The 2022-23 season kicked off for the no-expectation Montreal Canadiens at home versus the rival 2nd favourite to win the Stanley Cup, Toronto Maple Leafs.
The game kicked off with the traditional Montreal fanfare and what seemed like a 100-yard walk to the ice as the Canadiens players were introduced. The delay between the announcement of the player names and their ice-level arrival caused an awkward delay in fan cheering, although it caught up as Carey Price enjoyed an extended welcome, tipping his cowboy hat to the crowd. As the transition continued, captain Suzuki carried the torch to ignite centre ice as traditions are still a valued part of this franchises’ identity.
While the HABS late third period 4-3 surprise win left fans on both teams shaking their heads for different reasons and in different directions, both need to remember that this is game 1 of 82.
HABS FUELED BY EMOTION, HARD WORK
The rebuilding Canadiens had a lot of youth in the line-up, highlighted by a blue line (Harris, Ghule, Xhekaj, Kovacevic) that combined for less NHL games than the Leafs’ Giordano, often showing vulnerabilities, but finding success in simplicity. The forward lines with a handful of forwards who have never played together, fronted by the youngest captain in Canadiens history are still finding their groove, but augmented that with determination. While inexperienced, there was team effort fueled by a desperation that surely can’t be sustained over a full season. The team blocked over 20 shots, battled along the boards, and skated hard at both ends of the ice. The top line of Suzuki, Caufield, and Anderson played like a top line and the supporting cast did what they had to do in back to basics play.
They worked hard and were rewarded for it with a win, but fan expectations should be tempered as this team has a lot of growing to do.
LEAFS BLOWING IN THE WIND
The Toronto Maple Leafs also have a lot of growing to do and much will be between the ears as they search for sustained confidence. While they walked into Montreal with a bit of swagger ensconced more in their assessment of who they were about to play instead of their own identity, that swagger often turned to uncertain saunter. They owned the shot clock, but not the scoreboard as the late pre-season powerplay surge went 0-4. Stars Marner and Matthews skated off with zeros and the defense, especially Jake Muzzin looked confused at times, while roll-the-dice goalie Matty Murray had his glove-side repeatedly exposed in his debut for former OHL Sault Greyhounds coach Keefe and GM Dubas.
While the Leafs lost game one, they have more potential than what was demonstrated, but living up to the idea that they are the 2nd most favourite team to win the Stanley Cup this year puts a lot of pressure on a group of players who aren’t playing a team game yet and is underscored by a lot of uncertainty in net.
CHIRPING ICE BIRDS
While fans of both the Canadiens and Maple Leafs start the early season chirps, neither base really has any type of credentials other than some moments in game one of the season. Last year’s playoffs will continue to haunt the Leafs regardless of what successes lay ahead during the 82-game warm up. Equally, the rebuilding and youthful Canadiens are going to have some bad nights ahead of them as they grow into their new identity under coach Martin St. Louis and the new executive leadership team.
Enjoying the in-game moments might be the best approach for fans of both teams as the fun side-bets and ice chirps unfold through a season of question marks and change.
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