By JD Lagrange – “Oh what a night!” Yes, we are feeling a bit like borrowing the words of Frankie Valli this morning, thinking about the opening night the Montreal Canadiens provided us with. Entertaining, exciting, eye opening and surprising are only a few qualifiers we can use to describe their performance last night.
Few gave the Canadiens any chance at winning that game. After all, how fair was it to put the 32nd place team, the lowly Habs, against the powerhouse, Atlantic Division favourites, Stanley Cup contenders, the almighty Toronto Maple Leafs, with 60-goals’ scorer (how many times have we heard that on Sportsnet last night)? But as you know, David defeated Goliath. Martin St-Louis’ men upended “Tarana” by the score of 4-3! Yes, it is burning season and the Canadiens did some yard work… burning the Leafs!
The Canadiens played nose to nose with the Leafs pretty much all game. Michael Bunting opened the scoring for the Leafs halfway in the first period and that’s when many people thought that the Canadiens would fold and the floodgates would open. Not so fast.
Just 33 seconds into the second period, captain Nick Suzuki found Cole Caufield whom, in a Caufield fashion, beat Matt Murray to tie the game at one. The Bell Centre exploded! But then, a blown coverage by Suzuki in front of Jake Allen’s net resulted in Denis Malgin giving Toronto the lead back. But the Canadiens’ sniper wasn’t done. Caufield picked a corner with a snipe coming down the right wing to tie the game at two.
Everyone thought that the game was over when former Calgary Flames Sean Monahan gave the Canadiens the lead at 17:30 of the third period but William Nylander had other ideas, tying things up just 40 seconds later. The rollercoaster ride at the Bell Centre continued up until the end, as Suzuki slid the puck to the Powerhorse himself, as Josh Anderson got the puck where Grandma keeps the cookie jar, with only 19 seconds to go in the game, to give the Canadiens the surprising win.
There were many players on the Canadiens who had a good game but a few of them really stood out.
Kaiden Guhle played on the first pairing with David Savard and the two did very well together. In his first ever NHL game, the 20 year-old rearguard led all Canadiens’ players in ice time (22:34), including 3:43 short-handed.
Sean Monahan was flying out there, showing no signs of his two hip injuries which slowed him down the past couple of years. He was the second most utilized center by St-Louis and in 18:15 of ice time, including the power play and the penalty kill, he was a team best 60% in the faceoffs’ circle.
Cole Caufield had four goals, all on the power play, during pre-season and he was buzzing from the first shift to the last. Before he scored his first of two goals, we knew that he would as he was dangerous every time he touched the puck. He literally outshone Matthews in this game, as he did throughout his College career by breaking the Leafs’ player’s NCAA records.
Showing no signs of succumbing to the pressure of the “C” on his chest, Nick Suzuki carried the torch to center ice in the pre-games ceremonies and lit the rink on fire. And he played with that fire all game, likely the best player from both teams all night. He ended up with two assists, three shots and three blocked shots in 21:24 of ice time. It’s important to note that he was 57% on faceoffs in the game too!
Brendan Gallagher was flying out there. That’s right, you’ve heard it well. We saw the Gallagher of a couple of years ago out there. Completing a line with Christian Dvorak and rookie Juraj Slafkovsky, he was noticeable (for the right reasons) at both ends of the ice.
Honourable mentions to Jordan Harris and Kirby Dach, who were both solid out there too. Also in their very first NHL game, Juraj Slafkovsky and Arber Xhekaj were good, in a more limited role.
On a side note, I want to tip my hat to the fans present at the Bell Centre for the ovation they reserved to Carey Price at the players’ introduction prior to the game. It was classy and mostly, well deserved for a guy who gave it all for this franchise over the years.
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