How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: Sportsnet East, West, Pacific; CITY-TV (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the United States: NHL Network
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / Rogers NHL Live
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Thanks to the ice-makers and the officials, it was definitely the blurst of times.
But it was hockey, and it was back.
Wednesday night, the Montreal Canadiens shocked local observers by racing out to a 3-1 lead against the anointed champions of the Scotia North Division. Although the Habs would eventually drop the game in overtime, the team showed that they could stand toe-to-toe with anything that Canada has to offer. It also vindicated Marc Bergevin and all of his bold off-season moves — well, almost all of them, anyway.
Tale of the Tape
|4.00||Goals per game||4.00|
|5.00||Goals against per game||3.50|
With the adrenaline of the season opener past them, the Canadiens now embark on the first of many western road trips this season. First up, the Maple Leafs’ cousins, the Edmonton Oilers, in the first game of a two-game mini-series.
Like the Leafs, the Oilers saw a sparkling regular season fizzle away in the bubble at the hands of a tenacious underdog. Like the Leafs, the Oilers are driven by remarkable offensive talents and hamstrung by remarkable defensive inadequacies. Unlike the Leafs, the Oilers did not win their season opener, dropping a 5-3 decision to the Vancouver Canucks, although they rebounded nicely the following night.
On paper, the Oilers are still very much the same team as they were last season. Tyson Barrie is arguably the new addition with the highest profile, but his presence is offset by the season-long absence of Oscar Klefbom. Other moves — the acquisitions of Dominik Kahun and Kyle Turris, along with the return of Jesse Puljujärvi — focused on creating offensive depth on a team heavily reliant on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Two games is not much of a sample size when it comes to evaluating whether these moves have paid off. On the one hand, McDavid, Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ethan Bear, and Darnell Nurse are still on a separate tier when it comes to usage and ice time. On the other hand, the team is finding other ways to share the wealth: every offensive line and defensive pairing was on the ice for at least one Vancouver goal Wednesday night.
The Habs, meanwhile, need to build upon their performance in Toronto. For Alexander Romanov and Josh Anderson, it will be all about putting in consistent performances over a long season. For the top trio and Tyler Toffoli, it will be about cashing in on chances that they missed against the Leafs. For Joel Edmundson, it will be about continuing to ease himself into a new system and limiting egregious and visible errors. For the entire team, it will be about staying out of the penalty box, especially against another one of the best power-play units in the NHL.
Western road swings have rarely been kind to the Canadiens in the recent past, but since they only happened once a year, it was easy to downplay their impact on the season as a whole. This year, this is no longer the case. The Canadiens must learn to not only win out west, but do so with regularity. Starting off on the right foot with a win would go a long way toward building confidence and momentum for the rest of the journey.