The Canadiens hosted the Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre for the first time this season on Saturday night, and outshot them 34-22 but were outscored 3-1 as the Habs had neither solid defence nor lights-out goaltending to bail them out.
The expected goals were 3.32 to 2.41 in the home team’s favour but the Habs could not convert their opportunities whereas the Leafs took full advantage of theirs.
Kaiden Guhle scored the only goal for the bleu, blanc et rouge, a short-handed marker, in the third period.
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One: Samuel Montembeault didn’t quite look ready on the Leafs’ opening goal, but surely the should have two defencemen working on defending, especially immediately after the faceoff? Mattias Norlinder was floating about between the circles while Matthew Knies stole the puck and skated freely around the net to tuck the puck between the post and Montembeault’s pads.
Two: Toronto’s second marker, a power play one, was surely not the kind of play Martin St. Louis wants to see. With Nick Suzuki fighting for the puck on the boards, the rest of the players assumed that he had won the battle and moved toward the centre ice. However, Nick Abruzzese came out on top, and fed it to Alex Steeves who had an easy two-on-none breakaway with Fraser Minten. Minten finished that with an easy goal, with Montembeault unable to cover both Leafs forwards.
Three: The Habs power play, which has been a topic of conversation in Montreal almost as long as weather and road construction, showed some signs of life but could not produce. The zone entries were better, with the caveat that these were preseason rosters, but control within the offensive zone is still lacking. And when they got the formation in place, the Leafs collapsed in front of Martin Jones, giving the Montreal shooters little net to aim for. At least this writer is not ready to be optimistic yet about power play improvement this season.
Four: David Reinbacher looks so calm and poised, not at all like an 18-year-old playing one of his first NHL games. He moves the puck with vision, not just dumping it to clear the zone. Even when he stumbled on the offensive blue line, he recovered in a flash, and moved quickly enough to retrieve the puck from the Leafs forward.
Five: A shorthanded offensive-zone faceoff doesn’t seem like an obvious scoring opportunity, but Kaiden Guhle made the most of it. A clean faceoff win by Newhook to Johnathan Kovacevic, and a quick cross-ice pass to Guhle, who fooled Knies, skated around him, and then lifted the puck past Jones.
Six: A single period is a very short time to judge a goaltender, but Jakub Dobes looked solid–and big–in the Habs’ net in the third period, both on the Easton Cowan shorthanded breakaway and when the Leafs applied pressure in the late stages of the period. Not ready to anoint him as a future starter, or even a surefire NHL goalie, but he definitely looks like he has potential.
Seven: The Canadiens controlled the play well with the net empty, but the six-on-five advantage exacerbated the problem the Habs had all game: they struggled getting clear shots on net. Only half the shot attempts (throughout the game) made it to the net, and, even then, they were often kept to the outside where Jones had plenty of time to react.
HW Habs 3 Stars
Eight – 1st Star: Guhle is giving us the signs that his rookie season was no flash in the pan. 23:19 on the ice, the Habs’ singular goal and a 5-on-5 xGA of only 0.15. Some defencemen mature slowly, but last season’s baptism by fire may have been just what Guhle needed to kick-start his NHL career.
Nine – 2nd Star: Rafael Harvey-Pinard looked as if he belongs on the second line. With the second-most minutes, behind only Guhle, Harvey-Pinard was making things happen with Juraj Slafkovsky and Kirby Dach. This might yet turn out to be a long-term configuration, once he returns from the Rocket.
Ten – Third Star: Norlinder has been fighting his way back up the prospect rankings, and he looked (mostly) very good tonight. Over six minutes on the power play and 19:37 in total as the Swedish rookie saw heavy offensive usage. The defensive faux-pas on the first goal showed that he’ll have some work to do on that aspect once he returns to Laval for the start of the season.
Following the game, Montreal’s long list of cuts today continued. After waiving four players and cutting 26 others before the game, Jakub Dobes, Riley Kidney, Sean Farrell, and William Trudeau were sent to Laval while David Reinbacher was sent back to Kloten in Switzerland.