It was calm, cool and all too familiar — a Montreal Canadiens goaltender wearing a number in the 30s, shrugging off a scoring chance from one of the NHL’s most lethal shooters like a lion casually swatting away a mosquito attempting to disturb his slumber.
Except this time it was No. 34, not 31, appearing unperturbed by a tough shot from No. 97. Jake Allen stepped in for Carey Price and stopped Connor McDavid on this early chance, and then he stopped all but one other shot that came his way to record his first win in bleu, blanc et rouge.
Bienvenue à Montreal. The 30-year-old goaltender arrived with the Canadiens via a trade with the St. Louis Blues after posting the best numbers of his career in his first season as Jordan Binnington’s backup. He was brought in to give them an established goaltender behind Price, to give Montreal’s starter more rest than he’s accustomed to, to settle the nerves instead of stirring them up, and he did exactly that in his first start.
And you knew Allen was going to have to if the Canadiens were going to leave Edmonton with wins in consecutive games. They put on a clinic in a 5-1 romp over the Oilers on Saturday and buttons were pushed to ensure it wouldn’t happen again Monday.
Oilers coach Dave Tippett pulled Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones off his blue line, inserted Kris Russell and William Lagesson and said this just hours before the puck dropped: “Every game is like a playoff-standard game, and if you’re not ready to compete in those game, we’ll try somebody else, and that’s where we’re at.”
With just three games out of 56 in the bank, it was an unmistakable message being sent to the guys in blue and orange. It was clear within seconds of Monday’s start the Oilers received it.
They closed down the lanes, kept the action going towards Montreal’s end and peppered the opposing net with 12 shots in the opening period. They pushed the pace, drew three consecutive power plays and came out of it down 1-0 because Allen helped the Canadiens withstand the pressure before Alexander Romanov took advantage of the one thing the Oilers hadn’t successfully changed from Saturday’s game.
The 21-year-old’s first NHL goal came on a point shot Mikko Koskinen had to save. Romanov’s wrister snuck right through Kosikinen and sapped the energy right out of the Oilers.
The Finnish goaltender was better on this night than he was on Saturday, but not good enough to steady the shaky Oilers group in front of him — bobbling shots in the second period before Shea Weber banked one off his head from behind the net to pass Sergei Gonchar for 10th all-time in power play goals among defencemen with the 103rd of his career.
Shortly before Weber scored it, Allen came up with a huge save on Kailer Yamamoto and then came up with his best of the night on reigning Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl — a left-pad kick on a one-timer from the middle of the slot.
The New Brunswick native was perfect until Jonathan Drouin coughed the puck up on a power-play breakout in the dying minutes of the third period, giving Devin Shore a breakaway Allen just missed getting his blocker on. A 3-0 win became a 3-1 win.
No big deal.
This game could’ve gone differently. This was Allen’s first start since Aug. 19, when he allowed four goals in a loss to the Vancouver Canucks from the same net he was defending at Rogers Arena on this night. He was playing against a hungry Oilers team, against McDavid and Draisaitl — paired together for much of the third period — and a power play that finished as the best in the NHL last season.
A power play that got seven opportunities to go to work, but one that finished in the minus in the goals scored department — Artturi Lehkonen gave Montreal a 3-0 lead with a shorthanded goal in the third period.
Allen played a big hand in that, and Canadiens coach Claude Julien seemingly had full confidence he would before inserting him in in just the third game of the season — and after Price had delivered a 34-save masterpiece in Saturday’s game.
“I don’t think that was a question for us whether (Allen) would be reassuring,” Julien said. “But the one thing you do hope is that when he plays his first game, he has a good outcome so that it builds confidence for him, it builds confidence for the team and everything else. Had it gone the other way… let’s say he had a tough night, we know he can do the job but then it puts question marks and people start wondering whether he’s the answer and all that stuff.
“I think tonight he just proved that he’s the real deal and showed to everybody that he’s ready to play. And I think we were better defensively, but at the same time he still had to make some big saves at certain times of the game where it could’ve gone the other way. He really played an outstanding game and then deservingly was first star tonight.”
It was a big departure from what we’ve seen over the last three seasons, with Charlie Lindgren, Keith Kinkaid and Antti Niemi far from shining behind Price.
It was a big departure from what we’ve seen in the Edmonton crease since the start of this season.
People in the city have to be asking themselves if Koskinen is the answer for their 1-3-0 team right now. With Mike Smith on the long-term injured reserve list and no household name behind him, the 32-year-old is dangling without a safety net. He doesn’t have a choice but to be better.
And for as much as the Oilers need Kosiknen to give them the confidence to shake themselves loose, he needs their help to allow him to get his legs underneath him.
They provided some in this game, but not enough.
“We were more competitive, but I’d still like to see our puck game improve,” said Tippett.
That starts with McDavid and Drasaitl, who were limited to one point between them in this two-game series against the Canadiens. The rest of the Oilers need to help, as well.
And Koskinen has to balance it all out.
He made 62 saves against the Canadiens, but after seeing the eight goals that went by him, he’s got some major work to do.
As for Allen, there isn’t much to improve, and that’s a crucial development for a Canadiens team that’s started as well as it hoped to after adding seven new players over the off-season.
“The goal for me coming into here this season was to make Carey be the best goalie he can be,” Allen said. “When he’s on his game, he’s the best in the world, and obviously my job’s to come in here and collect points as well…
“My mindset coming into this year was (even with) no exhibition games, it’s no excuse, it was just to build my game. Keep building, building, building and find pieces of my game that are going to continue to get better, and I thought it was a good start.”