Whether it was hoping against hope or not I don’t know, but my sense is many Leaf fans were indeed “hoping” this would be a new look Leaf squad on opening night against the Habs. What was this hope based on? Perhaps because Brendan Shanahan is now in charge; because Carlyle has new assistant coaches or maybe that the bottom six should be stronger…
And, well, it’s a new season and a new year always brings hope, eh?
Those who have followed VLM for a few years know I don’t get too high or too low based on the first game of the season. So the loss is not a major concern. It may be a harbinger of things to come, sure, but just as often the first game of the season is an outlier. But opening night triggers (before I get back to the Hab encounter) one of my fondest childhood memories of NHL “opening night”—and it’s not even about the Leafs.
By the 1962-’63 NHL season, I had already embarked on a lifelong hatred (in hockey terms, only) of the Montreal Canadiens, even though I was only nine years of age. I’ve written about this at some length here before, and in my eBook, “The Maple Leafs of My Youth”. Living with a house full of rabid Hab supporters (starting with my Dad) drove me in the other direction. So I always remember that, on the first night of the ’62-’63 season, the then lowly Boston Bruins hosted—and upset—the powerful Canadiens by a score of 5-0 in the tiny, old Boston Garden.
As I recall, Perreault (in action against Jean Beliveau, right, in a classic Harold Barkley photo) did not play that whole season with Boston, but I’ll always remember him for that shutout against the hated Habs. Interestingly, Perreault had an outstanding minor-league career, and he was actually in the Leaf organization in the mid ‘60s with the AHL Rochester Americans. In fact, I believe he backstopped the Leaf affiliate to the Calder Cup in the spring of 1966, but I’d have to double check that. For what it’s worth, that particular opening night game against Montreal was indeed a peak into the future, because the Maple Leafs later beat Canadiens in the last game of that semi-finals in the spring of ’63 by a score of 5-0 as well. (That was, by the way, the best all-around Maple Leaf team of my lifetime. They finished in first place in the regular-season—something they haven’t done since—and captured the Cup in only 10 games.)
Things to like on opening night:
- Kozun’s early jump. Might he be one of the surprises we talked about (hoped for?) in training camp? He certainly wasn't on my radar screen/projected lineup before camp.
- Percy’s impact, including his taking a hit to set up Bozak’s power-play marker in the final minute of the opening period. He was on the ice for the final Montreal goal, but I thought he played hard and well in over 20 minutes of action.
- Shots against after 30 minutes: 11—it must be a new year. (Though the Habs went on toe create a lot more pressure as the second period wore on…old habits? Bernier faced 32 shots by the end of the night.)
- Kadri opening the season like he opened the pre-season, with a goal.
- Kessel with some defensive positioning that stymied the Habs on a couple of shifts in the second period. (Even on Subban’s third period goal, Kessel was with his man at the edge of Bernier’s crease…) He finished a minus 2 on the night but that wasn't all on him.
- Seeing Rielly and Gardiner together, especially on the power play.
- The possibility that Clarkson could fit with Komarov
- A perfect penalty-killing unit, albeit only on two Montreal opportunities
- Santorelli scoring in his first game as a Leaf
All that said, the Leafs fell short against their longtime rival. There may be some things you want to add to my notes above, including some observations that you weren't happy with (e.g. some long shifts; why our third defense pair was on the ice in the last minute of play...).