MONTREAL — Canadiens coach Claude Julien says making cuts throughout training camp haven’t been as difficult as he expected.
Julien was left unimpressed by several of his young players after Montreal’s 4-1 pre-season defeat at the hands of the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.
Montreal has lost all three of its exhibition games so far.
"Right now there are players who are making our decisions much easier than we thought they would," said Julien. "That’s obvious enough, without naming any names. We were expecting some harder decisions."
Forwards like Michael McCarron, Jacob de la Rose, Daniel Carr or Nikita Sherbak, who could each conceivably crack the Canadiens lineup, did little to convince Julien they were ready for the NHL.
Those four players combined for just two shots against the Devils.
"There’s a group of players who are fighting for the spots that are open right now and that group is making our decisions a lot easier," said Julien.
Montreal announced after the game that Niki Petti, Yannick Veilleux, Stefan Leblanc, Simon Bourque, Thomas Ebbing, Antoine Waked and Tom Parisi have been assigned to training camp with the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket.
One player that could force Julien’s hand is defenceman Eric Gelinas, who’s on a professional tryout with the Habs.
Gelinas made his case to stay in the NHL by beating Keith Kinkaid with a shot from the point on the power play at 7:09 of the second period.
The 26-year-old Gelinas, who was drafted by the Devils in the second round in 2009, finished the game with four shots, one hit and four penalty minutes.
"I tried to show what I can do out there," said Gelinas, who split his time last season between the Colorado Avalanche and their AHL team. "It’s never enough. You have to do it over and over again, whether it’s in practice or games.
"Especially in my situation, with no contract, it’s a work in progress but I think it’s going in the right direction."
After Gelinas scored to make it 1-1, Nico Hischier broke the tie in the second period and the Devils never looked back.
The first-overall pick at this year’s draft deflected Taylor Hall’s centring pass between Price’s legs for his second goal of the pre-season at 15:30 of the middle frame.
"I’m getting more comfortable every day," said the 18-year-old Hischier. "I just tried to tip it somewhere in front of the net. I didn’t see much. When I turned around it was in the net."
The Canadiens failed to score on a two-minute 5-on-3 power play towards the end of the second period. The Habs fired six shots on Kinkaid during that man advantage but the Devils netminder was up to the challenge.
New Jersey had a 5-on-3 power play of its own, for 28 seconds in the third period, but the Canadiens killed it off.
Jesper Bratt put the contest out of reach midway through the third with a goal from the slot as time expired on a Montreal penalty. He added his second of the night in an empty net in the game’s dying seconds.
Defenceman Mirco Mueller got the Devils on the board 47 seconds into the encounter when his shot from the point took a deflection off a Montreal stick to beat Carey Price.
It was New Jersey’s second shot of the game.
Price, who played his first full game of the pre-season, stopped 28-of-31 shots. His counterpart Kinkaid stopped all but one of the 29 shots he faced.
Montreal’s NHL-calibre line of Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk and Phillip Danault finished with nine shots.
"Look at our line tonight and the chances that we had, it came off supporting each other," said Gallagher. "Quick little passes and then we find the open guy. That’s what our line has to do."
Notes: Defensive prospect Noah Juulsen is out six weeks with a broken foot. The 20-year-old was injured against the Boston Bruins on Monday.