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Game 1: Habs/Leafs

  • You have to love that new season smell. It all gets rolling tonight as the Canadiens meet the Maple Leafs in Toronto for the 703rd time in the regular season. I don’t need to show you the stats. We always win. They always lose and Maurice Richard is the first, second, and third star in every game.  Or so it goes in the classic book by Roch Carrier, “The Hockey Sweater”.

    The truth is that Habs-Leafs contests have been wildly unpredictable in recent years. Blow-outs, nail-biters and snoozefests oh my! Tonight will be interesting from many standpoints. Will Price or Auld be in net? Will the defense hold without Markov and Hamrlik? Will the team respond to missing its best goalscoring threat in Michael Cammalleri? How will the third and fourth lines fare without everyone’s new Steve Begin – Ryan White? What Leaf’s team will show up – the Brian Burke thug-a-thon, or the re-vamped group of motivated youngsters who will support their superstar Phil Kessel?

    One thing is for certain: there is no love lost between these two clubs. The boo birds will be out in full force, and as is the case whenever Montreal plays Toronto (in whichever arena), there will be plenty of crowd support on both sides. The rivalry is embedded within our culture. The games are an athletic expression of our national story. The people in the stands know it, and the players can feel it. No doubt there will be nerves for the first game of the regular season, but when the game is a rivalry game such as this – the meaning is magnified. I hope that the Canadiens can find a way to weather the opening assault that the Leafs will no doubt try to bring, with a crowd whipped into a frenzied release of months of hockey-less, pent up energy. If we play smart and avoid early penalties I like our chances.

    Can you believe that the regular season is here?

    Go Habs Go!!!

  1. Predictions:

    Komisarek: -2
    Phaneuf 5 minute major. Charging.

  2. #2 Mats Naslund says:
    October 8, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Well, the season is under way. The loss hurts because it comes against the Leafs, but with all things considered, our Habs played a good game. Even though the final score favoured our opponent, I saw things that I really liked in last night’s contest.

    Carey Price was very good at times and average at others. Price has alway had a penchant for making dramatic saves that make you think of St Patrick. At other times you’re left wondering “shouldn’t he have saved that one?”. The first two goals were legit goals. The tip is the kind of goal that finds its way past any goaltender. Kessel’s goal was a dandy move that would be “the save of the game” had Price been able to stretch his toe out an inch or two more on a great breakaway deke. The third seemed sort of weak at the time, but now that I have the benefit of replays, it was a fantastic backhand shot by Macarthur. Price got caught moving laterally, and probably should have still been able to make the save. In all, he was huge when he needed to be at key points. If he plays this way again on Saturday he will have done much to get those few boo birds in attendance for the home opener off of his back. Kudos to Carey for toughing through the flu, and for fighting to stay in the game when we got down on two quick goals in the first.

    The additions of Jeff Halpern and Dustin Boyd have been talked about far more than any other bottom 6 players throughout the league this off-season it seems. Both had great starts to their respective seasons with huge goals to get the Habs back within one goal. I thought Boyd was particularly effective on a line with Moen and Lapierre. He played bigger than his size, and was very strong on the puck when dealing with the Leaf’s defenders. Halpern was the same way, although until his goal I can’t say I noticed him very much. Overall, Montreal got an effective game from its bottom 6.

    This was particularly evident during the incredibly solid penalty kill opportunities during which coach Jaques Martin was able to effectively roll his lines through short PK shifts of 20 – 40 seconds. This is critical to Montreal’s success, as the players are able to apply higher than normal pressure on the puck carrier forcing turnovers and clearing opportunities. If there is one area that I would say Jaques Martin is an effective or innovative coach it would be in these circumstances. The penalty kill was very effective, never letting the Leafs get consecutive opportunities before clearing the puck and changing personnel.

    I also want to talk about Lars Eller who played an inspired game last night. Yes he’s young and is prone to make the odd blunder while handling the puck (I could easily say the same thing minus the young bit about Gomez). But what I LOVED in him last night was his positioning, and willingness to go into the areas on the ice that force turnovers, continued possession of the puck in the offensive zone, and subsequently scoring chances. Eller has the offensive skills to control the puck calmly in traffic, and the size and speed to be successful at the NHL level. Just consider the optic difference between him and Benoit Pouliot and you have your answer as to who will be in the top 6 this season. Pouliot is soft in the corners, often turns the puck over to defenders upon pressure, and struggles to make a decision on when to shoot. With Eller, he was in great positioning all night which is critical when you’re playing with a distributer of the puck like Tomas Plecanec or Scott Gomez. Not only that, Eller was continually the first man on loose pucks which created extended possession in the offensive zone which was paramount to Montreal’s offensive struggles last season. He was unlucky to have an A1 chance stopped by an inspired JS Giguerre while he was on his knees (and back hand) in front of the Leafs net. It will not be long before he has his first real goal in a Habs uni as he did not hesitate to fire shots on the Leafs net. It will be interesting to see how long Martin allows Pouliot to remain on the top line (he was replaced at points with Darche last night), knowing that Eller is playing at such a high level at such an early stage in the season.

    Those were the three areas that I thought were positives. I thought Picard was terrible for most of the early stages. O’B wasn’t all that great, although he did get better as the night wore on. Spacek was better than he has been so far this year, and his partner PK Subban had flashes of brilliance including a fantastic opportunity to tie the game with only seconds remaining.

    Its a long season. The first loss was not one that should cause worry. More than anything it was good to see the full squad respond to some early adversity. Saturday should be a great day, with games starting at 12 and continuing through the day. Montreal faces Pittsburgh in their brand new arena at 7. I’m already excited.

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