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The Canadiens kicked off their 2023-2034 season the same way they usually do, with a visit to the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto to face the Leafs. In a highly entertaining game, the Habs dropped 6-5 in a shootout. Here are ten thoughts on the Habs’ season-opening overtime loss. 

Montreal’s lineup:
Cole Caufield — Nick Suzuki — Josh Anderson
Alex Newhook — Kirby Dach — Juraj Slafkovský
Tanner Pearson — Sean Monahan — Brendan Gallagher
Rafael Harvey-Pinard — Jake Evans — Jesse Ylonen 

Mike Matheson — David Savard
Kaiden Guhle — Johnathan Kovacevic
Arber Xhekaj — Jordan Harris 

Jake Allen 

Game Thoughts

1) That’s MISTER Arber Xhekaj for anyone suiting up versus the Habs this season. A hit by Ryan Reaves directly into Kaiden Guhle’s numbers brought in the Habs enforcer who showed Reaves that life in the Atlantic Division wasn’t going to be all that easy. Xhekaj rag-dolled the reigning NHL tough guy. I’m sure Reaves will want a rematch but round 1 clearly went to Xhekaj even with the weak instigator call that followed. Oh, and Xhekaj added an assist in the third too.

2) Nifty little goal by Jake Evans to get the Habs on the board early. With T.J. Brodie blowing a tire at the offensive blue line, Evans took off on a breakaway and made the Leafs pay with a nice backhanded deke to beat Ilya Samsonov. 

3) Special teams were a weakness for the Habs last season. This season didn’t start very well either. After two periods, they were blanked on both their chances while the Leafs had converted twice on four chances. The Canadiens got one on the advantage as Cole Caufield got on the board in the third, but then the Habs allowed two goals at six-on-five which might not show up in the percentages but made all the difference on this night. To make matters worse, the Habs then failed to convert on a 4-on-3 in overtime. 

4) The second period started strong for the Kirby Dach line as the Habs extended their lead thanks to strong play at both ends of the ice by Juraj Slafkovsky. A nice play in the defensive zone sent Montreal up the ice. Dach found Slafkovsky entering the zone who then feathered a soft backhand pass to Alex Newhook who buried his chance. This play seemed to give Slafkovsky a world of confidence as he was all over the ice for the rest of the night as that line really dominated.

5) The Habs thought they had a power play goal when Nick Suzuki found Caufield in the slot for a one-timer to make it 3-0. Unfortunately, the play was microscopically offside on the zone entry and the goal was called back. This was a key moment in the game as the momentum shifted and Toronto stormed back and took the lead by the end of the second period.

6) It was a very Jekyll and Hyde night for Jake Allen. He was excellent in the first period, but then the Leafs first goal was weak. What made it worse was that it happened right after the negated Caufield marker, so it was a huge momentum swing. This led to goals two and three that weren’t on him. Then, he came out strong to start the third, but once again gave up a crappy goal to Auston Matthews that gave the Leafs life with five minutes to play. He was once again excellent in overtime. Big saves and soft goals.

7) Get Josh Anderson off the Suzuki line. I understand that Sean Monahan is needed on another line, but I honestly believe that Rafael Harvey-Pinard is a better fit there than Anderson, though neither are ideal. Another top-end winger for 14 and 22 would really make the top six quite interesting with what was seen on this night from the Dach line.

8) While Monahan and Tanner Pearson weren’t flashy, they were effective, but it really looked like they were shorthanded all night. Brendan Gallagher was a fan favourite for a long time, but boy does he look like he’s got nothing left in the tank.

9) The defencemen had real quiet but solid nights in general. When two of five goals scored can be attributed to less than stellar goaltending, and another two are poor special teams play, then the brigade likely did its job at even-strength. I felt Johnathan Kovacevic and Mike Matheson were quite good, while David Savard and Guhle were a little more uneven in their play. But nothing worth sounding alarm bells over. If I’m the coaching staff, Justin Barron is not coming in on Saturday.

10) Shootout: William Nylander hit the post, Matthews is stopped, but then Mitch Marner finally scores. For the Habs, Suzuki lost the puck, Caufield hit the post, and then Dach committed far too many manoeuvres in trying to fool Samsonov. Caufield’s attempt should have provided a blueprint for Dach to follow. Samsonov’s angle was off, skate in and shoot. 

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars

1st Star – Kirby Dach 

Nick Suzuki has always been a little uneven in his efforts but his history of showing up game after game and playing his best when it matters most has meant he’s escaped criticism for much of the last two seasons. Well, he might want to start looking over his shoulder because if Dach continues to play like this, Suzuki’s ice time will be negatively affected on most nights. Dach was the best player for the Habs on this night and both the scoreboard and the time on ice marker say that the coaching staff recognized this down the stretch. Great game by a player who really appears to be poised for a breakout season. All that’s needed now is some luck on the health side of things. 

Stats: 2 assists, +1, 3 shots, 3 hits, 21:22 T.O.I. 

2nd Star – Juraj Slafkovsky 

Slafkovsky was quiet in the first period, then he had the shift where he made a great defensive play followed by a nice pass on Newhook’s first goal. From that point on, he was flying, and with all three members rolling, that line was unstoppable. Pretty promising start for the 1st overall selection from a year ago. 

Stats: 1 assist, +1, 1 shot, 3 hits, 15:25 T.O.I.  

3rd Star – Alex Newhook 

How about two goals and playing on the most effective line of the night for a player’s Habs debut? Newhook looked great and that line appears to have found some instant chemistry which would be great news for the Habs who would suddenly find themselves with two lines capable of providing some offence and taking some pressure off Caufield and Suzuki. 

Stats: 2 goals, even, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 2 hits, 16:46 T.O.I.