At one end of the ice, a goaltender from the remote reaches of British Columbia in a Montreal Canadiens jersey. At the other end, a kid from the east end of Montreal, in a Vancouver Canucks uniform. The two men both candidates to backstop Canada four months from now in Sochi, Russia at the Winter Olympics.
On Saturday night in Vancouver, it was Carey Price who outdueled Roberto Luongo. Neither goaltender, before Saturday, had looked particularly good in the early days of this season, with Price at 1-2 and a 0.907 save-percentage and Luongo at 2-2 and 0.899. On the late Hockey Night in Canada offering, Price looked pretty good, at least for one evening, and while Luongo was solid enough, it was not enough for Vancouver, which drops to 3-3 as Montreal rises to 3-2.
Most distressing for Vancouver has to be their poor third-period showing, when the game was on the line. Entering the final 20 minutes, down 2-1, it took the Canucks 11 minutes of play time before they managed to register a single shot on Price. Spell that: how not to stage a comeback.
"It's a very disappointing loss," said a clearly deflated Luongo after the game.
The goal that proved to be the winner in the 4-1 game was a real low moment for formerly always-solid Dan Hamhuis, who has inexplicably struggled, and has often looked bad, this year. With four minutes left in the second period, the game tied at one, the Canucks pressing again on a power play, the puck ended up back in Vancouver's end. Luongo played it behind his net, with Travis Moen in the fray, and the puck found its way to Hamhuis near the corner.
Luongo returned to his net and as Hamhuis was circling behind the net the puck slipped off his stick, after having received it from Jason Garrison. The puck slid at Luongo, hitting both his skates before ambling into the net, with Hamhuis desperately reaching with his stick to save it, Luongo looking between his legs, astounded. Lars Eller got the credit, unassisted, his fifth of the year.
Hamhuis took a bit of time after the game to decompress and then received treatment for an unspecific issue. As for the ugly goal, Luongo said, "I don't even know what happened," and Montreal coach Michel Therrien said, with a smile, "We got lucky. There's nothing wrong with getting lucky."
Montreal's next marker could also, somewhat, be blamed on Hamhuis, who took an interference penalty five minutes into the third, as the Canadiens pushed the pace and the Canucks were non-existent. Shortly after, P.K. Subban delivered a sharp pass from the point to Andrei Markov, who down low near Luongo, and Markov popped it over to the other side of the net to a wide-open Tomas Plekanec, who buried it in the expanse of available net, no chance for Luongo.
For Vancouver, the team limps into a long and grinding road trip having lost their last two at home. They traverse eastern North America, seven games in 11 days, starting Tuesday in Philadelphia, with Pittsburgh scheduled along the way and ending in St. Louis. Head coach John Tortorella's temper has not really been seen this year. Just wait.
On Saturday after the game, Tortorella was even tempered.
"It's a tough one to eat," he said of Montreal's second goal. "We have to be resilient."
Henrik Sedin, like Tortorella, gave credit to Price, who turned away 39 of 40 shots.
"We should have scored more than one," said Sedin.
The trip will be an especially stiff October acid test for a team whose three wins have come against only so-so competition, the Edmonton Oilers and the predicted-to-finish-last-in-their-conferences Calgary Flames and New Jersey Devils.
Montreal, meanwhile, has to be buoyed, rising to 3-2 after having won two in a row on their sojourn out west, with only Winnipeg left before the Canadiens return home for a five-game run at the Bell Centre.
The Canucks, earlier in the game, did play well, driving play at even-strength and piling on during several power plays, peppering Price with 11 shots. However, they just could not convert Saturday. Their ailing power play – despite relatively solid man-advantage play this year – started the evening 25th in the league at two-for-16 and ended it two-for-19, a four-game drought of no goals.
And on the penalty kill, where the Canucks had yielded no goals on 18 man-disadvantages this year, was snapped, too, with Montreal scoring twice on the power play.
The return of Zack Kassian – who missed the first five games as he was suspended for ridiculously high sticking Edmonton's Sam Gagner and breaking his jaw in the preseason – was ignominious, non-impact. Through the first two periods, playing on the third line with Brad Richardson and David Booth, the trio pulled off a feat: zero pucks on net, no shots, no missed shots, no blocked shots. Kassian managed one shot in the third, and Booth had one blocked.
Meanwhile, the fourth line – Zac Dalpe, Tom Sestito, and Dale Weise – barely saw the ice, as usual, booking five minutes.
Price was strong – and occasionally lucky – all night. In the first period, on the power play, the Canucks put on a heavy press. Henrik Sedin, from the left faceoff circle, popped a puck at Price, who kicked it out 90 degrees with his left pad and there was Jason Garrison waiting and he sent back a swift wrist shot but there was Price sprawling across and snagging the puck with his glove. In the second, more sprawling, with Price on the ice, his legs spread eagle, one pad against the post, and the star-crossed Ryan Kesler trying to whack it in but was unable to find the handle.
On the luckier side, late in the first, Daniel Sedin dropped a pass to Chris Tanev who fired it on goal, the rebound popping right to Daniel, with a gaping net waiting for the puck, but Daniel could do nothing more than backhand it at Price and not the open mesh.
The goal that did get by Price was hardly the 26-year-old's fault. A rebound off a Jason Garrison shot was collected at the side of the net by Daniel Sedin. Price was sprawling, and two Canadiens were scrambling, but Sedin got a backhand pass out to his brother in the slot and Henrik made no mistake, putting the puck in the wide-open net for his first of the year and his 799th point of his career.
The first goal started and ended with Max Pacioretty. About five minutes into the game, Pacioretty drove to the net, with Canucks defenceman Tanev between him and paydirt, Pacioretty made it look easy, undressing Tanev with a deke and drawing a hooking penalty. Montreal converted soon after, as Pacioretty took a pass in from Francis Bouillon and the puck managed to dribble in, barely, slipping between Luongo's legs and over the red line.