Thank god Hockey is back. I was getting antsy there. I was feeling like a man covered in honey standing by an anthill. Boy, am I ever glad that THAT is over.
I just walked into an A&W in Montreal, and the employees were checking their phones behind the counter. In French, I asked them the score and the guy said, "The Leafs won 4-3. But, I'm happy. I'm a Leafs' Fan." In French. In Montreal. Sign of the times.
With last year's agonizing defeat still fresh in their minds, the Leafs came out and looked like they meant business. They pretty much dominated last night's NHL opener - from about 5 minutes into the game, until the end. It was... disconcerting. If you're a Habs' Fan.
The Leafs looked great. They used their speed, their size, and their Power Play to apply the pressure against the Habs - who looked like a team still trying to shake off the rust. This was a battle between a Team going in the right direction; vs. a team that still isn't sure what it wants.
The Leafs' Power Play "only" went 1-for-7 - but it looked strong all night long. Franson and Phaneuf were veritable towers patrolling the Blue like bullets rotating in a revolver chamber. Kadri and Lupul continued their harmonic chemistry. Jake Gardiner looked smooth as butter wheeling and dealing. Tyler Bozak won every face-off known to man. James Reimer was solid, calm, dominate. This was a total team effort.
Wa hoo who who who who who who who Mason Raymond deserves special mention here. Boy, is he ever a great skater. He seems to constantly be rolling around like a ball around the ice - it's uncanny. But, I'll say this: With a player like Mason Raymond in their lineup, the Leafs have gone from "perhaps" to "a serious danger" here. Already sporting truculence, sniper-quality shooting and solid goaltending; the Leafs just added speed. It looks like Mason Raymond is back, back, back - and boy does he ever fit perfectly into this lineup. This means trouble for the rest of the League. The Leafs are going to ROLL this season.
In fact, I'm going to call it right now. The Leafs are finishing Top 4 in the East. Second Round Playoffs written all over them - and maybe a Conference Finals. I really, really like what I see in this team. It is all coming together. And yes, you're rolling your eyes at my pre-emptiveness. But I've been uncannily right about these things before. I really like what I see in this team right off the bat in the first game. Top 4 in the East. Great game and good things on the horizon for the Leafs.
The Habs didn't play badly. They gave it a valiant effort; and there were definitely some bright spots. Obviously, Lars Eller has come out to play this season (who's got Eller?). This is great news for Habs' fans. It appears as though the long-awaited "Eller-hood" has arrived. The Kids' Line was fantastic. Gallagher, Galchenyuk, Eller. The "EGG" Line. Watch out for this line to take a major step this season, even to the point of supplanting Plecky and the Boyz as the #1 Line in Montreal. I foresee that as this season progresses, Therrien will be relying on the EGGs more and more.
Three Things the Habs need to watch out for:
1. A lack of a concentrated, concerted effort.
2. Silly, timely penalties.
3. Carey Price not making the big saves.
The last one is especially disconcerting, as we all know exactly what Price means to this team. This team will go (or not go) exactly as far as Price will carry it. And, we're starting to see some inconsistency in this (no longer) young goaltender. That, is especially disconcerting - as confidence erodes in Price, confidence erodes in this city. I would say that the Overall General Happiness Quotient in Montreal is directly correlated to Price's performances. All that to say - now is NOT a good time to buy a condo here in downtown Montreal. Maybe wait a couple of seasons.
The good news: Briere looked decent. The EGGs were rolling (and rewarded for it). Gorges looked regal and Moen stood up for his teammates. The bad news: Lack of good news. Markov looked sickly. Subban was quiet. Plecky took the stupidest high-sticking call at exactly the worst moment possible. Not great.
One last note about the Habs. They HAVE TO stay out of the box. This goes back to the last 10 games of last season. Too many stupid penalties. Too many timely penalties. You don't win many games after giving up 7 Power Plays.
It feels like this team is lacking identity. Something here is "off". The Habs don't know if they want to be a speedster team, a rough-and-tumble type team, a veteran "smart" team, a young run-and-gun type team, a tight defensive squad team... It seems like everyone else has a different vision; and everything just kind of shows up out of focus. The Telescope needs recalibration.
This was a great game to watch. The Leafs played great, and they are on a mission. Buckle your seatbelts Toronto - you're in for one heck of a season. The Habs played well as well - and we have to be proud and support our boys here. I wouldn't go out and buy Habs' Playoff Tickets just yet - but a team to be proud of for sure.
Hockey is back. And I'm stoked. Now, where's my hamburger?