The game against the Toronto Maple Leafs saw the return of Andrew Shaw and Jonathan Drouin to the lineup, and the Montreal Canadiens looked for some much needed offence. Victor Mete also remained in the lineup alongside Shea Weber.
The Habs were unable to get anything going on an early power play, and the Leafs got a few good looks thereafter, but Carey Price looked sharp.
Ultimately, it didn't matter. Drouin, who snuck in past the Leafs’ defence, received a heads-up pass from Weber, and made no mistake, putting the Habs up 1-0.
Michael McCarron dropped the gloves with Colin Greening off the ensuing faceoff, lost the bout, and spent the next five minutes in the box, losing out on time he might otherwise have spent making an impression on the second line between Alex Galchenyuk and Andrew Shaw.
Drouin continued to be the most exciting player on the team in the minutes that followed, repeatedly deking out a largely AHL Leafs squad, and making life interesting for Curtis McElhinney.
With about 2:30 left in the period, Davidson, Gallagher, Pacioretty, and Drouin had a great shift, which eventually led to the Habs’ second power play of the game.
Mete made a heads up play, jumping in from the blue line to keep the puck in, and the puck came out from the boards straight to the stick of Shaw all alone in front of McElhinney. Shaw made it 2-0 with a lightning fast backhand that put the puck over the Leafs’ goalie, and into the back of the net.
Unfortunately, both Mark Streit and Brandon Davidson ended up in the box in the dying seconds of the period. After 20, the Habs led 2-0, though the Leafs outshot them 9-5.
They say a team's most important penalty killer is their goalie, and Price ate up pucks and precious seconds to open up the second. Even the former Hart Trophy winner could hold the team at bay forever, and Connor Carrick scored through a screen on a point shot, making it 2-1.
Gallagher caused fans some fear as he went down awkwardly in front of the net and was slow off the ice. However, he was back almost immediately.
Later in the frame, Peter Holland caused an opposite reaction in Habs fans, dumping Andreas Borgman in the offensive zone.
Despite these small positives, shots were 20-6 for Toronto just five minutes into the second.
Mete's speed and tenacity drew a penalty from Eric Fehr, and the full first wave power play that will potentially start the season looked very good. Pacioretty's shot jumped over McElhinney, though the netminder managed to snag it behind his back. Drouin also got a great look that got gloved away. Though the power play did not capitalize, it was definitely a dangerous and encouraging showing on the advantage.
Unfortunately, the Leafs tied the game with five minutes left, as the puck bounced off Gallagher's stick and over the heads of Habs and Leafs alike, while a thoroughly screened Price ducked down trying to find it.
Well that’s a weird one… Marincin, off Gallagher’s stick, nothing but net. pic.twitter.com/hBW4FAo4aW— Jared Book (@jaredbook) September 28, 2017
That's pretty much when the wheels came off. After vastly out-shooting the Habs up to this point, the Leafs finally took the bit between their teeth. Borgman beat Price—who again couldn't see the puck—from the point.
Pacioretty took a penalty to end the period, and the Habs went back to the room to get their heads back on straight.
The Leafs made it 4-2 less than two minutes into the third on the power play.
Holland got in alone off a turnover, and very nearly squeaked the puck past McElhinney's skate blade, followed shortly after yet another terrific chance by Drouin, but neither hit the back of the net.
The game continued to disintegrate as the Leafs pressed, and the Habs became more and more scrambly. Montreal did threaten on a beautiful power play in the final five minutes, with what should be their number one unit all season, but to no avail.
They made another gallant attempt to close the gap, pulling Price for Galchenyuk, which resulted in a beautiful chance off the cross-bar, and a very late power play.
With the net empty, the Habs’ 6-on-4 power got some looks, but when the final buzzer sounded, the Habs remained down 4-2, and heavily outshot.
Outside of the first line, Galchenyuk, Shaw, Weber, Mete, and Price, the roster was underwhelming to say the very least. The defence was a disaster, and players who should have been standing out, in hopes of snagging roster spots, were practically invisible.
It is, of course, still the pre-season, and any kind of real freak out is incredibly premature (remember, the Habs were undefeated or very close to twice in October, and it ultimately meant nothing, so even if they start the regular season 0-6 it doesn't mean doomsday is at hand). However, it certainly would be nice to see a little more zing, especially from all the defencemen and bottom-six forwards who are supposedly battling for spots.
It would also be nice to see more goal-scoring. As Andrew Shaw said in between periods, it's something that has been a problem for them. A couple of players, Drouin, Hudon, and Artturi Lehkonen foremost among them, have shown that they're ready to contribute on that front, but it would be nice to see a little more from the other veterans. It's not as though Pacioretty, or Gallagher, or Galchenyuk and the others have been bad. They haven't. But it would still be nice to see more.
- Whatever this veteran lethargy is which seems to have affected the rest of the Habs’ roster has certainly not taken out Drouin. Coming into this season with a mountain of pressure and expectations on his back, he has done nothing but impress. Last night was no exception. He had at least two beautiful chances other than the goal. He is every bit as good as he was billed to be. And that is a very, very good thing for the Habs.
- Victor Mete continues to look ready for a shot in the NHL, especially as most of his competition seems to have largely played themselves out of spots instead of into them.
- Shaw's play was probably the most polished Habs fans have ever seen, as he showed just how talented his hands are. He scored a gorgeous goal, with several chances, and didn't get suckered into any extracurriculars. I really hope this is the Shaw we get this year.
- The first wave power play with Drouin, Galchenyuk, Pacioretty, Gallagher, and Weber is mesmerizing. So many weapons in so many areas. It's glorious. It is likely to be very fun to watch this season.
- Weber and Mete aside, the defence struggled big time against what was largely an AHL team. That is rather concerning at first glance. They struggled keeping up with the Leafs. On the plus side though, Mete and Weber aside, the remaining four defencemen are all essentially battling for the sixth spot. So it is unlikely that we will ever again be subjected to such a weak blue line.