For the first twenty minutes of the new season, the Toronto Maple Leafs looked nervous and uncomfortable. However, a shorthanded goal early in the second period from Matthew Lombardi eased the Leafs into a winning home opener against Montreal.
Although Boston took centre stage for the opening night of the NHL, Toronto was the scene of a frustrated Montreal offense unable to score, but it wasn’t through lack of trying. The Canadiens dominated the first period, but failed to beat James Reimer with 14 attempts. The Habs had 32 attempts on goal throughout the game, but nothing could beat Reimer.
Montreal’s power play floundered as the Canadiens’ offense failed to gel. It may be the first game of a very long season, but the Habs have a lot of work to do. Erik Cole made no impact on his competitive debut, while Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn failed to provide anything to threaten the Toronto goal.
Further worry for Montreal came when Chris Campoli limped off the ice in some distress with a suspected leg injury. New acquisition Blair Betts didn’t take part, giving Andreas Engqvist the chance to shine. However, the Swede looked out of his element in Toronto.
It looked good for Montreal after the first period. Although they struggled to find the opening goal, the Canadiens were by far the better team. However, Toronto came out for the second stanza with a renewed belief and a shameful power play from Montreal gifted the Leafs the lead.
A bad giveaway allowed Lombardi to sprint down the ice, whose shot was saved by Carey Price. However, the Montreal goaltender lost his balance – and the puck, allowing Lombardi to circle the net and pounce on the loose puck to open the scoring.
Montreal was stunned, and in truth never recovered. Their good fore-checking from the first period was non-existent for the rest of the game. Price made some big saves as Toronto came close to adding to their lead.
However, when Kessel set up Dion Phaneuf in the slot, he slammed the puck past Price to all but end the contest. The Canadiens upped the pressure in the final moments with Toronto taking their foot off the gas, but still they found no way past Reimer.
The Leafs netminder had a game to remember, despite a nervous start. Reimer recorded the fourth shutout of his career with 32 saves to give Toronto the perfect start to the season.
Offensively, the Leafs have much room for improvement, but their power play kill looked confident and they scored when it mattered.
The Canadiens will want to forget this game quickly, and will need to re-group before they face the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday. David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty showed some promise for Montreal, but no-one for the Habs made enough to beat the star of the show – James Reimer.