PAT HICKEY, MONTREAL GAZETTE
Carey Price showed vintage form with some key stops and newcomers Max Domi and Jesperi Kotkaniemi made a good impression in season opener.
The Canadiens didn’t look like a lottery team Wednesday night as they charged into the building formerly known as the Air Canada Centre and played the heavily favoured Toronto Maple Leafs to a standstill through regulation before Auston Matthew scored in overtime to give the Leafs a 3-2 win in the season opener.
Goaltender Carey Price played a solid game, but he had some help from the much-maligned Montreal defence. As expected, Jeff Petry and VIctor Mete played a major role as the top pairing, but Mike Reilly may have emerged as a sleeper. His skating ability is tailor-made for the uptempo game the Canadiens want to play.
The Canadiens dominated the first 10 minutes of the game, racking up a 7-1 edge on the shot clock and taking a 1-0 lead when Artturi Lehkonen beat Frederik Andersen on a wraparound at 9:34. Montreal used its speed to push the pace and did a good job defensively. There was one breakdown that led to a 2-on-1 break for Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen, but Price came out to challenge Kapanen and he fired wide.
The one thing you want to avoid when you play the Leafs is giving them a power play and Toronto tied the score after Jonathan Drouin was sent off for hooking. There were five seconds left in the penalty when Auston Matthews unleashed a rising shot from the top of the faceoff circle at 12:57.
The goal aside, the Canadiens’ penalty-killing unit looked better than it did last season when it ranked 30th in the NHL. They managed to kill the other two Toronto power plays.
Most of the action in the second period was compressed into the final three minutes. Price, who was in vintage form earlier in the period when he moved across to stop Patrick Marleau on a backdoor play, stopped Josh Leivo from close range. But John Tavares’s first goal as a Leaf gave Toronto a 2-1 lead at 18:07.
Julien’s decision to dress Andrew Shaw after only two practices paid dividends when the feisty winger scored a power-play goal at 19:46 to tie the score at 2-2. Max Domi set up Shaw in the high slot with Jesperi Kotkaniemi earning the second assist for his first NHL point. The Canadiens’ power play went 1-for-4 on the night, but it looked as if they knew what they were doing. They had eight shots with the man advantage. Domi, who had limited game action after he was suspended for sucker-punching Florida’s Aaron Ekblad in his only preseason appearance, had two assists on the night.
The Canadiens rolled four lines throughout the game, which shouldn’t have been a surprise because Julien has crafted a set of balanced lines with each unit offering a combination of speed and skill.
Julien juggled his lineup before the game, electing not to dress veterans Tomas Plekanec and Karl Alzner. The decision means that Plekanec, who has played 998 NHL games, will probably reach the 1,000-game mark at the Bell Centre. For Alzner, the decision ended his iron man streak at 622 consecutive games. That was the fourth-longest run among active players.