The Montreal Canadiens lost their fourth straight season opener, squandering a strong start and falling to the vengeful Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 at Scotiabank Arena.
The Habs started like they were shot out of a cannon, with a set play to forward Josh Anderson off the end boards nearly resulting in a lead for the visiting team within the first 20 seconds of the game. Anderson’s line with newcomer Christian Dvorak and a returning Jonathan Drouin had instant chemistry and were too much for the Leafs to handle in the early going.
It felt like only a matter of time before the Montreal Canadiens would get the opening goal against the sleepy Maple Leafs and they did. Dvorak put pressure on defenseman Jake Muzzin right in front of Toronto’s bench as he rushed the puck into the neutral zone. Habs defenceman Brett Kulak poked the puck away at his own blueline right onto the stick of Anderson to send him in on a 2-on-1 with Drouin. Anderson waited out Leafs defenceman Justin Holl and slid the puck over to Drouin who casually put it in to the net past a sprawling Jack Campbell to make it 1-0 7:22 into the game.
The Toronto Maple Leafs started to gain a foothold in the game when defenceman Alexander Romanov was called for interference on Leafs forward Michael Bunting that could have easily been called crosschecking as the Russian got his stick up into Bunting’s face. Toronto looked as though they were going to be guilty of overpassing until Pierre Engvall got Ben Chiarot to bite on a fake shot and then fired the puck past a screened Allen stick-side to tie things up just under three minutes after the Montreal Canadiens took the lead.
The goal gave the Leafs confidence and Rasmus Sandin’s shot off the post in the final minute of the first was a sign of things to come in the second. Toronto owned the Habs in the middle period and goaltender Jake Allen was the only reason why the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t have a multiple goal lead after 40 minutes. William Nylander had a wide open tip in front of the net somehow squeeze past Allen but not into the Habs net as it squirted wide. Allen was once again called into action as Bunting banged away at a loose puck several times in front of the net that the Habs goaltender somehow kept out. Allen wrapped up a stellar period with point blank saves on Mitch Marner and Ondrej Kase in the slot to get the Canadiens out of the period with no damage done.
The Toronto Maple Leafs got the goal they deserved to start the third when Nylander skated in off a bad line change by the Montreal Canadiens and poor gap communication between Kulak and Nick Suzuki. Nylander exploited the space and skated in with way too much space and roofed the puck past Allen glove side to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead.
The Habs had their chance to swing the momentum in their favour in the third period when consecutive tripping penalties by Jason Spezza and Marner gave the Montreal Canadiens an extended 5-on-3. But the Habs kryptonite, their power play, reared its ugly head again. The Canadiens first unit were too casual with the puck and showed no urgency until Brendan Gallagher’s one-timer off a seam pass by Joel Armia late in the man advantage was blocked by Holl to deny the Habs the equalizer.
The Canadiens had another chance on the power play after Nylander tripped up Anderson in the neutral zone. But once again, the Habs failed to impress with the man advantage. Gallagher’s slot shot off a nifty pass from Armia was as close as the Habs would come to getting level but Anderson’s roughing penalty with under two minutes left and despite a late flurry essentially ended the game and gave the Toronto Maple Leafs the 2-1 victory.