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Canadiens vs Sabres recap: Newcomers make instant impact in Habs win

From Al Montoya to Shea Weber to Kirk Muller it was a good day for new Habs

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Buffalo Sabres Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Canadiens had an up and down game, but ultimately came away with a 4-1 win in their season opener against the Buffalo Sabres and while it was the newcomers that were the story, a returning young veteran put his stamp on the game.

It was a very encouraging start for the Habs. After outshooting the Sabres 6-1 to open the game, Brendan Gallagher broke in the Sabres and used his former roommate Josh Gorges as a screen to beat Robin Lehner and score the first goal of the season for the Canadiens.

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It was a shot off the rush, and something the Habs were missing most of last season. Getting goals like this will definitely increase their goals scored and change games and it’s an aspect of Gallagher’s game we haven’t seen much of.

The power play, even though it didn’t score in their first two opportunities looked positive. They ran with a 1-3-1 and had good puck movement, but you could tell they need more time together. It’s a work in progress but the early signs are promising for the unit led by Kirk Muller.

They did give up a shorthanded breakaway to Evander Kane, but Al Montoya, who was great in his Montreal debut making 30 saves, stopped him.

Speaking of Muller, another aspect of the team that looked improved, at least in the first period, was their breakouts. They brought the forwards into the defensive zone to help lead the breakout and in the first period, Alex Galchenyuk created a scoring chance.

The Canadiens doubled their lead when Paul Byron drove to the net and was stopped by Lehner. Torrey Mitchell followed up on the play and put it past the Sabres goaltender. Byron took a hard hit into the boards, but got up to celebrate.

Despite being outplayed in the second period, the Canadiens held a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes but in the opening minute of the third, Matt Moulson scored a power play goal on Al Montoya to cut the lead to 2-1 and it looked like the momentum had shifted.

However, the Canadiens bounced back. Gallagher scored his second of the game tipping in a Shea Weber shot as the defenceman got his first point in a Montreal jersey.

The shot by Weber wasn’t a slap shot, and wasn’t even overpowering but what he does is makes his shots dangerous. They are well placed, with a quick release, creating scoring chances. He’s more than just a booming shot and it will help the team.

Another new Hab, Andrew Shaw scored the team’s fourth goal, his first with the team after a scramble in front. However, his good game went away in the game’s final seconds when he was penalized and given a match penalty for slew footing Buffalo’s Johan Larsson.

It was a blatant dirty play, and given his pre-season and suspension just two games prior, I would expect the Canadiens will be without their agitator for a few games. He has value but he needs to smarten up. He can be a very good player for this team and showed that in the game’s first 59 minutes but he has no value getting suspended.

After scoring earlier in the game, Mitchell left the game when he collided with Josh Gorges. It wasn’t a dirty collision, just something that can happen. Mitchell did not return and there was no update on his status. Earlier in the game, Mitchell avoided a scary incident in the first period when he took a Rasmus Ristolainen shot to the side of the face.

Thoughts

  • Artturi Lehkonen made his NHL debut and looked quite good. He was used on the power play and the penalty kill. It seems Michel Therrien knows what he has in the Finnish rookie and I feel his role will only increase.
  • Mikhail Sergachev didn’t look out of place in his NHL debut but despite the immense talent, he’s not quite ready and I would be surprised if he gets all nine games in his trial, nevermind more than that. However, it is only one game.
  • It’s early but Al Montoya is making a lot of people feel better about the Habs goaltending position behind Carey Price. He was calm, collected, and most importantly good.
  • Brendan Gallagher is just great. He gives all of his effort on every play and his two goals today could be the start of a really special season after an injury plagued one last year.
  • Alexander Radulov just looks like a player the Habs have been looking for for years. He’s intense, makes skilled plays, and was the best player when it comes to CF% at even strength. He even took a roughing penalty showing that he can engage in that area as well.
  • Alexei Emelin made his presence felt and it was one of the first games in a while that his physical play was a factor. He didn’t have the best game, but if he could provide that physicality, he’ll be perfectly fine on the third pairing.