MONTREAL – Following a winless pre-season that came with its share of struggles, the Montreal Canadiens found the win column in their regular-season opener.
Josh Anderson scored the game-winning goal with 19 seconds remaining to lift the Canadiens over the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 on Wednesday.
“Winning cures a lot. Obviously, we hadn’t won yet if you count the exhibition games,” said Montreal head coach Martin St. Louis. “We hadn’t had much of our group all together and I know we have injuries on the back end but I thought the kids played really, really well.”
Cole Caufield had a two-goal game and Sean Monahan added his first goal in a Habs uniform. Jake Allen stopped 29-of-32 shots he faced.
“It wasn’t a perfect game,” St. Louis added. “There’s no perfect game, it’s just about finding ways in this league and I thought the guys fought tonight and found a way.”
Michael Bunting, Denis Malgin and William Nylander all opened their 2022-23 season accounts for the Maple Leafs. In his first regular-season start for Toronto, Matt Murray made 19 saves.
“There was nothing wrong with our effort, it was just careless,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “I expect more, our group should expect more. It was not good enough.”
Bunting scored the first Maple Leafs goal of the season when he took a Mitch Marner pass from behind the net and broke the ice for the visitors 11:41 into the opening period to go up 1-0.
The Canadiens responded just 33 seconds into the second. Nick Suzuki sent a saucer pass for Caufield over Leafs defenceman T.J. Brodie and the winger opened his account for the season.
Malgin built on his impressive pre-season by helping Toronto regain its lead eight minutes later. Left alone atop Allen’s crease, the Swiss forward sent a loose puck into the net to notch his first regular-season goal in a Leafs uniform.
Caufield took it upon himself to level the score once again. The 22 year-old carried the puck from his own blue line all the way to the right faceoff circle where he beat Murray with a wrist shot 15:56 into the second period.
“I mean, you’re aiming there. I think that’s (the) spot on that play and you just gotta hit your spots.” Caufield said.
Montreal was millimetres away from a go-ahead goal when Dach wrapped the puck around the net, only to be stopped by Murray on the goal line. After a review, the no-goal call stood.
Alexander Kerfoot was given a penalty shot when Arber Xhekaj held the centre on a breakaway. Under a rain of boos, Kerfoot skated down the ice only to be denied by Allen.
Monahan gave Montreal its first lead of the game when he grabbed a loose puck in the slot and scored his first goal with the team 17:30 into the final period.
The advantage was short-lived as the Leafs evened the score less than a minute later. Tavares sent the puck to Nylander, who scored on a two-on-one opportunity to tie the game with 1:50 remaining.
Just over a minute later, Anderson sealed the deal beating Murray to pull out the victory.
PENALTY KILL IMPROVING
After struggling with the penalty kill during the pre-season, the Canadiens successfully killed all four penalties they conceded. With a very young defensive corps to start the season, defenceman David Savard said that it was a point of pride to prevent any power-play goals from the Leafs.
“It was a big challenge because their power play is so good. They move the puck, they’re very dangerous,” he said. “It’s fun to see that a lot of guys sacrificed themselves to block shots and that’s what you need to win games.”
STANDING OVATION FOR PRICE
During the pre-game player presentation, the Canadiens presented Carey Price to the Bell Centre crowd and received a moving standing ovation. The 35-year-old was placed on long-term injured reserve in the off-season. General manager Kent Hughes said in August he may not play this season after only playing five games last year due to a knee injury.
“It’s so good to see the city and the fans embracing him the way he deserves,” said Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher. “If I had my vote, there would be a statue of him pretty soon outside the building and I think he deserves everything. He battled his body to the limits. You never know with him but if we never see him again on the ice, he deserves every ovation.”
TAVARES IS BACK
After missing the entire pre-season with an oblique injury, John Tavares made his return to the Maple Leafs. The captain centred the second line alongside William Nylander and Denis Malgin and picked up two assists.
The Canadiens will hit the road for a two-game away stint starting with a visit to the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 14. The Maple Leafs will head back to Toronto for their home opener against the Washington Capitals.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 12, 2022.
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