Montreal Canadiens\' Tomas Plecanec is stopped by Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom during first period NHL preseason hockey action in Montreal Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
MONTREAL - The apprenticeship of promising Montreal Canadiens rookies Max Pacioretty and Yannick Weber will continue with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
The two prospects, along with goalie Marc Denis, were cut Saturday after the Canadiens fell 3-0 to the Minnesota Wild in the final pre-season game for both clubs.
Niklas Backstrom made 25 saves and Stephane Veilleux continued his strong pre-season with a goal and an assist for the Wild (5-2-0), which also got goals from Marian Gaborik and Antti Miettinen.
Carey Price made 22 stops in goal and looked a bit shaky for the Canadiens (6-3-0) in his first pre-season loss after very strong performances in consecutive shootout victories.
After the game, neither Pacioretty nor Weber were the least bit disappointed with the news and were resolved to working hard in Hamilton in the hopes of a call-up.
"They know what's best for my development," said Pacioretty, 19, who was the story of Habs camp with his display of speed and power. "I improved a lot in three weeks. I'll go down there, work hard and sit by the phone for when I come back."
Weber says he did better than he expected and that he's confident his time in the minors won't be too lengthy if the Habs run into injury problems on the blue-line.
"I'm the last of the young defencemen who are here, so that tells that I might be the first to be called up," Weber said. "It's nice to see they have confidence in me."
The three cuts brought the Canadiens down to 26 players remaining in camp, with injured defencemen Mathieu Carle and Alex Henry slated to be sent to Hamilton before the end of the week.
Centre Kyle Chipchura - who was fighting for a spot on the Habs fourth line - also remains, but his two-way contract makes it practically impossible for him to beat out Maxim Lapierre for the spot since Lapierre would have to clear waivers to be sent to the minors.
"It definitely feels good to still be here," he said. "But you look at who's easier to send down and it doesn't look good for me."
The Canadiens and Wild essentially iced their opening night lineups, with the Wild missing only injured defenceman Marek Zidlicky, while injured defencemen Andrei Markov, Francis Bouillon and Ryan O'Byrne sat for Montreal.
Habs coach Guy Carbonneau is happy his team's intensive pre-season schedule of nine games in 12 days has finally come to a close.
"I think everybody can turn the page and get excited about the season now," he said. "We played a lot of games in a short period of time and it showed a bit tonight. Guys played like they didn't want to get hurt."
One of Carbonneau's players took that risk when Steve Begin got into a fight with Erik Reitz after the final buzzer sounded. Begin stepped into a melee involving Lapierre and Eric Belanger when Reitz took the opportunity to exact some revenge for a borderline Begin hit on Gaborik near the end of the second period.
Begin accused Reitz of a "sucker punch," which the Wild defender didn't necessarily deny.
"Don't stick your face out unless you want to get hit," Reitz said.
After the Canadiens' Tomas Plekanec was stopped on a shorthanded breakaway less than two minutes into the game, the Wild jumped out to an early 2-0 lead with two goals in just under two minutes in the first period.
Gaborik got it going with a laser of a wrist shot from the left circle that caught the far top corner over Price's glove hand at 5:24. Veilleux made it 2-0 with his team-high fourth of the pre-season when his pass attempt to Gaborik was knocked in by Alex Kovalev at 7:09.
Gaborik very nearly made it 3-0 in the first minute of the second when he skated past Habs defenceman Mike Komisarek and went in alone on Price, but he was stopped by a pad save when he didn't get everything on his backhand attempt.
The Canadiens had their two best chances of the period on the same shift, as Guillaume Latendresse was robbed on a great glove save by Backstrom off a one-timer and Robert Lang was stopped about 30 seconds later as he tried to complete a nice passing play by linemates Sergei Kostitsyn and Latendresse.
The Wild put it out of reach at 2:14 of the third when Miettinen came down one-on-one against Mathieu Dandenault, cut to the inside and let go of an innocent-looking wrister from the slot that handcuffed Price for his second of the pre-season.
Notes: Canadiens captain Saku Koivu took the opening draw against his younger brother MikkoWith all the injuries on the Canadiens blue-line, Dandenault - who spent all of last season playing forward - played defence for a second straight game, while Weber also dressed Wild defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron played with a full shield after suffering a broken nose in a fight with Chicago Blackhawks rookie Kyle Beach last Tuesday nightAndrei Kostitsyn finished the exhibition schedule as the Canadiens' leading scorer with eight points in six games.