How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In the Canadiens region: TSN2 (English), RDS (French)
In the Flames region: Sportsnet West
Elsewhere: NHL.tv/NHL Live
It started in the shadow of the CN Tower. It ended beside the waves of the Pacific. Eleven days, six games, three cities ... 10 points.
Go west, young man, the schedule makers said to the Montreal Canadiens, and so they did. Amid victory after victory, Marc Bergevin saw each of his new charges flourish in turn. Josh Anderson got the ball rolling. Alexander Romanov showed everyone that he was ready for the NHL. Jake Allen let us take the backup goaltender for granted. Tyler Toffoli reminded Vancouver what they once had. Corey Perry proved his purpose. Finally, Joel Edmundson channeled Steph Curry as a parting shot.
Glorious as it was, it’s time to head home — to a city that has waited for a long time.
Tale of the Tape
|54.7% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||54.2% (5th)|
|4.83 (1st)||Goals per game||3.20 (12th)|
|2.83 (14th)||Goals against per game||2.60 (11th)|
|26.1% (12th)||PP%||33.3% (6th)|
|78.6% (15th)||PK%||83.3% (12th)|
The Canadiens will face the Calgary Flames to start their home schedule. Unlike the top-heavy Edmonton Oilers or Vancouver Canucks, the Flames bear more similarities to the Habs in terms of team composition and playing style. Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan, and Mikael Backlund form a strong spine, supported by tenacious and crafty wingers like Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau. Andrew Mangiapane, now entering his third season, has been a revelation, and bringing in Dominik Simon and Josh Leivo gives the top nine some extra depth. Mark Giordano is the undisputed leader on the blue line, with Noah Hanifin and Rasmus Andersson offering support. Chris Tanev replaces the departed T.J. Brodie to create a well-rounded top four. Juuso Valimaki might be a diamond in the rough, while old friend Nikita Nesterov rounds out the sextet.
Where Calgary and Montreal differ somewhat is the fourth line. Like Montreal, Calgary’s off-season acquisitions have also pushed former top-nine forwards to the fourth trio. However, Milan Lucic, Dillon Dubé, and Derek Ryan are not nearly as trusted as Artturi Lehkonen, Paul Byron, and Jake Evans. The less said about Joakim Nordstrom, the better. How Claude Julien makes use of this fact, in his first foray with last change, remains to be seen.
After a 2-0-1 start to the season, the Flames come to Montreal flickering a bit, having dropped a pair of home decisions most recently. Maybe it was the week off, maybe it was the Toronto Maple Leafs putting up stiffer resistance than the likes of the Oilers and the Canucks. Either way, Calgary will hope for better fortunes as they start a five-game road swing against the Canadiens and the Winnipeg Jets. Even in defeat though, the Flames did show their tenacity against the Leafs, fighting back from two-goal deficits in both contests and making the Buds shrivel a bit.
Ville-Marie, it’s been too long. 324 days to be precise.
The birthplace of hockey has not seen professional hockey since March 10, 2020. This isn’t an unprecedented length given the long history of the Montreal Canadiens, but the unprecedented circumstances precipitating this drought made it unique. As Roch Carrier wrote: “Nous vivions en trois lieux: l’école, l’église et la patinoire; mais la vraie vie était sur la patinoire.” Hockey is engrained in the fabric of Canadian society — to say nothing about the fabric of its currency. As its cathedral lay empty, so too did a part of the soul of a nation.
Opening night will be a symbol of how the pandemic is not permanent, of how things are slowly moving back toward a semblance of normalcy. It will also be a reminder of how the pandemic is still with us. We don’t know what the pre-game festivities will entail. We don’t know if there will be a torch to pass around. We don’t know precisely how the Canadiens organization will incorporate their fans in the festivities.
Amid all the unfamiliar, there will be constants. Madame Bibaud in the rafters. Monsieur Lacroix rink-side. Twenty-four banners in the rafters. Twenty individuals clad in the bleu-blanc-rouge hitting the ice.
There won’t be 21,302 red-clad partisans roaring at their arrival. But there will be a cry, starting from one man, spiraling through living rooms and dens around the city and the islands, radiating across Quebec and the lands, until it spans coast to coast.
“Mesdames et messieurs. Ladies and gentlemen. Accueillons nos Canadiens!”