MONTREAL — Alexis Lafreniere has many reasons to forever cherish the memory of his first-ever NHL goal at the Bell Centre.
The native of Saint-Eustache, Que., scored his first goal of the season on his first visit to Montreal. What's more, it proved to be the winner in the New York Rangers' 3-1 victory over the Canadiens on Saturday night.
The win was also New York's first of the season and Lafreniere needed stitches to close a cut on his chin sustained in the contest.
"It was just really special to score, especially in Montreal,” Lafreniere said. "The building was electric, it was pretty fun and I got a couple of stitches tonight so it's worth it.
"I've been dreaming about it for a while but to live and to be able to score is the cherry on top of the sundae."
Lafreniere scored in the third period just 26 seconds after Jonathan Drouin had pulled Montreal (0-3) into a 1-1 tie. With the Bell Centre gathering still buzzing over Drouin’s goal, Lefreniere took a pass from Mika Zibanejad and beat Montreal goaltender Jake Allen, who had no time to make the save.
"I thought about it but it was good in the end," Zibanejad said of his decision to make the cross-ice pass to Lafreniere. "I missed a couple of empty-netters so I was hoping that he didn't.
"It was a really nice play up the ice as well so I'm happy we got the win."
Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant wasn't worried about Lafreniere’s scoring. In fact, he believes Lafreniere is learning a lot from being paired up with Zibanejad and Chris Kreider along New York's top line.
"He's done that in all of his career," Gallant said. "He's a first overall pick (in 2020) and he’s had a great career in the (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with Rimouski)," Gallant said. "He is getting better, he's playing a better two-way game and we're really happy with the progress we've made."
Gallant was happy to see Lafreniere enjoy success on a day he had circled on his calendar for a long time.
"He deserves it," Gallant said. "He's had a really good training camp, he's a really good kid and he's playing really well for us."
"Obviously he's an emotional kid and I think he felt pretty good about scoring in this building and it means a lot to him so it was fun."
New York (1-1-1) broke the ice in the second period on its fourth power-play opportunity. Lafreniere’s shot deflected off Chris Kreider, then Alexander Romanov before sliding across the goal-line. Kreider was credited with the goal, his third of the season.
Christian Dvorak circled around the back of the net and found Drouin, who beat New York netminder Igor Shesterkin at 9:24 of the third.
New York’s Kevin Rooney rounded out the scoring with an empty-net goal.
Shesterkin was solid in goal, stopping 31 shots while Allen made 21 saves.
The contest was the first of four straight on the road for New York. The Rangers' next three games will be against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators.
“It's a good way to start a road trip for sure," said Lafreniere. "We're on the road for a couple of days so it’s a good start and the vibe is really good."
The Canadiens are now winless in their first three games, having scored only one goal in each contest. The Habs once again failed to convert on the power play and are a dismal 0-for-11 this season.
"Today there were a lot of rebounds from (Shesterkin),” said Drouin. "He played well but there were a lot of rebounds in the slot, laying around the net and not many guys are there to capitalize on those rebounds or get that dirty goal right now.
"I think that we have shots but we need more bodies around the net."
Drouin thought his team’s play was improved following road defeats against Toronto and Buffalo.
"Tonight in our neutral zone, they had to dump the puck and needed to chase it," he said. "There were no two-on-ones like in Buffalo."
"It was better. We played the game that we wanted to play but we gave up too many penalties. You can't give them too many penalties because they’ll score on you."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2021.