Every player wants to score their first NHL goal as part of a win, and Montreal Canadiens defenceman Greg Pateryn was afforded that luxury in his team’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Buffalo Sabres Wednesday night.
The goal came in the 47th game of Pateryn’s career. It was scored in the 47th second of the second period.
“It’s an awesome feeling that I can’t really put into words,” said Pateryn. “Everyone thinks maybe this shot or maybe this game one might go in.”
One might have come sooner for Pateryn had he not been forced to the sidelines for Montreal’s first 17 games this season. Depth on the right side of the Canadiens’ blue-line, and a nearly unblemished record through the first quarter of their season, had relegated Pateryn to a periphery role.
It was an injury to defenceman Alexei Emelin that got Pateryn into Game 18. Season-ending injuries to right-handers Jeff Petry and Tom Gilbert (in February) and a less severe one to righty P.K. Subban last week, gave him added responsibility. But a unique set of circumstances had the 25-year-old Michigan native play a pivotal role in Wednesday’s win over Buffalo.
Defenceman Mark Barberio left the game early in the second period with an upper-body injury and did not return, and fellow D-man Nathan Beaulieu took a misconduct penalty in the dying minutes of the frame — leaving the Canadiens down to four blue-liners for a little over 13 minutes of the game.
Pateryn made his mark after the Canadiens skated through a lifeless first period. Coming off a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, the team couldn’t muster more than five shots — none of them scoring chances — in the opening act.
But on the first shift of the second period, forward Alex Galchenyuk swooped around Buffalo’s net to find Pateryn locked and loaded in a one-timer position. The play was executed precisely, the puck collected thereafter for Pateryn’s mantle.
Just 21 seconds later, Pateryn was serving two of 52 penalty minutes both teams combined for in the second period alone. They had combined for 88 penalty minutes in their four previous games against each other this season.
It was a feisty affair, and Pateryn played his role in that too.
“Yeah, playing a more physical style – I like when games kind of get like that,” said Pateryn. “It gets you more involved in the game and sometimes you can get under some people’s skin out there.”
He had four hits and three blocked shots, and by night’s end he had played 21 minutes; 2:04 on the penalty kill, 2:02 on the power play (where he rarely plays), and 1:14 in overtime (where he never plays).
With the results being insignificant at this point of Montreal’s season, the auditions are in full swing. Every one of these last 12 games is a critical opportunity for Pateryn to prove his worth.
It was thought he had forced his way into the cast after an impressive 17-game stint with the Canadiens last season. He proved to be one of the team’s most effective defencemen in seven Stanley Cup playoff games. It’s a big part of the reason the only time he spent in the AHL this season was on a conditioning stint in early November.
Pateryn finally got his chance to get into a Canadiens game on Nov. 14, but his rustiness proved too big a hurdle to jump over. Emelin pushed him out of the lineup as soon as he was eligible to return 16 days later.
When Pateryn got back in on Dec. 10, he played an impressive game against the Detroit Red Wings before causing a turnover that led to the winning goal against in the final moments of the third period. That saw him parked in the press box for the next 18 days.
Pateryn has shown a lot of patience, and he’s on the verge of being rewarded. Gilbert’s contract expiring on July 1 and the comprehensive changes general manager Marc Bergevin swings for this off-season will likely crack the door further ajar for him.
Wednesday’s performance provided Pateryn with something to feel good about in a season that’s been difficult on all fronts. It also gave him a memory he’ll cherish dearly for the rest of his life.