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We weren’t sure what to expect from the Montreal Canadiens in the first game of the season. Many were bracing for a lopsided loss as a winless pre-season didn’t instill much faith in a lineup made up of inexperienced blue-liners and some deadline fodder strewn about the forward lines. The actual match was not only entertaining, but encouraging for the future of the club.
It was clear early on that some fundamental philosophies had changed from the previous year. The Canadiens were making a point to retain possession rather than dumping the puck in, even on line changes. An offence that had previously been built around getting rebounds from point shots has become more about creative passing plays to set up scoring chances. Both strategy changes require the involvement of all five players on the ice, and lets skill dictate the play.
No one appeared more pleased with the shift in mindset than Cole Caufield, who scored two goals and was part of a handful more scoring opportunities. That was all aided by an aggressive approach from the Toronto Maple Leafs to allow odd-man rushes, nevertheless, the Canadiens were better prepared to take advantage of those mistakes.
Josh Anderson was also inspired by the new tactics and had an outstanding end to the contest. His work to race to the offensive blue line and hold a puck in started a scoring play that could have stood as the winner had the Maple Leafs not immediately countered. Instead, he left just 19 seconds on the clock following his own goal on his next shift to secure a surprising win for the home side.
Behind those highlights on offence was perhaps the most important development in the game: a defence that featured four rookies, two making their NHL debuts, had played a very effective game, looking more impressive than their veteran partners and those on the opposing side that went into the season as a Stanley Cup favourite. We knew the organization housed some great defence prospects, and they took their first steps to show what they could offer at the NHL level.
Tale of the Tape
|49.0% (15th)||Scoring-chances-for %||-|
|4.00||Goals per game||-|
|3.00||Goals against per game||-|
|2-0-1||H2H Record (21-22)||1-2-0|
The Detroit Red Wings know all about great young defencemen. Their lineup features 2022 Calder Trophy-winner Moritz Seider. The German blue-liner finished the 2021-22 season with 50 points after playing all 82 games, and led the team in ice time at around 23 minutes per game.
A few spots behind him in the voting for rookie of the year was winger Lucas Raymond, who also played the full slate of matches. He ended up behind only Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi in points (the latter of whom missed several games played in Canada due to his unvaccinated status) and could have more in store for his sophomore campaign.
Now that the prospects are beginning to establish themselves, general manager Steve Yzerman has signed more veterans to help them push for a playoff spot. Off-season signings included steady centreman Andrew Copp, Stanley Cup champ St. Louis Blues forward David Perron, 2020 Calder finalist Dominik Kubalik, and former Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot.
Both the Red Wings and Canadiens find themselves in a competitive Atlantic Division once more, with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Maple Leafs at the top. They’re banking on an aging Boston Bruins lineup offering room for one more team in the playoff race within the next few years, but the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres, teams that have also been involved in rebuilds, are vying for that same spot.
Of the four bottom teams, Detroit may be the closest to regaining competitive status, and after hanging with the Bruins through about the first third of last season they’ll expect to be involved in the chase much longer this time around. It was six years ago that the Red Wings had a 25-year streak of post-season appearances snapped, and now they’re aiming to start a new run of playoff berths.