The Montreal Canadiens started their 2017-18 with two rookies in the lineup in a 3-2 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres.
Charles Hudon‘s line with Artturi Lehkonen, Tomas Plekanec started the game off on the right foot with some offensive-zone pressure, while Victor Mete got his first shift in the NHL on the change.
Evander Kane took a faceoff violation penalty less than three minutes in, and though the Habs held on to possession for almost the entire two minutes, they did not capitalize. However, they picked up five shots, and Mete looked like a consummate professional while the Habs outshot Buffalo 7-0 in the early going.
Unfortunately, Ales Hemsky took a delay of game penalty just moments later, sending the Habs to a kill of their own. Buffalo made things interesting for the penalty killers, and no sooner had the first penalty expired than Plekanec went off to the box for slashing. After failing to keep the puck out of their own end, and a bungled play between Lehkonen and Jordie Benn, Jason Pominville beat Carey Price on an excellent backhand.
The second half of the first featured some pretty listless play from the Habs, though they did get a few chances, including a (not very dangerous) shot from Hudon, and a pretty (but no less unsuccessful) delayed pass from Jordie Benn to Jonathan Drouin, camped out by the net.
Montreal had woken up a little in the final five minutes of the frame, and in the dying moments of the period, it culminated in a thing of beauty. Drouin made a flawless pass to Max Pacioretty, and the captain scored from the hashmarks for the Habs’ first goal of the season. As is tradition.
At the end of 20, the game was tied 1-1, and the Habs were outshooting Buffalo 17-11.
The second period did not get off to a good start. Pominville scored mere seconds into the period on a crazy pass from Jack Eichel.
Drouin tried very hard to tie it up immediately following, but to no avail.
Things didn't look so great after that, as the Sabres hemmed the Habs in their own zone for quite some time.
Buffalo pressured hard for the remainder of the period, and the Habs took two penalties, going on a lengthy 5-on-3 kill. Miraculously, they survived, thanks largely to Price, and the Habs were probably fortunate to escape the middle 20 only down one goal.
Price remained a wall to start the third, and the Canadiens survived yet more offensivezone time from Buffalo.
Andrew Shaw was the recipient of a questionable call about halfway through the final frame. But the Habs took revenge, as Phillip Danault absolutely bamboozled Lehner on the penalty kill, scoring short-handed on the wraparound.
In Shaw’s time in the box, the Habs had allowed zero shots, and scored a goal.
The concentration level went up a little in the remainder of the third, but the team still seemed pretty loose and sloppy, and the game went to OT.
Extra time saw nearly every member of the team take to the ice, but solved nothing. In the shootout, Price shut the door on all three of Buffalo's shooters, and Drouin's lone goal to secure the win was a thing of absolute beauty.
- It was not a great game. As aforementioned, it was quite sloppy defensively, and the Habs struggled mightily exiting the zone. That might become a huge concern in the near future, but at the same time, despite the far, far too busy pre-season schedule, this specific iteration of the team hasn't had a lot of playing time together, and may improve as they get used to each other.
- Lots of people were mediocre at best on the blue line in this game. Mete was not one of them. For a rookie in his first NHL game, vaulted straight onto the top pairing on the road, he showed a great deal of poise, and while he may not have been brilliant, he was never awful. He even had a cheeky shift in OT and acquitted himself well. Who knows if he will continue to be able to keep this up, but I certainly will not be surprised if he sticks around.
- Carey Price was Carey Price. I don't really need to say more than that, do I? Although, I will say, despite the fact that he made 43 saves (gulp) it didn't feel like some of those games in the past where the team would have been absolutely doomed if anyone else had been in net. Certainly, it could have been worse, but it wasn't like he was standing on his head to keep the team in the game. Perhaps that impression is merely due to the fact that Price's positioning and ability to read the play keep him from having to make really obviously huge saves, but he's been like that for a long time, and there have still been games where it was completely obvious that he was the sole reason for a win.
- Lehk, Plek, and Hudon carried their strong pre-season play into game one, and were often noticeable for good things, whether it be scoring chances, possession, or sometimes for simply getting out of the defensive zone. Likewise, Gallagher, Drouin, and Pacioretty all had their moments. They created chances and were generally a threat. It's such a treat to have this kind of forward depth. Is this sort of what if feels like to root for other NHL teams? I could get used to that. I know it was only three goals, but it sure was nice to see the offence actually pull through when needed. It's going to take some getting used to to not just packing it in when we go down a goal or two in a bad game, and I quite like it.
- The big names came through in the end. Now we just need everyone else to follow suit.