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Breaking new ground (again): Vegas Golden Knights become the Montreal Canadiens’ 54th NHL opponent

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As the oldest franchise in the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens have been able to see many teams come and go. How have the Habs done in their first games against new teams?

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, hockey fans in Montreal will have an opportunity to experience something that happens seldom in the NHL. A team will come to the Bell Centre to face the Montreal Canadiens that has never played against the oldest and most storied franchise in the history of the league.

The Vegas Golden Knights are currently the 31st and youngest team in the NHL, and with 17% of their inaugural season complete, the team sits in what would be a playoff spot, with an impressive 9-4-1 record. The players on the team are not new to the NHL and of course most have played against the Habs before.

There is, however, something undeniably cool about a game that’s a first. The Canadiens are about to turn 108 years young, so a first like this doesn’t come arund often (unless you were a fan in the 90s).

The Habs, in fact, are older than the NHL itself, meaning every team is an expansion team to them (though technically the Original Six stand together in this distinction).

Dating back to the ‘rapid expansion era’ of the NHL — from 1991-2000 — the NHL grew from 21 teams to 30 teams, adding an average of almost one expansion team per season. That’s nine new teams for the Habs to face for the very first time. How did they do? Meh.

Their record was 4-3-2. The “2” represents games ending in a tie, and not an overtime loss. All of these games took place prior to the shootout’s existence. It’s not a heated debate, but the idea of tie games and the shootout do remain areas of discord between older generations of fans and younger ones.

Adding the totals of those nine games, the Canadiens outscored their expansion opponents by a mere one-goal margin (21-20).

It’s not all pretty when playing an expansion team, then. These were not the golden years of the Habs, but they, sadly, weren’t the worst in recent history, either.

Let’s revisit some old times with a look at the Canadiens’ performance in first-ever games against an expansion franchise.

December 18, 2000: Canadiens vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (0-2 L)

The most recent expansion franchise first was against the Blue Jackets. In the 2000-01 season, the NHL added both the Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild. Back then, the Habs’ rink was still named the Molson Centre.

The star of the night was Ron Tugnutt, who held back a barrage of 27 shots for a shutout while Jeff Hackett’s crease leaked two goals in on merely 16 shots.

Columbus got goals from Chris Nielsen and Kevyn Adams. Patrice Brisebois was the most used defenceman and Oleg Petrov was the most frequently deployed forward.

October 24, 2000: Canadiens vs. Minnesota Wild (2-2 T)

The first game against the Minnesota Wild was also a home game for Montreal, and it took five extra minutes to end in deadlock 2-2. Montreal’s Dainius Zubrus opened the scoring on the power play, before Minnesota scored twice in response. The Wild’s goals were scored by Wes Walz and Antti Laaksonen.

In the third period, Eric Weinrich tied things up at deuces with a power play goal of his own, assisted by now-commentator Benoit Brunet. Jamie McClennan stood between the pipes for the Wild while Jose Theodore was called in to replace Jeff Hackett near the halfway mark of the game.

November 13, 1999: Canadiens vs. Atlanta Thrashers (4-2 W)

In the 1999-00 season, one team was added to the NHL, the Atlanta Thrashers. The city had previously housed the Atlanta (now Calgary) Flames. You now know this franchise as the current iteration of the Winnipeg Jets.

November 1999 was the last time the Habs won a game against a team it had never played against. Shayne Corson scored the game’s first goal. Brian Savage would get a power play goal to double the lead before Atlanta scored their franchise-first goal against Montreal, Ed Ward scored with assists from Yannick Tremblay and another now-commentator, Ray Ferraro.

Scott Thornton (yep, that Scott Thornton) scored Montreal’s game-winning goal and Sergei Zholtok added some insurance in the third period. Now the President of the Vancouver Canucks, Trevor Linden had a pair of assists for the Habs in this win. Jeff Hackett earned the win over his counterpart Damian Rhodes.

December 12, 1998: Canadiens at Nashville Predators (2-2 T)

Another season with just one new team, the 1998-99 season was the birth of the Nashville Predators. Tomas Vokoun was in nets for the Preds, he was a Canadiens’ draft pick and was claimed by Nashville in the expansion draft. The former Habs’ prospect stopped 25 of 27 shots to earn the tie after overtime solved nothing. Jeff Hackett was between the pipes for this one, too, but had a heavier workload, facing 43 shots.

