And so it’s begun. The Canadiens opened their 103rd NHL season with a shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at Raleigh. For a season-opener it was a terrific bit of entertainment. In front of a sellout crowd Carolina took a 2-0 lead. The Canadiens came back with three straight goals (Tatar; Kotkaniemi; Weal) before surrendering the tying goal in the third period.
BY THE NUMBERS
The Canadiens opened the season as one of the league’s youngest teams in terms of average age. Forty-four percent of the eighteen skaters on Claude Julien’s game-one roster were 25 or younger (8) and 22% were 21 or younger (4). It can be reported that, to a man, they passed the opening night test.
During training camp there was some anxiety that 19 year old Jesperi Kotkaniemi was about to enter that twilight zone known as the sophomore jinx. He put that to bed in a hurry. The goal he scored was something you would expect from a ten-year veteran. Given a half second of time after getting the puck from Artturi Lehkonen he waited and waited for Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek to make his move before shooting. It was the first road goal of his career. The line with Joel Armia and Jonathan Drouin was one of the Canadiens best. Armia had five shots on goal and the line finished with nine.
One has to be cautious when it comes to assessing Drouin’s game which has wildly swung from good to indifferent to downright bad in short order. . It has to be said this as one of his very good ones. He drew second assist on the Kotkaniemi goal. He carried the puck with authority and made some smart offensive plays. And there were no complaints about his defense for once. We didn’t see any of this in training camp. Could this be the Jonathan Drouin that Bergevin and Julien were hoping for? Let’s reserve opinion on that.
Last year the Canadiens opened their season in Toronto with a defence made up of Jeff Petry, Victor Mete, Noah Juulsen, Jordie Benn, Mike Reilly, and Xavier Ouellet. Only Petry and Mete remain. There was much hand wringing over the fact that Bergevin failed to land a top-four left shot defenceman but off what I saw in this game, Ben Chiarot has a chance to be a solid partner for Jeff Petry.
Cale Fleury had some early jitters in the game which included getting lost in traffic on the Hurricanes first goal which put heavy pressure on his partner Brett Kulak. But he recovered nicely, for the most part moving the puck smartly and even became involved in the offense, most notably on a delayed whistle breakaway early in the third period. In his debut Fleury’s ice time was 14:52.
All things considered, the pairing that had trouble getting on the same page was Shea Weber and Victor Mete. Can’t imagine that become an enduring problem.
ALSO WORTH NOTING
…..Although it scored in only one of the pre-season games, the power play showed signs of making at least a modest comeback. It was 1-for-3 in this game (Tatar) and continued to look like there might be some hope for at least a fair performance this season.
….Because they saw regular time on the power play, Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault logged over 20 minutes of ice time in the game.
….It may be the statistic note of the game and something to watch as the season unfolds. Of Danault’s 20:00 minutes, 2:56 came on the power play and 3:35 killing penalties. That’s is a hard night’s work and the kind of stuff that’s consideration in the Selke Trophy voting.
….Carey Price had to work hard to in the final minutes of the game as the defense in front of him seemed to lose it’s gap control. In the twelve regulation time minutes from the tying goal, the Hurricanes outshot the Canadiens 11-5.
….If I were to take one thing away from this game it might be the performances of the fourth line and the third defense pairing. We’ve already mentioned Kulak/Fleury. Julien wants some offense from his fourth line. Nate Thompson, Jordan Weal and Paul Byron gave him a goal and some sustained offensive zone pressure along with the defense you expect from a fourth line. The intensity of Thompson along the boards ….falling and then getting up to move the puck up to Byron led to the Weal goal. Nice three-way.
….Did I mention Nick Suzuki? Nothing spectacular on the wing with Domi and Lehkonen. Nothing wrong either. Steady game from the line. Suzuki got some power play time. He also took the third shot on the shootout. Thirteen minutes ice time.
Game two of the three game season-opening road trip Saturday night in Toronto. Then it’s Buffalo on Wednesday ahead of the home opening a week Saturday against the defending Cup champion St. Louis Blues.