SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers start off 2022 undefeated, beating a shorthanded Montreal Canadiens team 5-2 on New Year’s Day.
Already having eight players on the Covid protocol list, the Habs also found out on Saturday morning that Brendan Gallagher was out of the lineup with a lower-body injury.
So, Montreal had to take the ice with just 16 skaters, 11 forwards and five defensemen as the Panthers did against the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 16.
Hey, a win is a win.
The Canadiens had a familiar face making his return to Sunrise in net as Samuel Montembeault got the start.
He went 9-8-3 with a .892/3.20 in 25 starts over two seasons with the Cats.
Florida wasted no time getting started, as Sam Bennett connected on an Anthony Duclair one-time pass to put the Panthers up 1-0 just 32 seconds into the game.
That lead wouldn’t last long.
Just over three minutes later, Jonathan Drouin sent a laser from the left face-off circle past Sergei Bobrovsky to tie the game just 3:42 into the opening frame.
Brandon Montour took a slashing penalty with 9:47 to go, sending the Panthers went on the penalty kill for the first time in the calendar year of 2022.
Their best penalty killer on that kill? Bobrovsky.
Stopping all five shots Montreal had on that power play, he stepped up to the plate and kept the game tied.
Bennett had a shot at scoring his second goal of the game just as the penalty kill expired, but Montembeault was able to come up with the save to keep the game tied.
Montembault matched Bobrovsky save-for-save to end the first period as Florida headed into the intermission with a 15-14 lead in shots.
The Panthers got their first crack on the power play with 14:19 to go in the second, as Huberdeau got hooked when trying to finish on a Duclair pass near the front of the net.
Florida’s power play went 4-35 (11.4 percent) and ranked 29th in the league during the last month of 2021.
It started the new year on a similar note, not finding the back of the net, although getting more scoring chances than they had during that stretch in December.
Florida got another crack at the power play with 11:36 to go in the second period, but it lasted just 15 seconds.
Aaron Ekblad took an interference penalty and the teams skated 4-on-4 for the next 1:45.
Just 40 seconds after Ekblad’s interference penalty, Nick Suzuki scored on a rebound to give the Canadiens their first lead of the afternoon.
The Cats got a third shot at the power play with 6:04 left in the middle frame.
Third time’s the charm, right?
It was, as Sasha Barkov scored on a one-time pass from Sam Reinhart to tie the game up at two with 4:58 left in the period.
Huberdeau, with his second assist of the night, notched his team-leading 40th point of the season.
Frank Vatrano, who broke an 11-game goalless streak on Thursday, scored just under two-and-a-half minutes later, giving the Panthers the lead back.
Florida got their fourth power play of the second period with exactly two minutes left in it, but they couldn’t strike, as the period ended without a power play goal.
They went 1-4 with eight shots on the power play during the middle frame, outshooting Montreal 21-6 in the process.
Fifteen seconds into the third period, Bennett got his second opening-minute goal of the game, tipping a MacKenzie Weegar shot past Montembeault to extend Florida’s lead to 4-2.
The Panthers got their fifth shot at the power play 53 seconds into the frame but failed to covert while getting just one shot on goal.
They finished 1-5 (20%) on the night with the man advantage.
Florida’s penalty kill got tested for the third time when Radko Gudas took a high-sticking penalty with 15:43 remaining.
The penalty killers held strong, not allowing a single shot on net during Montreal’s power play and killing all three penalties they took.
With 6:56 remaining, Mason Marchment scored his first goal since returning to the lineup to make it a 5-2 Florida lead.
The last goal he scored was on Oct. 27, the last game Joel Quenneville coached for the team.
Bobrovsky backstopped the Panthers to victory, stopping 28 of the 30 shots he faced.
COLBY’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Sam Bennett, Florida
2. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida
3. Sam Reinhart, Florida