Hockey is back. And not a moment too soon.
While in a lot of ways it still feels like the preseason—especially with the Habs missing Michael Cammalleri, Roman Hamrlik, and Andrei Markov—last night’s game against the Leafs was anything but.
Despite losing 3-2 in regulation, the Canadiens looked good last night. Sure they went 0-for-3 on the power play, but their penalty killing was effective killing off all five Leafs’ opportunities. In addition, the Canadiens looked fast, gritty, and tenacious all night long as they outshot their opponent 28-24, out-hit them 34-27, had less giveaways, more takeaways, and won 23 faceoffs to the Leafs’ 20. Not a bad night’s work.
The problem, as was the case last season, is that the Canadiens couldn’t score. Granted they were missing their most effective goal-scorer and power play quarterback, and yes, this was only the first game of the season, but if the Habs can’t find a way to score more goals this could become a repeat of last season.
Ultimately, while the Canadiens controlled the pace of the game most of the night, the win came down to Leafs’ goalie, Jean-Sebastien Giguere, making several spectacular saves in the waning moments to preserve the win.
Final Score: Leafs 3 – Habs 2
Leafs Scorers: Tim Brent (1), Phil Kessel (1), Clarke MacArthur (1)
Habs Scorers: Dustin Boyd (1), Jeff Halpern (1)
1. Carey Price Played a Solid Game.
The story of last night’s game was simple: three defensive mistake lead to three goals against and a 3-2 loss to the Leafs.
On goal number one, Tomas Plekanec uncharacteristically turned to puck over to Phaneuf at the Habs blueline. Phaneuf’s shot was deftly deflected in front of Price by Tim Brent. 1-0 Leafs.
On goal number two, Hal Gill picked a bad time to try and join the rush. The result was a breakaway for Kessel and a goal that just got past Price. 2-0 Leafs.
On goal number three, Jaroslav Spacek—who is the left defenseman paired with P.K. Subban on the right—was on the wrong side of the ice. This led Subban to switch to the left side while Spacek was flatfooted and as easy target for MacArthur to skate around. 3-1 Leafs.
So Price was not to blame for any of the goals. Moreover, he made several spectacular saves to keep the score close when the Canadiens were trying to tie it up. A good first game for the kid overall. Let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come…
2. The Power Play Was Powerless.
Without their best sniper—Cammalleri—and their power play quarterback—Markov—the Habs just couldn’t get much going on the PP. The had a few chances—including Plekanec ringing one off of the post—but ultimately lacked the creativity that Markov brings from the back end.
Try as he may, Subban is not yet ready to be the go-to guy on the PP and would be best suited either paired with Markov or on the second wave.
While this is only the first game of the season, the Habs will need to figure out a way to score on the PP in Markov’s absence, and fast. If they are unable to score five-on-five, then their PP will need to be top-five in the league for them to have any chance of making the playoffs.
3. Dustin Boyd is Making His Mark.
Playing on the third line with Maxim Lapierre and Jeff Halpern, Boyd was a sparkplug all night. Hitting, skating, grinder, cycling, and scoring goals. Boyd’s speed and energy were on display and combined with Lapierre’s tenacity and Halpern’s grit to form the Habs most effective trio of the night.
With Cammalleri coming back from his one-game suspension tomorrow night in Pittsburgh, it will be interesting to see what Jacques Martin does with the lines but, suffice it to say, that this third line seems to be a keeper.
4. Lars Eller Looks Like the Real Deal
I’ve been saying all summer that I thought that Lars Eller would quickly become a fan favorite in Montreal, and last night’s performance just continued to confirm that belief.
Placed on the first line with Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn, Eller did not look a bit out of place. In fact, he seemed to provide a nice spark of energy on that line.
What amazed me about Eller was his incredible foot speed and stick handling skills. The other positive sign was that he was constantly heading towards the oppositions net. Whether taking the puck out of the corner and try to score, or waiting to pick up a rebound, Eller always seemed to be in the right spot and doing the right thing.
With Cammalleri returning to the lineup next game, Eller no longer be on the top line, but how far he falls down the depth chart will be interesting. Martin could easily insert him on the third line but, given the uninspired performances from Benoit Pouliot so far, he could very easily see himself losing his spot to Eller.
Tune in Saturday to find out.
Standings and Next Game
Well, standings are a little bit irrelevant as the Canadiens have zero points accumulated in the one game they have played, and the Leafs are tied for first place in the league! The Habs have the day off today—where they will surely work on the impotent powerplay—before facing the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh tomorrow night.
If you think the Leafs wanted to win, imagine how badly Sidney Crosby et al. want a little payback for their second round playoff loss to the Habs last season.