Cliff Ronning had two points for Nashville, whose goals came from Andrew Brunette and Scott Walker. Montreal got scoring contributions from Benoit Brunet and Jonas Hoglund in the 2-2 tie.

November 10, 1993: Canadiens vs. Florida Panthers (1-3 L)

In 1993, the Habs still called the Montreal Forum home. The defending Stanley Cup champion Canadiens would host both the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Florida Panthers to their home ice for their franchise first matchups.

Rob Niedermayer, Jesse Belanger and Randy Gilhen scored for the Panthers, with a mention-worthy assist coming from former Hab Brian Skrudland. The Canadiens, meanwhile, scored a single goal, by Brian Bellows, with assists by Kirk Muller and John LeClair.

In nets, John Vanbiesbrouck stole the show making 37 saves on 38 shots, while Patrick Roy had a forgettable night, stopping 17 of 20.

October 23, 1993: Canadiens vs. Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (4-1 W)

The first game against an expansion team in the 1993-94 season was against the Mighty Ducks, a new team in California named after the movie (Disney owned the franchise, explaining the team’s nickname).

This was a mighty win for the Habs, beating the Ducks 4-1 at the Forum. Stephan Lebeau scored the first and last goals of the game, with Vincent Damphousse and Gary Leeman picking up the other two Montreal scores. In fact, Damphousse and Brian Bellows each finished the night with three points.

Garry Valk scored the only Anaheim goal, assists went to Bob Corkum and Randy Ladouceur. In net, Guy Hebert suffered the loss allowing three goals on 26 shots (Montreal’s fourth goal was in an empty net) while Patrick Roy stopped 32 of 33 shots for the win.

October 28, 1992: Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (4-3 W)

Brian Bellows must’ve liked playing against expansion teams because here he was again one year prior, facing the Lightning for the first time and ended with a three point night. Montreal and Tampa Bay had a back and forth affair that ended with a 4-3 Habs’ win.

Patrice Brisebois opened the scoring for Montreal, who lost the lead shortly after to a Brian Bradley goal. Eric Desjardins scored one for the Habs and Bellows notched the other two goals. Vincent Damphousse and Kirk Muller each had two assists.

Rob Ramage and Chris Kontos would score for the Lightning in the third to make it a one-goal game, but it got no further. Patrick Roy earned the win while Pat Jablonski and Wendell Young shared duties, Young earning the loss.

October 8, 1992: Canadiens at Ottawa Senators (3-5 L)

The rivalry between the Habs and Sens didn’t exactly get heated this night, but it was the first meeting between the two teams, who have always been in the same division. Their first match was played at the Ottawa Civic Centre Arena, and the home team won 5-3.

Peter Sidorkiewicz got the W over the Habs’ Patrick Roy. After a scoreless first period, Ottawa exploded for three in the second, Neil Brady, Doug Smail and Ken Hammond getting the goals. Mike Keane scored one for the Habs in the second frame. Vincent Damphousse scored, as did Brian Bellows (who also collected an assist) but the Senators’ Sylvain Turgeon, claimed by Ottawa at the expansion draft scored in the third, and Doug Smail capped things off with his second of the night into an empty net.

January 4, 1992: Canadiens at San Jose Sharks (1-0 W)

In 1992, the Sharks played at an arena called... the Cow Palace. No, for real. The fans “did the chomp” moving their arms like the jaws of a shark. On one January night in 1992, the Habs took to the Cow Palace ice and skated away with a 1-0 shutout win.

Guy Carbonneau got the team’s only goal of the night, one minute (exactly) into the overtime period. Now the Head Coach of the Laval Rocket, Sylvain Lefebvre picked up an assist on the goal, as did Mike Keane.

Patrick Roy made 25 saves for the clean sheet, and then-future-Habs netminder Jeff Hackett suffered the loss.

Facing a new challenge

In the storied history of the team, the Canadiens have faced off against a total of 53 NHL opponents, with the Golden Knights becoming the 54th tonight. Here’s how they have fared in those 53 games over the last 100 years.

