1. Jonathan Drouin delivered on opening night
Since being acquired this summer, the spotlight in Montreal has been on Jonathan Drouin. The budding star had standout moments throughout the pre-season that showed fans and media alike just what he was capable of doing in this Canadiens lineup.
Tonight against the Sabres he did that again, only this time the points mattered and he delivered in crucial situations. His set-up on Max Pacioretty’s goal was perfection as he threaded a pass right through a defender and into Pacioretty’s wheelhouse for a goal.
Not only that but in the shootout Drouin was given a chance to showcase just how lethal his skills are. He came in, deked Robin Lehner into next week and backhanded a goal in off the crossbar for the eventual game winner. There is a mountain of expectations sitting on his shoulders right now but if the first game is any indication, the pressure isn’t getting to Jonathan Drouin.
2. Charles in Charge
A million things have been said about Charles Hudon heading into this season. He’s been a dominant force in the AHL who never got a fair shake at the NHL level in his first three years. He had a fantastic pre-season where he more-or-less forced Claude Julien to keep him in the lineup. Not only did he force his way onto the roster, he turned his opportunity into a major role alongside Tomas Plekanec and Artturi Lehkonen. Hudon then responded by leading the Canadiens in Corsi For % while playing a major chunk of minutes in his seventh career NHL game.
At even strength, Hudon controlled 67% of shot attempts while matching up heavily against the Sabres top line of Jason Pominville, Evander Kane and Jack Eichel. When matched up against that line Hudon controlled the flow of play to a tune of 64.29% CF. It’s a highly promising debut, and once he starts to find the back of the net, Charles Hudon is going to be a player teams are forced to take notice of.
3. Sloppy, but not unexpected
The pre-season is meant to get teams ready for the regular season, and yes, the Habs looked dreadful for a good chunk of the pre-season this year. By no means was this a perfect opening night for the Canadiens.
They struggled plenty throughout the game, most notably when trying to exit their own zone and advance the play. There were moments where the Canadiens looked slow to recover from turnovers, or when trying to move the puck up ice, but that’s fine right now.
The defence is one that isn’t set in stone, and with games on Saturday and Sunday, Claude Julien has plenty of chances to nail down his ideal pairings.
As for the offence, it will adjust. There’s far too much talent on the roster for it not to. Outside of the Hudon/Plekanec/Lehkonen line everything else has been shuffled in the pre-season, and giving them a few more games to mesh will more than likely yield better results.
While the lines and the pairings took shape at the end of the pre-season, the forwards and defence didn’t have that much experience playing this new system together. Once the chemistry improves and the passes are more crisp, things should get better.
4. Carey Price is still Carey Price
If anyone was worried about the poor starts Price had in the pre-season, tonight should have erased all that doubt. The Canadiens netminder faced 45 shots from the Buffalo Sabres tonight, and turned away 43 of them plus three more in the shootout. As for the goals against, a slick backhander by Pominville and Eichel putting a perfect pass through the entire defence isn’t a cause for concern, nobody was getting to those pucks unless they’re extremely lucky.
Despite the large number of pucks faced, there’s a distinct change in where the shots were coming from in this game.
The shots at even strength are being forced into lower percentage shooting areas under Julien. The biggest cluster of shots coming from the top part of the faceoff circles and the blue line tonight. For an all-world goalie like Carey Price you’re just making his life extremely easy this way. The defence has a bit of fine tuning to do, but there are promising signs that they’re headed in the right direction.
5. Starting on a win
Nothing boosts morale like starting the season with a victory, especially after a tumultuous off-season and pre-season. Even better is that it was against a division rival who has in the past always been a stumbling point for the Canadiens.
The stars delivered as they were supposed to, and then some in the case of Drouin. Even in the face of adversity late in the game, Phillip Danault stepped up and helped secure at least a point from the jaws of defeat. The Sabres are a young, extremely talented team, and they took it to the Canadiens tonight and Montreal still secured a victory. It’s a great starting point for a Habs team that many pundits have questioned in this off-season.
The team now faces a tough weekend with back-to-back games against the perennial contender Washington Capitals, and their playoff foes the New York Rangers. Both teams have elite goaltending, superstar forwards, and solid defensive depth. The early season is putting this new look Canadiens team to the test, and that’s a good thing. Playing against top teams can help the coaching staff identify potential weak spots and correct them early in the year, hopefully helping the team down the road.
But for now, the Habs are undefeated so let’s celebrate that as we prepare for 81 more games of NHL action this year.