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Canadiens Analysis

Canadiens Game Report 1: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

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With Game #1 in the books, the 23-24 Montreal Canadiens season has officially kicked off!

There were many positives and a few itches that will need scratching, but overall, the second-youngest National Hockey League (NHL) team held its own against a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, all the way until the very end.

And while a game doesn’t make a season, here’s what we’ve learned in this shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Good: The NewDachSky Line

The Slafovsky-Dach duo looked great in pre-season, but adding a speedy Alex Newhook to that mix looks like a smart move, already paying dividends for Martin St-Louis. They were a force out there, with a combined five points on the night, controlling play, and creating all kinds of scoring chances on the rush. This NewDachSky Line is impressive!

That line cooked all night, but on an individual level, Kirby Dach looks like the big-body centre the Canadiens have been longing for, entering the opponent zone seemingly at will, and forcefully bumping his way through checkers. Dach creates space for his teammates and has been frankly impressive.

MUST READ: Dach continues to drive offence with Slafkovsky

Newhook’s speed, relentless checking, and intelligent positioning are already making Kent Hughes look like a genius for acquiring him during the off-season. If he continues to play the way he has, he will be a staple in the Montreal Canadiens’ top six, cementing his and Dach’s trades as cornerstones of Hughes’ reign as the team’s general manager.

As for Slafkovsky, cautious optimism is required, as sophomores often struggle to stay consistent, but Holy Moly has he been encouraging. Fans felt the Slafkovsky they saw on ice last year was a shy, fragile, and underwhelming version of the skilled, hulking forward this team drafted – but we are now seeing a confident player out there, and it’s fun to see.

His timing seems better, his board play took an extra step, and playing with a center like Dach, who creates space for him, has allowed him to find the soft spots and get that extra half-second he needs to make the right play, when he gets the puck.

Who’d have thunk writing off a 19-year-old was a bad idea?

Honourable mentions: Ylonen potting a beauty, highlighting the value of secondary scoring, and Xhekaj immediately jumping to the aid of a teammate versus the league’s reigning heavyweight champ. Does that now make him the new heavyweight champ?

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The Bad: Leaving A Shaky Goaltender Hanging

The Leafs are a well-oiled, offensive juggernaut (in the regular season, at least), so any matchup with the Canadiens could be expected to be a one-sided affair.

This time, the Habs’ offensive prowesses kept the score within range, but the Leafs had more dangerous chances on the powerplay with Toronto generating 42 shots for 3.7 expected goals against Montreal’s 24 shots and 2.66 expected goals in all situations.

The Montreal Canadiens will have to defend better and create high-danger opportunities at a stronger rate on the other end if they’re to find continued success in 23-24.

And while goaltenders were generous on both ends (save percentages of .881 for Jake Allen and .792 for Ilya Samsonov), it’s unlikely Martin St-Louis’ team faces below .800 goaltending often this season.

On top of that, Allen finished last season with a cumulative .895 average, so what was seen Tuesday is very close to what can be expected, meaning this team will need to make up for his shortcomings, on most nights.

Let’s just say he’s no Carey Price. But it sure made for a fun, barn-burner season opener, like the best Ontario casinos.

The Ugly: The Former Glory Line

Boy, has the Tanner Pearson, Sean Monahan, and Brendan Gallagher line looked slow!

May their Expected Goals % speak to that. Let’s just say they didn’t create much, out there.

Game 1 (23-24) Expected Goals %

Expected Goals % for Game 1 of the 23-24 season

If Monahan could hold his own with the Suzuki-Caufield duo (at least in the pre-season), flanking him with slow wingers exacerbated the fact that he’s no speedster.

You have to feel for Gallagher, whose heart can never be questioned; but the machine just doesn’t seem to have any gas left in the tank.

The danger is, with Joel Armia gone, that Habs’ fans will inevitably turn to a new lightning rod for their criticism, and by the looks of it, he should make for an easy target.

Truth be told, if his contract wasn’t so awful, he’d likely have been bought out by now – or sent in the minors. But as Roberto Luongo once said: “[his] contract sucks”, and Kent Hughes is handcuffed by it.

This could be a very long four years for the alternate captain.
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Who was your favourite Montreal Canadiens player from Game #1? Let us know in the comments below.