  1. December 19th, 1917: Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators, 7-4
  2. December 22nd, 1917: Montreal Canadiens beat the Montreal Wanderers, 11-2
  3. December 26th, 1917: Toronto Arenas beat the Canadiens, 7-5
  4. December 25th, 1919: Canadiens beats the Quebec Bulldogs, 12-5
  5. December 31st, 1919: Toronto St. Patrick’s beat the Canadiens, 5-1
  6. December 22nd, 1920: Hamilton Tigers beat the Canadiens, 5-0
  7. December 8th, 1924: Canadiens defeats the Boston Bruins, 4-3
  8. December 10th, 1924: Montreal Canadiens beat the Montreal Maroons, 5-0
  9. November 28th, 1925: Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Canadiens, 1-0
  10. December 8th, 1925: New York Americans beat the Canadiens, 6-2
  11. November 27th, 1926: New York Rangers beat the Canadiens, 2-0
  12. December 2nd, 1926: Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-0
  13. December 11th, 1926: Chicago Black Hawks beat the Canadiens, 3-0
  14. December 23rd, 1926: Canadiens beats the Detroit Cougars, 3-2
  15. November 27th, 1930: Detroit Falcons beat the Canadiens, 3-2
  16. December 2nd, 1930: Canadiens beat the Philadelphia Quakers, 2-0
  17. November 11th, 1932: Canadiens beats the Detroit Red Wings, 1-0 OT
  18. December 15th, 1934: Canadiens tie the St. Louis Eagles, 1-1
  19. October 11th, 1967: Canadiens beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1
  20. October 28th, 1967: Canadiens beat the St. Louis Blues, 4-1
  21. November 4th, 1967: Philadelphia Flyers beat the Canadiens, 4-1
  22. November 15th, 1967: Canadiens beats Minnesota North Stars, 5-1
  23. November 18th, 1967: Oakland Seals beat the Canadiens, 2-1
  24. November 19th, 1967: Los Angeles Kings beat the Canadiens, 4-2
  25. October 31st, 1970: Canadiens beat the Vancouver Canucks, 6-3
  26. October 15th, 1970: Canadiens defeats the Buffalo Sabres, 3-0
  27. November 11th, 1970: California Golden Seals beat the Canadiens, 2-0
  28. October 12th, 1972: Canadiens beats Atlanta Flames, 3-0
  29. October 24th, 1972: Canadiens beat the New York Islanders, 4-3
  30. October 31st, 1974: Canadiens beat the Washington Capitals, 3-0
  31. November 11th, 1974: Canadiens beat the Kansas City Scouts, 7-6
  32. November 13th, 1976: Canadiens tie the Colorado Rockies, 3-3
  33. November 24th, 1976: Canadiens beats Cleveland Barons, 8-1
  34. October 13th, 1979: Canadiens beats Quebec Nordiques, 3-1
  35. November 22nd, 1979: Canadiens beat the Winnipeg Jets, 7-0
  36. December 1st, 1979: Canadiens ties Hartford, 4-4
  37. December 14th, 1979: Edmonton Oilers beat the Canadiens, 5-3
  38. November 25th, 1980: Calgary Flames beat the Canadiens, 5-4
  39. October 14th, 1982: Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils, 5-3
  40. January 4th, 1992: Canadiens beat the San Jose Sharks, 1-0 OT
  41. October 8th, 1992: Ottawa Senators 2.0 beat the Canadiens, 5-3
  42. October 28th, 1992: Canadiens beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-3
  43. October 20th, 1993: Canadiens beats Dallas Stars, 5-2
  44. October 23rd, 1993: Canadiens defeats the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, 4-1
  45. November 10th, 1993: Florida Panthers beat the Canadiens, 3-1
  46. November 25th, 1995: Canadiens ties the Colorado Avalanche, 2-2
  47. October 28th, 1996: Phoenix Coyotes beat Canadiens, 5-4 OT
  48. November 19th, 1997: Carolina Hurricanes beat the Canadiens, 2-1
  49. December 12th, 1998: Canadiens tie the Nashville Predators, 2-2
  50. November 13th, 1999: Canadiens beat the Atlanta Thrashers, 4-2
  51. October 24th, 2000: Canadiens ties the Minnesota Wild, 2-2
  52. December 18th, 2000: Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Canadiens, 2-0
  53. October 9th, 2011: Canadiens beat the Winnipeg Jets 2.0, 5-1

The Canadiens’ record against teams they play for the first time is 28 wins, 19 losses, and six ties in 53 games. The odds of a Golden Knights win are therefore a mere 36%.