Canadiens honour P.K. Subban, then ride Cole Caufield to win over Predators

P.K. Subban got the Montreal fans fired up, then Cole Caufield sent them home happy.

P.K. Subban salutes the Canadiens fans he entertained for years as a player. (Photo by Vitor Munhoz/NHLI via Getty Images)
P.K. Subban salutes the Canadiens fans he entertained for years as a player. (Photo by Vitor Munhoz/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Bell Centre was as energetic as ever on Thursday as the Montreal Canadiens dispatched the Nashville Predators 4-3 on a night where former franchise star P.K. Subban was welcomed back to town with an emotional tribute prior to puck drop.

Cole Caufield notched two goals, Jonathan Drouin registered three assists and Samuel Montembeault recorded 39 stops to hold on for the win.

Predators rookie Juuso Parssinen tallied a goal and an assist, while goaltender Yaroslav Askarov showed promising flashes with 31 saves in his first NHL game.

Subban feeling like he never left

Amidst a season littered with forgettable nights, Thursday was guaranteed to be a memorable evening for the sellout Bell Centre crowd as it welcomed Subban back for a pre-game tribute. Subban, who retired from the NHL in September after a 13-year career, was given a minutes-long ovation by the Canadiens faithful and players from the two franchises he spent the majority of his career with.

"To the fans, to all you that are here today, I've always felt like we had an understanding," he told the crowd. "When you wear the Montreal Canadiens jersey, when you wear the CH, you have to play with the same passion that the fans bring every single night to this building.

"I love Montreal, love coming back here, and this truly is an honour to be able to do this," he added. "I would've never imagined in my whole life that I would have this opportunity to be honoured by the most storied franchise in professional sports."

Subban, always looking to incorporate the less fortunate in his shining moments, stepped out onto the ice accompanied by Mila, a young Canadiens fan currently undergoing treatment at the Montreal Children's Hospital, with which he is closely associated since his remarkable $10-million pledge to the institution in 2015.

P.K. Subban came out to a raucous Bell Centre crowd accompanied by Mila, a young fan currently receiving care at the Montreal Children's Hospital. (Reuters)
P.K. Subban came out to a raucous Bell Centre crowd accompanied by Mila, a young fan currently receiving care at the Montreal Children's Hospital. (Reuters)

Before stepping into the tunnel, Subban was joined by longtime teammate and Canadiens goaltender Carey Price. The pair engaged in their iconic triple-low five celebration, igniting the crowd one last time before puck drop.

Caufield makes the difference once again

Caufield showed why he is one of the NHL's most promising sharpshooters once again on Thursday with a pair of goals — including the game-winner — to bury the Predators for their second loss in as many nights.

With the two tallies, Caufield reached the 25-goal mark for the first time in his young NHL career. Both goals came from the same spot on the ice, burying accurate feeds from Nick Suzuki and Kirby Dach with his characteristic one-timer on the power play.

The 22-year-old has now scored 49 goals in 80 games under head coach Martin St. Louis, a remarkable pace for the third-year forward.

Askarov has eventful first NHL game

Askarov had quite the game in his first career NHL outing. The 20-year-old Russian netminder — a familiar name for some Canadian hockey fans who watched him take on Canada on numerous occasions at the World Juniors — made 31 saves on the night, including a number of desperation stops to keep the game within reach.

Despite the solid performance, the Preds' 11th-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft made fans hold their breath on a number of occasions with his adventurous play with the puck. Askarov stepped out of his crease often throughout the contest, venturing out and making risky plays far from his net. One such play resulted in a costly turnover, with Drouin intercepting an unsuccessful clearing attempt and turning it into a nifty goal for Dach to make it 2-1.

Montreal subjected Askarov to a baptism by fire in the first period, firing 19 shots on net and scoring two goals.

"Of course, it wasn't easy with so many shots, but it helped me feel better in net," Askarov told reporters after the game, with fellow Russian Yakov Trenin translating for him.

Askarov may have a bright future ahead of him, but he'll have to be more careful with the puck on his stick if he wants to solidify a spot in the NHL sooner rather than later.

Evans, fourth line show out

Montreal's fourth line of Jake Evans, Evgenii Dadonov and Joel Armia created chance after chance, sneaking past Nashville's defence for breakaways and hemming them in their zone for extended periods.

Evans was named third star of the game with a goal to tie the game at one apiece in the opening frame, and the trio combined for six shots on the night.

Evans and Dadonov both had breakaway opportunities spurned by Askarov and a little help from the goalpost, keeping the contest from getting away from the Predators.

Evans and Armia also played prominent roles on a stingy Habs penalty kill, successfully nullifying three man advantages. Evans also registered the second-most ice time among Canadiens forwards with 18:23, behind only captain Suzuki.

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