Antti Niemi and the Montreal Canadiens take on the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo
The new-look Montreal Canadiens, an early season surprise in the NHL, will make their home debut Thursday when they host the Los Angeles Kings (1-1-1) at Bell Centre.
The Canadiens are 1-0-1 after starting the season on the road with a 3-2 loss in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs and an overwhelmed the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-1 on Saturday.
The Canadiens, forecast by many to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference even before they traded top goal scorers captain Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk, have used a speedy forechecking game to pressure the opposition, cause turnovers and create scoring opportunities.
Forward Paul Byron, picked up on waivers in the 2015-16 season from the Calgary Flames, led the Canadiens with two goals and an assist in the win over the Penguins.
"That's the way we want to play. We want to play with pace," Byron told NHL.com. "We want to move pucks up quick. We want to make sure that with our group, with the talent we have and the skating ability we have, that we can play that fast game. So far, it's working for us."
"I think we're working pretty well as a unit," Canadiens goaltender Carey Price told NHL.com. "We're not showing a ton of panic out there when things are getting tough. We have guys that are all playing really well. There's no real secret to it."
Canadiens fans will get their first regular-season look at 18-year-old rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who was selected with the No. 3 pick in last summer's draft.
Kotkaniemi has one assist in two games as he adjusts to life in the NHL. He's been getting some tutoring from his veteran teammates.
"I think faceoffs are the area that I need most to improve on, so I'm working at it every day," Kotkaniemi told montrealcanadiens.com. "We have older guys that help me a lot. They are teaching me new tricks every day and I try to use those."
They must have helped because Kotkamiemi's success in the faceoff circle jumped from 14.3 percent against the Maple Leafs to 66.7 percent against the Penguins.
Kings coach Jon Stevens didn't like the effort from his players in the first two periods in a 2-1 loss against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.
"I thought the third period, we started to play on our toes a little more and we were able to generate a little more of an attack," Stevens told NHL.com. "But prior to that (we) totally played the game on our heels, backing up retreating instead of getting after it."
Kings forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who returned to the NHL after five years playing in the Kontinental Hockey League, scored his first goal with the Kings against the Jets. Kovalchuk, 35, signed a three-year contract worth $18.75 million with the Kings. He had 816 points in 816 games in the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers and the New Jersey Devils before leaving for the KHL.
The goal against the Jets was the 417th of Kovalchuk's NHL career.
"I prefer to win than score goals," Kovalchuk told NHL.com. "It wasn't enough, so we will be better next game."
The Kings power play could use Kovalchuk's touch: it is 0-for-10 in the first three games of the season.