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Canadiens vs Sabres 10 Takeaways: Hello, Brendan Gallagher

The Canadiens emerged from their first contest of the season with a commanding 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, emptying out the KeyBank Arena rather early in the third period. Olé!

  1. We got the start we needed

After a dismal season last year, the Canadiens needed to come storming out of the gate to show they’re no longer the team that missed the playoffs six months ago. With 6 new faces, including trade acquisitions Andrew Shaw and Shea Weber, as well as the welcoming sight of a few familiar ones, the new-look Habs did just that. They applied a ton of pressure early on, and continued to press throughout the game (despite a brief bout of second period lollygagging) to maintain their lead. In the end, the Canadiens left Buffalo’s KeyBank Center with four goals in 24 shots, and a big W for the first game of the season.

2. Welcome back, Gally

After missing in action for 29 games last season, Brendan Gallagher wasted no time in making his presence known, when just under 9 minutes into the first period, he wristed a simple (but beautiful) shot past Robin Lehner to give the Canadiens an early lead. In true Gally style, #11 played his game all night long — by making life miserable for goaltenders everywhere — which eventually paid off once again when his tip in off Weber’s point shot gave the Habs a 3-1 lead.

3. We have a top 6! Like, a real one!

We all know what the Canadiens’ first line is capable of — we got a (rather delicious) taste of that at the tail end of last season, when Galchenyuk was finally promoted to centering Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher and proving us all right. But with the addition of Artturi Lehkonen and Alexander Radulov on the second line with the plucky Plekanec, the Canadiens top two trios could be downright deadly this year. We saw a lot of last year’s chemistry between the 67-27-11 line, which generated two goals, but even without a goal, the 62-14-47 line was stirring things up all night long. On more than one occasion, chaos ensued in front of the Sabres’ net at the hands of the second line, creating plenty of scoring chances for fan-favorite, Artturi Lehkonen. That’s all without mentioning Radulov’s tremendous puck carrying and zone entry.

Mesdames et messieurs, accueillons vos Canadiens!

4. And we have a powerplay!

Tonight was the official debut of associate coach, Kirk Muller’s powerplay schemes, and though the Canadiens didn’t score, there was much to be inspired by. Plenty of puck movement, smart passes, and just plain ole taking the bloody shot when you can take it, instead of passing it back needlessly again and again. This inevitably helped generate momentum for the Habs, which certainly played a part in the four goals scored in their favor.

5. Sergachev’s time in the big league is limited

Making his debut as currently the youngest player in the NHL, Mikhail Sergachev continued his audition in hopes of showing the Habs brass that he has what it takes to remain in the league. But does he? While the Russian native’s talents are unmistakable, there is also no question that a lot of learning still needs to take place. He shows a lot of effectiveness in the neutral and offensive zones, where he is strong on the puck and makes smart, clean passes, but lacks some of the same strengths in his own zone where he seems a bit too casual with the puck and on the backcheck. Will he make the cut beyond his 9-game tryout? It’s unlikely, but that’s not a bad thing. Allowing Sergachev to develop at a natural pace in the OHL rather than rushing and potentially stunting his development in the NHL will only benefit him and the Canadiens in the long run. At 18 years old, we’ve definitely got plenty of Sergachev years ahead of us.

6. Shea Weber is a Montreal Canadien

Like it or not, he is here to stay. Weber made his official Canadien’s debut in true Man Mountain fashion — by annihilating his opponents with bone-crushing hits, hammering 108 mph shots from the point, and assisting on #11 tip-ins. Whatever he did, he looked good doing it.

7. Greg Pateryn had himself a night

Where Sergachev struggled, Pateryn showed us that he fits right in as a top six defenseman. Building off his strong training camp, Pateryn had a quiet but very effective evening playing alongside Andrei Markov. Having seen Markov paired with Subban for the last couple of seasons, it’s interesting to watch him with Pateryn, whose style of play is strong, simple, and at its best, slows the pace of the game for his teammates. As unfortunate as last year’s injuries were, it was probably the best case scenario for Pateryn, who likely would not have gotten much of a look otherwise. His growth is apparent, and we can expect to see a lot of great things from Greg Pateryn this year.

8. Shaw continues to leave his mark

For the first 59 minutes and 55 seconds of the season, Andrew Shaw looked fantastic. He drew an early penalty, looked dangerous in the offensive zone with his line mates, David Desharnais and Daniel Carr, and even snuck a backhanded shot through traffic and past Lehner to score the game-winning goal. But with just a few seconds left in the third period, he was awarded a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a slewfoot and potentially faces his second suspension of the year, and we’ve barely laid the first game of the season to rest. If Shaw wants to be perceived as a valuable member of the team, he’ll need to cut the nasty play. You can’t help your team win games watching from the press box.

9. Montoya looked good

Although it was never much of a doubt, last season Canadiens fans learned that Carey Price’s shoes (or, skates?) are relatively impossible to fill. In his absence, the Habs’ goaltending was spotty at best, as it featured Ben Scrivens and Mike Condon, both of whom were polar opposites of Carey Price’s calm, cool and collected net presence. Al Montoya, however, filled in rather nicely as he not only stopped 30 of the 31 shots thrown against him, but looked completely composed in doing so. True, not many of the Sabres’ shots came from high-danger areas, but Montoya kept the door shut as the Canadiens briefly sat back on their heels during the second period, remaining hemmed in their own zone for shifts at a time.  If last night was any indication of what we can expect from Montoya in the season to come, it’s safe to assume that we can all feel a little more at ease on Price’s nights off.

10. Paul Byron did what Paul Byron does

We all saw Dylan Larkin as he was crowned faster skater in the NHL at last year’s All Star Game, but Canadiens fans should be personally offended that Paul Byron wasn’t invited specifically to take part in that competition. The kid can skate. In this game as in any, Paul Byron reminded his opponents that he will outskate you 10 times out of 10, and that if he’s flanked by Torrey Mitchell on a two on one, there’s a good chance that the puck is going in the back of the net one way or another. Byron adds remarkable speed to the fourth line and can do magical things with line mates Mitchell and Danault.

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