After a compressed but still dizzying low season, NHL hockey is back for what will hopefully be the first 82-match season since 2018-19. As tradition would have it, the Montreal Canadiens started their season against their former North Division rivals from Toronto on Wednesday night.
The reigning champions of the Western Conference participated in this competition without several of the most important parts that helped carry the team all the way to Stanley Cup Final a few months ago. Shea Weber is injured and is out indefinitely. The same goes for Carey Price, but for personal reasons. Corey Perry, Phillip Danault and his former linemate Tomas Tatar disappeared in the free agency, and last but not least we saw earlier Bladslayer Jesperi Kotkaniemi accepts a Raleigh signing bonus of $ 20 USD.
If that was not enough, the last few weeks have seen several important parts of new The Montreal Canadiens are struggling with injuries. For Wednesday’s game, the competition signal was Mike Hoffman as well as the other newcomer Sami Niku from the side. The same was true of defender Joel Edmundson and penalty death specialist Paul Byron.
The good news was that Cédric Paquette was cleared on the pitch and was sent off. Another positive was that for the first time we would see what playoff sensation Cole Caufield and the recently extended Nick Suzuki could do together with an entire low season behind them.
The Habs started the game frantically and could have had one goal in the first 10 seconds and two goals in the first minute. Unfortunately, the main scoring opportunities went to a couple of players who are rarely in the scoring protocol. This effectively meant that Jack Campbell could keep his blade clean and that Brett Kulak and newcomer David Savard had to be denied.
Ben Chiarot had the dubious honor of getting the first minor penalty of the season around five minutes when he got his stick tangled in John Tavare’s belly. Either Montreal played a very solid two minute penalty shootout or Toronto just looked sluggish. Regardless, the game remained pointless when Chiarot re-entered the fight.
One hundred and ninety-nine days ago, the Canadiens released a statement that Jonathan Drouin would take leave due to personal reasons. Nothing further was revealed at the time, but Drouin later revealed a battle against both anxiety and insomnia. While number 92 did his best to recover and find joy in life, his team went on an unlikely run to be three wins away from a championship title.
Last night was Drouin’s first competitive match in six months, and if you did not know, he also got to open the points. A turnover created the possibility of a two-on-one breaker for linemates and good friends Drouin and Josh Anderson. Anderson held the puck just long enough to create a chance for a knock when he eventually passed the puck. Seeing the fire in Drouin’s eyes and the smiles between him and his teammates on the bench shortly afterwards was uniquely worth a paid entrance fee.
It really felt like the guests had good control over the events during the first 10 minutes. Unfortunately, a second penalty, this time on Alexander Romanov, meant an opportunity for the Maple Leafs to tie it. Pierre Engvall, born and raised in an area in Sweden that barely has snow and ice even on the gloomiest winter days, took advantage of the traffic in front of the net and guided the puck past Jake Allen and in.
Toronto gradually grew into the game and came out blasting in the second period, not unlike what the Habs looked like in the first. If not for a very vigilant Montreal goalkeeper, his team could have ended up with one or two goals.
The home team would eventually take the lead, but we had to wait until the early phase of the third period before we got there. William Nylander got the puck in battle and was able to charge unattacked against the net and drop a sniping wrist that hit Allen cold.
The Canadiens got a golden chance to level up when Jason Spezza and Mitch Marner were called to penalties just 15 seconds apart. With a refreshed powerplay and a record-breaking Junior goal scorer lined up in the Ovechkin position far to the left, there can only be one way now, right? Well, apparently not. The Leafs were able to kill off the two-man talk without sweating so much, allowing only one shot on goal in the meantime.
A new Habs power play a few minutes later saw a better offensive effort, where Chris Wideman and Drouin destroyed the puck well. But by the end of the two minutes, Montreal had still not managed to break through and score a goal in the man’s favor.
When the time came and Dominique Ducharme began to think about using an extra attacker on the ice, the men in black and white decided to put a stick in the steering wheel of the Montreal coach.
Brendan Gallagher and Morgan Rielly got tangled up near the boards as a result of a late accusation from the former against the Toronto net minor Jack Campbell. The remaining players on the ice quickly decided to join in and defend the honor of their respective teammates. In the end, only one penalty was called, and it went to Anderson.
With one man down, Ducharme still decided to level and remove Allen for Caufield in search of a late wave, but to no avail. Toronto won the season opener and got at least a temporary patch on the still open wound from last spring with a 2-1 victory.
Tonight is a historic event as the Canadiens will play their first regular game on American soil since March 10, 2020. Opponents are Buffalo Sabers, an immediate bounce for Ducharme’s side should be expected.