MONTREAL — It was an indelible moment that was 126 games, 14 minutes and 37 seconds in the making.
The red light behind Minnesota Wild goaltender Alex Stalock lit up, Victor Mete fell into Joel Armia’s and Shea Weber’s arms, the Montreal Canadiens’ bench erupted, the crowd at the Bell Centre exploded, and just like that the NHL’s longest active goal drought now belonged to someone else.
You want a sense for how special a moment this was for the 21-year-old Mete? The look on his face said it all. He smiled ear-to-ear from his seat at the end of Montreal’s bench as Bell Centre announcer Michel Lacroix belted out the words, “The first goal of his NHL career, Victor Mete.” He laughed as Weber chirped him for scoring on a shot that was knee-high.
No other player in the 110-year history of the Canadiens had to wait longer for their first. Teammate Nick Suzuki, who scored less than five minutes after Mete did, only had his patience tested for six games and most of the first period of Thursday’s game.
The highly-touted 20-year-old’s backhand dribbler on the power play would have been the biggest story of this 4-0 win had Mete not stormed into the slot and buried a no-doubter over Stalock’s glove.
Nick Cousins must have felt like an amateur comedian following Dave Chappelle’s stand-up act after the crowd roared for Mete and fell silent as Lacroix announced his assist on the play — his first point in his first game as a Canadien.
“I almost changed going up ice but (Nate Thompson) made a nice play just on the forecheck and I was assuming they (the Wild defencemen) were going to go D-to-D, so I kind of read it (and intercepted the puck)” Cousins said. “I actually heard Meat yell for it, so I just kind of whipped it out front and he actually was nice enough to bury it. It’s funny, though; I didn’t know it was his first goal, so it’s exciting for him.”
The Canadiens were elated for him.
“It was coming. You knew it was coming,” said Canadiens assistant captain Brendan Gallagher, who scored Montreal’s fourth goal of the game unassisted. “He had too many chances to not (score). I couldn’t be happier for the kid. He’s handled this very well — this whole thing (the drought) — and now that he’s seen one go in the net, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see a couple more follow.”
It was a scene Mete said he’d remember for the rest of his days. Never mind that it unfolded against a 1-6-0 Wild team that came into the game ranked 30th in the NHL and looked every bit as bad as their record would indicate over their 60 minutes on the ice.
The Canadiens out-shot the Wild 33-17 and dominated them in all three zones. On the defensive end, they blocked 23 shots and they blocked up the neutral zone like they were building a dam. On offence, they picked the Wild apart with their cycle game and some sharp passing.
The eye-test indicated it was as lopsided an affair as the final score suggested. This image from naturalstattrick.com, which shows where the unblocked shots were taken from by both teams at 5-on-5, reinforced that.
Several Wild players expressed their disgust with the team’s performance in this one.
Of the three first-period goals the Canadiens scored in rapid succession, Wild forward Jason Zucker said, “It’s like they score one goal and all of a sudden we decide let’s just give them two more and then we’ll start playing again.”
It’s been one of several bad trends that have defined Minnesota’s play since the puck dropped on the 2019-20 season.
But you have to credit the Canadiens for sensing that vulnerability from the start and pouncing on it. They put Minnesota on its heels with their speed, and they executed their plan perfectly.
It’s probably fair to say that Mete was at the centre of all of that, earning the game’s first star — and not just for getting that massive gorilla off his back. He had three shots on net, one hit and one block, and he skated miles to help the Canadiens control possession of the puck.
The Woodbridge, Ont., native and Weber had been the subject of criticism and concern in between Tuesday’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Thursday’s win over the Wild.
“Right now there’s times where they could be better, no doubt,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said about the duo on Wednesday, adding, “At the end of the day it’s about defending. We know that Victor at times, finishing and closing and turning pucks over, he’s had his struggles at times there.”
Mete was just as content that wasn’t the case on this night as he was to have finally scored that goal.
“I thought we (himself and Weber) played really well,” he said. “I don’t think we gave them too many chances, and obviously we got a shutout tonight so we played pretty well and we’re both pretty happy with our performance tonight.”
With that, he posed for some pictures, received some hearty congratulations from his teammates, and said he’d keep the puck he scored with by his bedside.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) October 18, 2019
“I was excited that it kind of finally went in,” he said. “Didn’t really see it, to be honest. I just heard the crowd more than anything and they were kind of going pretty nuts… It was a pretty cool experience.”
It was an unforgettable one, for sure.