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The Canadiens kicked off their season with a bang. In the opener on Wednesday night, they hit the ice ready to go, getting three shots in quick succession on the opening shift. The next handful of rotations accomplished similar feats, and the Habs looked to be well on their way to a strong game.
Things only looked better when about the sixth odd-man rush of the opening minutes found Josh Anderson in control of the puck, and finished with a great pass from him across to Jonathan Drouin for the first goal.
Despite that storming start, that ended up being all the offence the Canadiens mustered. The Leafs got the puck in Montreal’s end, discovered that the Habs’ own-zone play with a decimated defence is far from mid-season form, and began to spend extended periods of time on the attack. Three minutes after Drouin’s goal they had tied the game, and after clanking shots off the posts all night, a perfect shot from William Nylander a minute into the third finally got them the second goal they deserved to secure the win.
Montreal doesn’t travel far for its second game in 24 hours, but the trip to Buffalo is notable after the team spent the entire 2020-21 regular season trekking across Canada. It will be their first trip over the border in a season that will have every one of the 32 teams playing in every arena.
Tale of the Tape
|1-0-1||H2H Record (19-20)||1-1-0|
|1.00||Goals per game||-|
|2.00||Goals against per game||-|
It was a game versus the Sabres that got called off at the last minute during the 2019-20 season when the pandemic hit, so it’s an opponent the Habs haven’t seen for quite some time. The story is still much the same for the beleaguered franchise as it was over a year ago, with more stories of their off-ice activities than things to celebrate from their play.
The latest drama is an odd stalemate between the team and its star forward, Jack Eichel, regarding whether he can have a surgery to address a lingering neck issue. It’s proving to be an untenable situation, and the club is hoping to get an offer to replace his talent and give their neverending rebuild a major boost, while other clubs only recently got an official update on what exactly his medical issues are.
Eichel is the top story surrounding the franchise, but they do still have an 82-game season to play, and that begins tonight with a group cobbled together from their NHL and AHL rosters. There’s a much better chance that the team will win the lottery than see a single playoff game, and that’s been the story for a long time.
Despite Buffalo’s standing as a potential landing spots for the first overall draft selection every year, the Habs have just two wins in their previous six meetings. The Habs were infamous for their poor play versus low-ranked teams in recent years, and Buffalo is another of the teams on that list. Always outmatched on paper, the team seems to rise up specifically to play its best hockey when Montreal is on the opposite side of the ice.
The Habs are coming to town a night after a game to match up with a rested and prepared Sabres team, even if that club doesn’t look far removed from the squad Montreal’s AHL affiliate will run this year. The Sabres have a young Dylan Cozens who could one day become a key player for them, standout power-play performer Victor Oloffson on a separate line, and 2018 first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin guiding the blue line, but without the past history you would say this is a team Montreal — and nearly every other team in the league — should handily beat on a given night.
It’s unlikely that the Canadiens will have fixed their defensive issues and power-play tactics (literally) overnight, but they will still have a great opportunity to get their first win of the season on the board with a roster that’s simply superior at nearly every position in the lineup.
We discussed the Buffalo Sabres in our Habsent Minded Season Preview. Listen to Patrik Bexell with Chad DeDominicis of Expected Buffalo