No matter what happens during Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s NHL career with the Canadiens, I’ll never forget the smile on the Finnish teenager’s face after he scored his first goal in bleu-blanc-rouge.
Forsberg completed the hat trick with an empty-net goal with 14 seconds left. Kevin Fiala and Ryan Johansen also scored for Nashville, which got 12 saves on 13 shots from Pekka Rinne in 29:35. Troy Grosenick made 11 saves in relief of Rinne.
“It was a little kid’s smile,” veteran Tomas Plekanec said after Kotkaniemi scored the final goal in the Canadiens’ 3-1 preseason win over the New Jersey Devils Monday night at the Bell Centre. “We all had that with the first goal.”
Yamamotos second goal broke a 3-3 tie at 6:07 of the third period. Patrick Russell made it 5-3 at 17:02, Pontus Aberg scored for Edmonton at 17:25, and Russell scored into an empty net with 16 seconds left to make it 7-4.
For Canadiens fans who watched the team finish 28th in the overall NHL standings last season and miss the playoffs for the second time in three years, it was a ray of hope for the future after the Canadiens selected Kotkaniemi in the first round (third overall) at this year’s NHL Entry Draft. The goal was a beauty as the 18-year-old centre took a pass from defenceman Rinat Valiev in the faceoff circle to goalie Mackenzie Blackwood’s left and then fired a one-timer high to the stick side, hitting the back of the net.
“That was sick,” Kotkaniemi said about the reaction. “I’ve never heard the crowd that loud. It was pretty unbelievable.”
Wrote one Canadiens fan on Twitter: “Just on the ovation, alone, I’d say that young man just gave a whole bunch of people hope again.”
That’s what the Canadiens are trying to sell this season: hope. Judging by the empty seats at the Bell Centre Monday night for the first pre-season game, they have their work cut out.
Nick Lappin scored two goals for the Devils. Rookie forward John Quenneville also scored. Starting goalie Keith Kinkaid made 14 saves on 16 shots in 39:40, and Cameron Johnson made 10 saves in relief.
There’s a good chance Kotkaniemi could end up back in Finland this season playing for Assat Pori and continuing to develop his game while adding strength to his 6-foot-2, 184-pound body. But he has already made huge strides since looking lost on the smaller North American-size rink in the first game of the NHL Rookie Showdown in Laval, going pointless and minus-2 in a 4-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators prospects. To make matters worse, Brady Tkachuk — the player the Senators selected with the No. 4 pick at this year’s NHL Draft — scored twice.
Nick Bjugstad, Jacob MacDonald and Patrick Bajkov scored for Florida. James Reimer made 16 saves on 19 shots before being relieved to start the third period by Sam Montembeault, who made seven saves.
“You have to appreciate the way he handled himself tonight in the game,” Canadiens head coach Claude Julien said during his post-game news conference Monday night. “Showed his skill level, showed his patience. He’s also learning on the fly. I think he’s getting better and better on a daily basis, so it’s encouraging to see how well he’s doing so far.”
Calle Jarnkrok, P.K. Subban, Rocco Grimaldi and Frederick Gaudreau also scored for Nashville. Tom McCollum made three saves after he replaced Saros with 7:15 remaining in the third period.
Before the NHL Rookie Showdown, Kotkaniemi had only played three games in his life on smaller North American rinks.
“He is 18 years old,” Julien said. “He’s still a junior player to a lot of people’s eyes. This is North American hockey on a smaller rink. Obviously, we play a much more aggressive style than they do where he’s from.”
But Kotkaniemi appears to be learning quickly, noting after Monday’s game there were “grown men” trying to take his head off and he had a nice welt on his neck to prove it. He finished the game with 19 shifts for 15:31 of ice time with the goal coming on his only shot. He was plus-1, recorded one hit and won four of his nine faceoffs (44 per cent).
The first two periods were a bit of a snooze-fest with the Canadiens trailing 1-0 before exploding with three goals in 92 seconds in the third period from Victor Mete, Charles Hudon and Kotkaniemi. Bell Centre fans responded by breaking out the “Olé! Olé! Olé!” chant for the first time in a long time.
The Canadiens were given the day off Tuesday and will be back in action Wednesday when the Florida Panthers visit the Bell Centre (7:30 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).
Charles Hudon had the eventual winner as the Canadiens scored three unanswered goals in 92 seconds en route to a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Monday in their pre-season home opener. The Canadiens were down a goal for most of the game before scoring all three goals in the third period.
When asked if his comfort level is getting better every day at training camp, Kotkaniemi said: “I think that’s true. Every hour, maybe a little bit. Looking (at the) first period and getting better in the second and I think the third period it was my best one.”
Kotkaniemi showed his sense of humour when a reporter asked what he would have thought if he had been told Monday morning that he would score his first goal in his first pre-season game that night.
“I might say that you are a good guy and might be right,” Kotkaniemi said with a big smile and a laugh.
The likable kid has been handling himself well on and off the ice so far at training camp and seems to have a good perspective on things.
“I think this was a normal day at the office,” he said after Monday’s game. “Of course, the first game here is a little bit special but, as I have said several times, this is just hockey.”
And this was just a meaningless NHL exhibition game, but it has been a long time since Canadiens fans have had something to cheer about.
Share Share Montreal Canadiens lineup vs Devils: Jesperi Kotkaniemi to make NHL pre-season debut tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Shanna Martin The Montreal Canadiens have announced the lineup that will face off against the New Jersey Devils tonight at the Bell Centre, and third overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi will make his official Canadiens pre-season debut.
New Jersey opened the scoring when Speers picked off a pass from Habs defencemen Simon Despres at the Devils blue line. Speers sped up ice with the puck and fired it past Niemi.
Voici les alignements pour le match de ce soir entre les Canadiens de Montréal et les Devils du New Jersey. Here are the lineups for tonights preseason game between the Canadiens and the New Jersey Devils at the Bell Centre.#GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/f1IDp0MWHY
Tomas Plekanec, after sitting out yesterdays scrimmage is also in the lineup as is the line of Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar.
Blake Speers had a short-handed goal for the Devils (0-0-1). Eddie Lack made 13 saves and didnt allow a goal through 40 minutes before ceding the net to Mackenzie Blackwood.
Antti Niemi and Charlie Lindgren are listed as the two goaltenders for the game, but it will be the veteran Niemi who will get the start.
The pairing of Noah Juulsen and Victor Mete should also get a lot of playing time against a Devils team that has Pavel Zacha and Travis Zajac but lacking a lot of NHL fire power.
Simon Desprès will make his Canadiens debut as he tries to earn himself a professional contract for next season. Michael Chaput and Hunter Shinkaruk will also make their Canadiens debuts.