The Habs were looking to start of 2018-19 on a much better note than they finished the previous year. While they put up a very strong effort, they still fell 3-2 to Toronto in overtime on Wednesday night.
Claude Julien surprised many with his roster for this one. Karl Alzner was a healthy scratch on the back end which put an end to his ironman streak of 622 regular season games while up front, Tomas Plekanec got the night off against his former team. While that second decision may just be to ensure that he plays in game number 1,000 in his NHL career on home ice, it also suggests that the veteran will be in the press box at various times throughout the season.
Montreal got off to a strong start early on. They were able to get their transition game working early and they were visibly quicker than Toronto, a team that is pretty quick in their own right. They were rewarded for that just before the midway mark as a wraparound attempt from Artturi Lehkonen beat Frederik Andersen to open the scoring. At that point, the Habs were leading in shots by a count of 7-1.
Unfortunately for the Canadiens, the goal woke Toronto up. They had a pair of quality chances on the following shift but Carey Price was up to the task. Shortly after that, Jonathan Drouin took a hooking penalty giving Toronto’s highly-anticipated power play a chance. It lived up to the hype. After their second unit had a couple of good chances, their top unit got to work. Montreal held on for dear life but with five seconds left in the man advantage, Auston Matthews sniped one past Price to equal the scoring.
Toronto kept on coming after that as Montreal’s defence corps looked like the inexperienced and shaky group that many make them out to be. However, the Habs were able to get through the pressure without allowing any more goals and over the last few minutes of the period, they were able to put together some better shifts to end the frame on a decent note. Shots on goal were nine apiece.
The Canadiens had a glorious chance to open up the scoring in the opening minute of the second as Phillip Danault set up Brendan Gallagher for a point-blank shot in the slot but Andersen made the save.
A few minutes later, Lehkonen went off for hooking and Toronto’s power play was back at it. However, Price was up to the task, making a sprawling save on Patrick Marleau while the Leafs’ top unit was a little quieter. Two minutes after that penalty expired, Max Domi took an unnecessary tripping penalty but that was nullified a minute later with Toronto having too many men on the ice. (During the ensuing four-on-four, Montreal then got away with too many men not being called on them.) As for Montreal’s first foray on the power play? Let’s just say it wasn’t very good.
Play settled down for a few minutes after that but really picked up with three minutes to go. Paul Byron got a slot shot that beat Andersen but not the post. That same shift, Josh Leivo was absolutely robbed by Price on a two-on-one.
Less than a minute later, John Tavares (who I was really hoping I could get away without mentioning here) got on the scoresheet as he worked his way around Matthew Peca and sniped one past Price for his first goal as a Maple Leaf with under two minutes to go in the frame.
Zach Hyman took a holding penalty just 16 seconds later, sending Montreal back to the man advantage. In the first minute and change, it was something of a minor miracle that the Habs weren’t scored on. However, the second unit was able to get it into the zone and actually get set up behind the net. Domi fired a perfect centering pass to Andrew Shaw who quickly shot it past Andersen to get it squared up once again with just 14 seconds left. Jesperi Kotkaniemi picked up his first career NHL point on the play in his first game.
Just after the ensuing faceoff, Byron forced a turnover from Igor Ozhiganov who had little choice but to hook him to prevent a breakaway, sending the road side to the power play to start the third period (minus two seconds). Shots on goal in what wound up being an eventful period were 12-9 for Montreal.
That man advantage didn’t do a whole lot but the Canadiens had their skating legs under them nonetheless. They started to control the play, dominating the zone time but couldn’t get anything going. When Ron Hainsey took a penalty at the six-minute mark, Montreal’s power play tried a new strategy – shoot from anywhere and hope for the best. They didn’t score but it was their best looking one of the night.
After that man advantage, the Canadiens continued to pressure the Leafs. Domi missed an open net with just under eight minutes to go and then had another opportunity a couple of minutes later when he used his speed to get a partial break but that was broken up by Travis Dermott.
It wasn’t until the last couple of minutes before Toronto started to push back, generating a few chances of their own (including one at the buzzer). However, they couldn’t beat Price and this one was heading to overtime. Shots on goal were 15-7 for the Habs.
The Canadiens had the puck to start overtime but a poor play and subsequent bad change by Jonathan Drouin put the Leafs in control. Just past the one minute mark, Marleau fed Matthews who roofed it past Price to give the home side the win.
Andersen made 34 stops in the victory while Price turned aside 23 in the loss. His save percentage isn’t pretty but he didn’t have a shot on any of the goals and made some key stops along the way so all in all, it wasn’t a bad season debut for him. Both teams scored once on the power play with Montreal leading 4-3 in opportunities.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Max Domi – After sitting the remainder of the preseason due to his (really stupid) punch on Aaron Ekblad, I thought there would be a little rust. Suffice it to say, there wasn’t. His line was Montreal’s most threatening of the night and he set up both goals and quite a few other chances. Aside from his penalty, it was a very nice debut.
Stats: 2 assists (including the 100th of his career), even rating, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 2 blocks 5/13 faceoffs, 16:49 TOI
2nd Star: Artturi Lehkonen – Another part of the Domi line, Lehkonen opened the scoring and was aggressive all game long while his speed helped create some extra scoring opportunities. That’s the Lehkonen that was there in his rookie season and Montreal would certainly benefit if he had this type of performance most nights.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 2 PIMS, 3 shots, 16:38 TOI
3rd Star: Brendan Gallagher – He didn’t hit the scoresheet but it certainly wasn’t from a lack of effort. He seemed even more dogged in his effort than usual at times and helped create some chances for his line while leading the team in shots and shot attempts. Something tells me he’ll be leading this stat quite a few more times this season.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 5 shots (10 attempts), 3/4 faceoffs, 16:22 TOI
Honourable Mention: Andrew Shaw – Here’s another player I thought would be rusty. Shaw was fairly quiet when it came to the rough stuff but he acquitted himself well on a line that had wasn’t together at all aside from basically the morning skate while scoring the crucial tying goal late in the second.
Stats: 1 goal, -1 rating, 3 shots, 12:02 TOI
Stat of the Night: Victor Mete was credited with a hit in this one. While that may not seem too notable on its own, he had all of one in 49 games last season.