It’s finally here.
Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to see the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge back on the ice in the pre-season, but anyone who says any of that was important is trying to sell you something.
Pre-season games flat out don’t matter. The players know it, the coaches know it, even the fans know it. The only people who don’t know it sit behind desks and smile for the ratings.
The only thing any player goes into the pre-season looking to accomplish is to be healthy enough to play opening night.
Mission (mostly) accomplished, Montreal.
On the front end the team is healthy. Gionta will start, Parros is ready to go and no one tweaked an ankle, jammed a shoulder or earned themselves a 10-game suspension for hopping the boards.
On the back-end Les Boys are down Emelin, Murray and Drewiske, but the core of Subban, Markov and Georges are in good shape, plus Jarred Tinordi will a chance to play meaningful minutes in meaningful games with Murray out for some time.
It’s a new season, as the saying goes, and while Montreal didn’t end last season on the best of notes, it’s not our playoff exit that everyone is going to be talking about going into tonight’s game.
There are no distractions of contract talks or hold outs this year and no demons to discuss. Tonight is about moving forward for Montreal, which is a lot more than can be said for the Leafs.
Toronto’s loss wasn’t just bad, it was historic.
No team has ever blown that lead with that amount of time left in that type of game. They didn’t just crush the souls of their fans, they broke math.
That type of loss doesn’t just go away, it sticks with a team, and it will be important for the Habs to send the Leafs a reminder early. A quick start in front of the home crowd will go a long, long way to take the wind out of their sails and put James Reimer on his heels.
It’d be ideal if native son Daniel Briere could be the one to get the Habs off to that start, endearing himself to the crowd and wiping away the bad taste he left in the mouths of the Montreal faithful after spurning us for the Flyers.
Last season showed how important a quick start can be to playoff hopes, so here’s hoping the Habs get off on a good one and set that 82-0 pace.
Three Keys to the Game
Toronto is still pretty big upfront with guys like Lupul and Van Riemsdyk who like to crash the net. Carey Price is a heck of a goalie and that much better when he can actually see the puck. The D is going to need to move those guys to the outside.
On the other end, Boston showed how effective a man in front of James Reimer can be. It doesn’t have to be a Zdeno Chara sized body. Look for guys like Gionta and Gallagher to cause problems in front of the net tonight.
While Leaf fans wrestle with their demons, there is still one image that gives me nightmares from Montreal’s post season. I think it was in the overtime game when Kyle Turris and Alex Galchenyuk were racing for a puck in the corner. Galchenyuk had a clear step on Turris, so Turris lined up a hit. Galchenyuk say it coming, slowed up to avoid it, and let Turris take the puck.
I can’t remember if Ottawa ended up scoring on the play, but Galchenyuk should have been benched. The Habs need to set a tone early and there absolutely can’t be any of that if this is a team that’s going to be taken seriously.
The 7th Man
I’m not a big believer in home ice advantage until the playoffs start. Teams play 41 games at home, they can’t all be a clear advantage (ever been to a Habs/Sens game in Ottawa?) but tonight, opening night, at home to Toronto, the crowd can be a major factor.
Montreal will have 10 minutes of crazed fan noise from the excitement of a new season alone. That can be extended if they score and crushed if they’re scored on. Those first 10 minutes are huge to keep the crowd engaged.
The Fourth Key: 60 Minutes
This, hopefully, won’t ever have to be said again, but last year’s playoff exit can largely be blamed on Habs players forgetting how long a hockey game is. We disappeared in the third period.
Let’s try playing a full 60 minutes tonight.
Go Habs Go.