For almost a year and a half, the Boston Bruins were probably sitting at home, chomping at the bit, just waiting for the first opportunity to play Montreal with the goal of a complete and utter destruction of the Canadiens. Sadly, those dreams didn’t quite pan out as Michael Ryder, runner up for the Calder trophy the last time it was handed out, beat Andrew Raycroft, the winner of said trophy, with a backhand shot with 11 seconds remaining in the game.
This was certainly not a contest to write home about. With the puck bouncing around on uneven ice where U2 had performed one night before, there were numerous mistakes and give-aways. At times it looked more like the first pre-season game than the first contest with full squads.
On the other hand, there were also moments, glimpses into the future, perhaps, of dynamic play with wonderful flow. Consider that the first stoppage in play of the game was well into the contest – both teams were able to flip all four lines at least once.
The game’s first goal came midway through the first when Jan Bulis took a delightful flip pass from Niklas Sundstrom and snapped a perfect shot over the shoulder of Raycroft. The play was a transition play and demonstrated the speed that Montreal will be able to use in attacking opponents throughout the upcoming season.
Boston fought back late in the first as Patrice Bergeron, on a sharp angle, fired one over the glove of Jose Theodore, who would surely love to have a second chance at it. The Habs goalie was far out of position and failed to come out and challenge the shooter sufficiently and Boston’s best player on this night made him pay.
The second period was incredibly disappointing for the Canadiens as they failed to generate any flow. In fact, there were more than a few players who apparently felt the need to coast through much of the game. Mike Ribeiro’s line in particular, with Pierre Dagenais and Mike Ryder, were very disappointing until late in the second. In fact, there will be serious questions, considering the increased speed of the game, whether or not this line can continue to be successful. Countless times over the course of this encounter they were beaten to the puck, or fell behind while trying to come back.
There was an unfortunate injury that the Habs will have to deal with over the next few days as well. Richard Zednik, a game-time decision to begin with, failed to show for the second period, apparently aggrevating himself. Whether he shows up for games against the Rangers or Leafs is highly questionable.
One Canadiens player who played an extremely good game was Francis Bouillon. Not only was he superb in his own end, routinely making high-quality plays to deny the Bruins, but he also played a very good offensive game, including substantial time on the power play. On this night, Bouillon was the Habs best defender by a fair margin, and was also their best player overall.
Penalty difficulties struck the Habs in the third, with a parade heading to the box for undisciplined mistakes. Leading the lunacy brigade was Dagenais who was dinged for a double minor for a slash after a play had been completed, as well as a holding the stick penalty when the play was long down the ice. Claude Julien will certainly have words with his big forward, and this might be an opening for Alex Perezhogin to make his NHL debut.
Of the other rookies who made their first appearances, Chris Higgins was easily the best. He was tenacious all night and consistently created chances in the opposing zone while playing a strong defensive game. Thomas Plekanec was also a strong performer, working well with Higgins all night.
Perhaps one of the best things Montreal fans could hear this early in the season is that Andrei Markov quietly put together a very strong defensive performance. His positioning and ability to win one-on-one battles even against players much larger helped the club immensely.
A very pleasing indication that the refs are going to call this game like is should be occurred late when Mike Fitzgerald was called for hooking with less than 30 seconds remaining. This offered the Canadiens the opportunity, which they resoundingly took, to finish the game in style and take their first two points of the season.
Perhaps it wasn’t the best of games to start with, but it was a win and it was against the Bruins. And in the end, those are two facts which will send all Habs fans home happy.