MONTREAL — Mathieu Joseph sure seems like a player Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith wants to keep around.
Joseph scored twice in Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Canadiens in an NHL pre-season action game, with Montreal's Cole Caulfield scoring the game-winning goal.
"Joe continues to be good day after day whether it's camp or games," said Smith, who singled out the 26-year-old winger unprompted. "I think he's just working and he's playing hockey and he's having fun and he's thinking a lot less.
"I think he's just coming here and he's doing what he does. That's work, a couple have gone in for him, but every shift he's just playing hockey."
Down 2-0, Ottawa scored three unanswered goals in the second period.
The last two were Joseph's, whose name has circulated in trade rumours this week with the Senators needing salary cap space to sign restricted free agent Shane Pinto.
Joseph carries a $2.95-million cap hit for three more years and scored just three goals in 56 games last season. He says he’s focused on his play, instead of the speculation.
“I’m a guy who shows up every day, no matter what,” he said. “I didn’t look at what was going on, and I haven’t really heard what they’re saying about our team, it’s really out of my control.
“So I show up to the arena every day, I work as hard as I can, and I try to win for the team whose jersey I’m wearing.”
Dominik Kubalik scored the other goal for an inexperienced Ottawa lineup (2-1-0).
The Senators’ top six forwards and top four defencemen didn’t make the trip to Montreal.
Brandon Gignac, Juraj Slafkovsky and Sean Monahan also scored for Montreal (1-1-0), which benefited from Kirby Dach's strong performance and his assist.
Monahan, who joined Canadiens stars Caufield and Nick Suzuki on Montreal’s top line for the evening, made good on his opportunity by burying a Caufield rebound five minutes into the third to tie the game at 3-3.
“Being able to communicate and being able to make reads,” said Monahan of what makes him a good complementary player for Caufield and Suzuki.
“There’s different style players, you gotta be able to adapt to the game and the pace that guys play.”
The 19-year-old Slafkovsky, last year’s No. 1 pick in the NHL draft, was the only Canadiens forward playing in a second pre-season game.
The Slovak winger is aiming for a bounceback campaign after a slow rookie season — 10 points in 39 games — that was cut short due to injury.
Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis says the only goal he's set for Slafkovsky is to grow.
"Growing is not necessarily in a straight line,” he said. “There's going to be some dips and stuff, but I'm pretty sure that from now to the end of the season when we connect these dots, it's going up.”
Canadiens starter Jake Allen turned away 10 of 12 shots before giving way to Cayden Primeau midway through the game. Primeau had 15 saves.
Ottawa netminder Joonas Korpisalo made his first appearance in a Senators jersey after signing a five-year, US$20-million contract in free agency, and stopped 17 shots playing a complete game.
"I think we hung him out on a lot of goals there. I mean, some major mistakes,” said Smith. “We have no concern, he's going to be real good, and as we get our team in front of him, the Grade A chances will come down."
Montreal went 1-for-6 on the power play, while Ottawa was 1-for-8 in a chippy game by pre-season standards.
Caufield scored a power-play goal with 8:17 remaining to give Montreal the 4-3 lead. The Canadiens then held off sustained pressure from the Senators in the final minutes to secure the win.
Korpisalo was tested early and often, stopping Dach on a breakaway and repelling a one-timer by Caufield from the half wall on a power play in the first five minutes.
Gignac then broke the ice at 13:33 of the first period and Slafkovsky doubled the Canadiens' lead seven minutes later.
Momentum started to shift to the Senators in the second period.
Off-season acquisition Kubalik cut the deficit to one 2:45 into the period and Joseph scored twice in a seven-minute span with powerful wrist shots that beat Allen and then Primeau.
The Senators squandered multiple chances to extend their lead, including a missed wide-open net from Joseph searching for a hat trick. But the Canadiens struck twice in the third and didn’t look back.
"I don't really care about (the two goals) after missing that,” said Joseph. “It changed the game honestly. A couple of minutes later, they scored and we weren't able to get that back."
Canadiens alternate captain Mike Matheson was a late scratch for precautionary reasons. The 29-year-old from Pointe-Claire, Que., was supposed to make his pre-season debut alongside David Savard on the top defensive pairing, but was replaced by Kaiden Guhle.
St. Louis said it was due to a lower-body injury, but that Matheson likely would have played had it been a regular-season game.
Montreal hosts Toronto for a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday. Ottawa heads home to play Winnipeg on Friday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2023.
Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press