The Montreal Juniors ended their pre-season by loosing to the Val D'Or Foreurs in a chippy affair that ended by a shoot-out decision, 4-3.
Despite the loss, Montreal finished tied with Val D'Or for the best pre-season record in the league, finishing 4-0-0-1 (.800 winning percentage) and earning 9 out of a possible 10 points in the standings. The Juniors scored 18 goals for and surrendered 11 goals against.
Playing in front of a full crowd at an arena in the city of Varennes, The Juniors completed a hat trick of pre-season games played off the island of Montreal.
Fans were able to cheer for an almost "season ready" lineup. All regulars were dressed except for goaltender Jean-Francois Berube (scratch), defenseman Charles Landry (scratch), forwards Jeremy Gouchie (scratch), David Rose (scratch) and Hungarian born Janos Hari (still recovering from Mononucleosis).
This was my first opportunity to watch defenseman Charles-Olivier Roussel since he was acquired. He provides the Juniors with a hulking presence on the blue line. The Nashville Predator's prospect is listed at 6'1" in height and 202 lbs in weight. Let me tell you, he looks it too. Roussel, demonstrated his strength on a few plays. Most notably, during the first period, a Val D'Or forward thought he was lining up Roussel for a big hit while his head was looking down, trying to get the puck out of his skates, only to run into Roussel and bounce backwards as though he were a linebacker standing secure on his skates. His shot from the blue line is impressive as well. Not only is it hard, but accurate. I guess that's why he registered 15 goals and 36 assist for 51 points in 64 games last season.
Montreal's best trio of forwards was the line of Denis Kindl centering RW Trevor Parkes (seen in photo - center) and LW Eliezer Sherbatov. Kindl has impressed me throughout the pre-season with a strong positional game and above average play making skills. Kindl registered 1 assist in the contest. Parkes also had an assist. But the game's first star on this night was Sherbatov, or as a Montreal Juniors fan I know has tabbed him; "Sherby". During the second period of play Sherbatov scored 2 goals within 4 minutes of play, bringing the Juniors from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game 3-3. Both goals were of TSN "highlight of the night" type quality.
Another trend that continued was seeing centerman Louis Leblanc and the Juniors' other Montreal Canadiens prospect, LW Philippe Lefebvre playing together. While they looked more comfortable together than the game vs. Shawinigan on Aug. 28th, it is clear that they still need to refine their on ice chemistry. The two players accounted for 10 of the team's 42 shots on goal. Nicolas Chouinard played right wing on this line for most of the contest.
More so than Shawinigan, Val D'Or paid a lot of attention to Leblanc, even when he didn't have the puck. Leblanc received a large number of cheap shots during the first and second period. Both during the play and after the whistle. After face offs, in front of the net and along the boards, Leblanc received constant slashing to the legs, crosschecks to the upper body and punches to the head. On three separate occasions Leblanc's teammates rushed to him in defense which eventually led to a 5 on 5 brawl mid-way through the second period, which resulted in both Louis-Marc Aubry and Charles-Olivier Roussel being expelled from the game for fighting related activity.
Leblanc, and the Juniors, are going to have to get used to this. Teams around the league understand the dynamic of Louis Leblanc playing for Montreal. He's both a draw from the Juniors perspective and from the League's perspective. Everyone's watching him, including his own teammates. Reactionary penalties may grow to be a recurring problem for Montreal if Leblanc's teammates begin to take regular penalties while coming to his defense.
The Juniors are a damn good team. They have 7 NHL affiliated prospects, 3 strong 20 year olds players, 2 nifty Euro players, 1 top prospect for the 2011 NHL entry draft. After that, there's a nice group of depth players. But no where in that group of depth players is there a "goon" type player. It's really all GM Pascal Vincent needs to do. Add a pair of knuckles to this roster.
I'm sure Vincent is well aware of this situation and will add an enforcer in his lineup as soon as he can get his hands on one. Ideally this player will come in the form of a 19 year old 4th line winger. This way he can be inserted in and out of the lineup when required, depending on who the Juniors are playing against.
In terms of rookies, 17 year old LW Jean-Christophe Laflamme impressed once again. He earned 1 assist in the match, bringing his pre-season totals to 4 goals, 2 assists and 6 points in 5 games played. Laflamme also received 4 minor penalties for 8 PIMS. While only listed at 5'8" and 170 lbs, Laflamme isn't afraid to through his weight around.
Next up is the season opener on September 10th, 2010. Aubry (DET), Parkes (DET), Landry (TBL) and Berube (LAK) will be at their NHL camps. Leblanc (MTL) and Lefebvre (MTL) are playing for sure, and I believe Roussel will be playing since the Predators site says their rookie camp opens on the 13th.
Buy your ticket people. The games on the 10th and 12th are going to be fantastic!
Photo Credit: Ron Lemish