three assists.
"We were pretty effective when we had our chances and we could’ve even had a few more," Eller said.
Price will get the night off after stopping 55 of 58 shots. The Hart and Vezina trophy winner ranked fifth in the NHL with 66 starts last year and has started 300 of Montreal’s 378 regular-season games since 2010-11, leading the NHL.
Price may have faded down the stretch in 2014-15, posting a 2.43 goals-against average and .912 save percentage over his final 17 games including the playoffs compared to 1.88 and .937 previously.
The Canadiens didn’t feel very comfortable resting Price much in the midst of a race for the Presidents’ Trophy, partly because they struggled to find another dependable option. Dustin Tokarski went 6-6-4 with a 2.75 GAA behind Price.
Condon beat out Tokarski for the No. 2 job in the preseason and he’ll get his first taste of NHL action Sunday. Condon went 23-19 with a 2.44 GAA in 48 games for Hamilton of the AHL last season.
"I’m excited. It’s going to be fun," the 25-year-old said. "I’m not going to think too much about it. I’m just going to go out and play."
Ottawa has been outplayed in some ways during its 2-0-0 start, getting outshot by a combined 68-55 at Buffalo and Toronto. The Senators dipped their toes into three-on-three overtime action Saturday, ultimately knocking off the Maple Leafs 5-4 in a shootout after blowing a 3-0 second-period lead.
"We just find a way to kind of lose our intensity, lose our forecheck and back off a bit," said Kyle Turris, who scored his third goal. "We squeaked out a win last game, we squeaked out a win tonight. It’s something we’ve got to all learn and find a way to fix."
Montreal could also face a rookie backup making his NHL debut in Matthew O’Connor after Craig Anderson faced 41 shots Saturday. O’Connor led Boston University to the National Championship game before signing with Ottawa as an undrafted free agent.
The Senators, who won last season’s final three meetings by a 13-5 margin before the Canadiens ousted them in six games in the first round of the playoffs, are looking to win their fifth consecutive home opener and are 6-1-1 in the last eight meetings in Ottawa. Erik Karlsson assisted on three goals Saturday and has scored four goals with eight assists in his last eight matchups with Montreal.
Max Pacioretty, who scored two goals at Toronto, has eight goals and five assists in his last seven against the Senators.