Kotkaniemi gets harsh reception, scores goal in return to Montreal

Kotkaniemi Montreal Return
Francois Lacasse, Getty Images

Montreal Canadiens fans were not happy to see Jesperi Kotkaniemi make his first visit as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night.

Their anger only grew when he scored his first goal of the season — and first as member of the Hurricanes — midway through the third period to help drive the Hurricanes to a 4-1 win.

That win also furthers the Canadiens’ early season struggles, pushing them to 0-5-0 on the season.

The big story in this game though was Kotkaniemi’s return to Montreal following the offseason offer sheet drama.

In case you’ve forgotten: The Canadiens and Hurricanes have been involved in a two-year beef over restricted free agent offer sheets. It was the summer of 2019 when the Canadiens tried to sign Hurricanes star Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet. Carolina matched, but was unhappy with the structure of the deal and the fact that Montreal had the audacity to try and explore a legal avenue of improving its team.

[Related: Should Canadiens be concerned about slow start? ]

So the Hurricanes responded this offseason by signing Kotkaniemi to a one-year, $6.1 million offer sheet that Montreal did not match. The Canadiens received a first-and third-round pick as compensation.

On Thursday, Kotkaniemi and the Hurricanes made their first trip to Montreal for the season and Canadiens fans were not happy to see any of them. Kotkaniemi was loudly booed — and the recipient of a vulgar chant or two — pretty much every time he stepped on the ice and touched the puck. He ended up getting the last laugh, though, scoring on a deflection in the third period to help put the game away.

It is also a little fitting that Aho, the player that started the offer sheet madness between the two teams, also scored two goals in Carolina’s win.

The Hurricanes are now 3-0 on the season.

Montreal, meanwhile, is a mess.

This was always going to be a frustrating season and probably a big step backwards from the stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. The Canadiens had to leave the all-Canadian North Division, were no longer playing only other Canadian teams, and were dealing with a significant roster turnover that not only included Kotkaniemi, but also Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar, a season-ending injury to Shea Weber, and the early season absence of starting goalie Carey Price.

The Canadiens are not only winless through five games, they have scored just four total goals and have yet to score more than one goal in any game. They have been outscored 19-4 so far.

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