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Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs game recap: The Habs show a lot of skill in opening-night preview

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In their biggest test of the pre-season to date, the Habs showed promise, but ultimately fell short with a tough third period.

NHL: Preseason-Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

As the TSN commentators said, the only similarity between last night’s game and Monday’s matchup was the logos. Both teams iced what are — with a few exceptions — likely to be their opening-night lineups.

The first couple of shifts went about as well as could be expected for the Montreal Canadiens, with Noah Juulsen and Victor Mete backing the opening trio of Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, and Brendan Gallagher. The Habs got the first power play about three minutes in, and after some strong cycling in the offensive zone, a crafty shot by Tatar put the Habs up 1-0.

The puck found Jonathan Drouin frequently in the first five minutes, but it was Jesperi Kotkaniemi who got the best shot for that line in that time.

Carey Price went on a bit of an adventure against Mitch Marner that nearly ended badly, but by and large the Habs were able to make the most of the Leafs’ defensive turnovers, and looked surprisingly strong. They weren’t able to hold off the Leafs’ stacked power play, howevers, and when they got a look thanks to a Paul Byron tripping penalty, Nazem Kadri tied the game.

Phillip Danault nearly restored the lead, as the Habs jumped on yet another blue-line turnover on the next shift, but once again Frederik Andersen turned it aside.

With the Leafs’ on a power play to open the second, they were able to capitalize once again, as Auston Matthews sniped a shot over Price's right shoulder.

Danault and Kadri took matching minors at 4:00, and then Kotkaniemi sent Morgan Rielly to the box, giving the Habs a four-on-three. It lasted all of eight seconds, as Tatar was sent to the box for a faceoff violation almost immediately afterward.

It ended well for the Habs, though, as Brendan Gallagher led the charge up the ice, then Kotkaniemi passed the puck perfectly to Mete, whose pass into the blue paint found Gallagher again for the goal.

Halfway through the frame, Toronto had a number of prolonged shifts in the Habs’ defensive zone, which eventually led to yet another Leafs power play. This time, however, they did not register so much as a single shot.

Things got quite hectic in the final couple of minutes around the Canadiens’ net, but between Price and his shot-blockers they made it through.

The Habs got a late power play of their own, but in the carry-over into the third, everything went spectacularly to hell. Marner pounced on a turnover by Jeff Petry, and made it 3-2 short-handed, followed immediately by a goal from Kasperi Kapanen.

The Habs regrouped, and a wild 1:15 ended with a power-play slapper from David Schlemko.

The Habs and Leafs later exchanged power plays. The Canadiens power play was miserable, but at least it did not surrender two short-handed goals. The Leafs power play fortunately also came to nothing.

The Leafs pressured as the period wore on, and though the Habs fought off the initial onslaught, the puck eventually came to Patrick Marleau following a bad turnover from Gallagher, and the Leafs made it 5-3 with about five minutes to go.

The game ended on a Leafs power play on a late goaltender interference penalty on to Gallagher, and despite getting a couple of looks, the score stood at 5-3 for the visitors when the final horn sounded..

Thoughts

  • Jesperi Kotkaniemi continued to make decisions very hard for the Habs brass, with another outing in which he demonstrated that he's absolutely ready to be here — whether he should be or not. In a delightful turn of events, there is likely to be no bad option when it comes to his final destination this season.
  • The good news is that five-on-five, the Habs looked absolutely terrific through large portions of the game (the third period obviously was a fairly big exception).
  • The bad news is special teams were an ... adventure.
  • Overall, considering how stacked the Leafs are, this was a great test for the Canadiens, and I think it was a pretty honest result. The Habs played significantly better than expected, but didn't have what it took to overcome their own mistakes and topple an elite opponent.