Coming off a high of a season-opening win at the Bell Centre against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Montreal Canadiens found themselves on the road in Detroit for the Red Wings’ season-opener. While there were some wobbles in the debut game, the Habs stuck with the same lineup that brought them a win, with the only difference being Sean Monahan listed as a centre as opposed to a winger, swapping with Kirby Dach.
In front of them was a new-look Red Wings team, with the fruits of their rebuilding years coming to roost in the NHL. Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider highlighted a core full of young prospects, including the gargantuan Elmer Soderblom on the Detroit third line. Also new to the lineup was former Hab Ben Chiarot, who would be tasked with keeping the Montreal forwards away from starting goalie Ville Husso.
The Canadiens started fast, with the duo of Dach and Monahan generating some early pressure that forced Husso into a number of saves. The aforementioned Soderblom tilted the ice immediately back in the other direction, allowing the Wings to get their top line out in a favourable matchup. A couple of big saves from Allen kept the game scoreless, but the Detroit pressure forced Arber Xhekaj into a penalty, and the Habs to the game’s first penalty kill.
A strong power play showing from Detroit was fended off well by a young Canadiens defence, keeping Montreal’s perfect penalty kill intact on the young season, but the Habs were in need of a change in momentum in the first period.
The Montreal chances for counter-attacks were few and far between while the Red Wings owned the puck, but a quick transition by Jake Evans forced the Wings to haul down a wide-open Rem Pitlick to put Montreal on their first power play of the night. The man advantage wasn’t able to get on the board against the run of play, despite the best efforts of Monahan in front of the net.
Just as the Habs were beginning to generate some offensive pressure, Josh Anderson was called for interference, putting the Habs back on the penalty kill. For the final two minutes of the first period it was all about Jake Allen weathering an all-out assault from Detroit, somehow, despite being out of position and facing the wrong way, keeping the Red Wings off the board by stopping 25 shots against in the first period.
With Kaiden Guhle missing from the bench, the Canadiens started the second period somehow even less experienced on the blue line than they were heading into the game. While he did return, his presence on the bench did little to inspire the power play as the Habs managed just two shots on net.
The game settled into a lull from there for most of the period, until a tripping call against Nick Suzuki put the Habs back on the penalty kill. Again it was Allen stealing the show as the two sides tried to break the deadlock. Andrew Copp collected a puck at the left circle, firing it high on Allen, but while sprawling across, the veteran goalie flicked his stick in the air to knock the puck away. That save again ensured the Canadiens, despite being massively outshot, would enter the intermission in a goalless game.
Detroit didn’t need long to change that in the third period, however, as the dam that Allen was holding finally cracked. Xhekaj did everything in his power to deny both Michael Rasmussen’s wraparound attempt and the follow-up. Soderblom’s big frame was too much in front of the net and his first NHL goal opened the scoring in the game.
A poorly timed penalty by Rasmussen gave the Canadiens a lifeline at the halfway point of the final period. Husso’s glove was quicker than the Habs’ chances along the goal line to deny Montreal a first goal of their own. As the Habs pushed harder for the tie the clock ran shorter, up until Allen exited the ice for an extra attacker.
After Mike Hoffman’s centring pass was broken up, the Canadiens never really threatened again. Eventually the puck sprung free to Copp, who dished it to Rasmussen to deposit into the empty net despite the best efforts of Monahan to prevent it.
St-Louis opted to pull Allen a second time, allowing Olli Maatta to tack on one more empty-net goal for good measure. Montreal bent for as long as they could against a heavy attack, but eventually the inexperienced team cracked just enough to lose their first game of the season, falling by a 3-0 score.
It’s now up to the Habs to bounce back on Saturday night when they head to the capital of the United States for a showdown with the Washington Capitals. It’s an early back-to-back for the Habs, and will likely see Samuel Montembeault’s first start of the season. While Guhle was banged up, his return is a good sign for the already thin defence. It’s unclear if there will be any other changes before the 7:00 PM puck drop tomorrow.