After a very short summer, the Habs officially kicked off their 2021-22 season with a stop in Toronto on Wednesday. They started strong but couldn’t get much going offensively – particularly on the power play – as they fell 2-1.
There were no last-minute surprises to the lineup for Montreal who used the lineup they’ve had in practice the last few days. That group was reduced by one following Ryan Poehling’s assignment to Laval as expected earlier in the day, bringing their roster size down to 22. That is expected to increase back to 23 once Sami Niku is activated off IR. Meanwhile, on Toronto’s end, Mitch Marner was a game-time decision but did suit up while Auston Matthews, who has been known to light up the scoresheet in the season opener, was unavailable as he works his way back from injury.
The Canadiens ran a set play not long after the opening draw. The dump-in to the corner bounced out to Brett Kulak who slapped one on goal but Jack Campbell made the stop. Two shifts later – still in the first minute – Jake Evans set up David Savard on a two-on-one but his shot went well over the net. Two minutes later, Josh Anderson – whose line was out for the first chance – was denied by Campbell’s sprawling pad.
Toronto got the first power play of the game when Ben Chiarot was sent off for hooking John Tavares. However, aside from a point shot that wasn’t particularly dangerous, the Habs did a good job of killing off the penalty. On the shift following the penalty kill, Cole Caufield was sent in with speed and he got off a good backhand that Campbell had to be sharp on.
Eventually, the Habs were rewarded for their strong start. After forcing a neutral zone turnover from Jake Muzzin, the Habs again went in with an odd-man rush with Anderson sliding the puck across to Jonathan Drouin who had an easy tap-in to give the Habs their first goal of the season.
Unfortunately, the lead was fairly short-lived. An interference call to Alexander Romanov sent the Maple Leafs to their second power play of the period. This one was better and at the end, Montreal’s penalty killers were running around disorganized. Toronto took advantage as just as the penalty was expiring, Pierre Engvall sent one through a screen and past Jake Allen to tie it up just past the midway point of the frame.
The Habs couldn’t muster up much in the second half of the period as Toronto seemed to find their skating legs. T.J. Brodie rang a shot off the post three minutes after the equalizer while Rasmus Sandin caught the crossbar with ten seconds left in the opening frame with Montreal’s tired defenders struggling to keep up. Through 20 minutes, the score was tied at one with the shots also even at nine apiece although only three of Montreal’s shots came in the final 14 minutes of the period.
The Maple Leafs kept up their push to start the second. 85 seconds in, Engvall came close but hit the side of the net. A minute later, William Nylander snuck the puck through Allen’s pads but the back of his leg got enough of the puck to keep it out. Allen made another pad stop near the five-minute mark with Toronto pushing in close. It went to review but the initial no-goal call stood.
Montreal got their first man advantage when John Tavares was sent off for tripping Christian Dvorak. The new-look power play…looked a lot like the old power play with Toronto looking more dangerous against the top unit for the Canadiens. The second unit at least got set up in the zone and moves the puck around but nothing came of it.
The second half of the frame started a lot like the first half with Toronto getting a good chance when Mitch Marner got around Kulak but was stopped in tight. On the next shift, Artturi Lehkonen forced Campbell to turn the puck over but there weren’t any Habs around to get the centring feed.
Toronto then got a two-on-one break after Chris Wideman wasn’t able to keep the puck in and his attempt to poke it to Romanov actually kick-started the scoring chance. However, Ondrej Kase wasn’t able to bury the set-up from Engvall. Two minutes later, Anderson got around the Toronto defenders but wasn’t able to stuff it home. The second ended the same way the first did with the home side holding a 14-11 shot advantage.
The third period didn’t start off well for the Habs. William Nylander got behind Nick Suzuki on a line change, got a pass from Morgan Rielly, skated in, and sniped one past Allen.
The Canadiens were then handed a glorious opportunity to tie it up with a 1:44 two-man advantage. The top unit continued to try to force a point shot like last season and the end result was just like last season where they didn’t do much with it. The second unit had a few seconds at the end and Dvorak and Brendan Gallagher couldn’t capitalize on their chances.
Montreal had another power play a few minutes later when Nylander tripped Anderson. This time, the top unit tried to move the puck around but their best chance came when a pass from Caufield hit Suzuki and redirected to the front of the net where Campbell made the stop.
Toronto had a good chance with five minutes left. Nick Ritchie was stopped in close as was Marner on the rebound. Suzuki then had a chance off the rush with a little over two minutes to go but missed the net.
The Canadiens didn’t have a great opportunity to tie it late as they were shorthanded. Following a whistle, both Engvall and Rielly mixed it up with Gallagher, likely some retaliation for a bump on Campbell earlier in the period. Anderson came to his defence and was singled out for a roughing call, putting Montreal shorthanded the rest of the way. They pulled Allen and made it somewhat interesting but couldn’t get the equalizer.
Allen was sharp in a losing effort, stopping 28 of 30 Toronto shots while Campbell kicked aside 31 of 32. Special teams were the difference in this one with Engvall’s marker technically counting as a power play goal which made them 1/3 while the Habs failed on their four opportunities with the three failures in the third basically being the difference.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Jake Allen – It’s a tough loss for him as he had a strong start to his season. There were several times where the Habs were flat and he kept them in it long enough to at least give them a chance to come back.
Stats: 28 saves on 30 shots, 2.04 GAA, .933 SV%
2nd Star: Jonathan Drouin – There was some jump to his game, his first regular season action since stepping away late last season. He has found some early chemistry with his new linemates and if that trio can give them some consistent secondary scoring (with Suzuki’s trio improving as well), the Habs should be in decent shape offensively.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 1 shot, 2 takeaways, 17:36 TOI
3rd Star: Christian Dvorak – A very solid all-around game in his official Canadiens debut. His line with Drouin and Anderson was Montreal’s best by a considerable margin, he chipped in shorthanded, actually looked decent on the power play, and took plenty of key faceoffs. Dominique Ducharme is really going to like him in a hurry.
Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 3 shots, 3 hits, 15/28 faceoffs, 19:55 TOI
Honourable Mention: Josh Anderson – Yes, it’s the easy way out by taking all three from the same line but they all deserve a mention. Anderson tried to rush the net several times, played with an edge, and made the well-timed pass on the Drouin marker.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 3 hits, 18:35 TOI