After opening the pre-season with six games in seven nights, the Montreal Canadiens had to wait a full five days before having the opportunity to finally take to the ice last night in their regular-season opener in Buffalo against the Sabres.
The result: a listless affair which saw the Habs fall 2-1 at the HSBC Arena in a game that ended with a shootout.
“We were nervous,” acknowledged Team Captain Saku Koivu when this one was over. “The puck was bouncing and we couldn’t make simple plays. Sometimes after 5 or 6 days off, the first game is always tough…the season opener.”
Things opened in splendid fashion for the Canadiens, as newcomer Robert Lang wasted no time impressing his new employers. Lang, acquired from Chicago during the off-season as Bob Gainey’s Plan B replacement for Mats Sundin (who?!?!?) beat Ryan Miller before this one was three minutes old to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead. However, four minutes later, Mike Komisarek was victimized by a bouncing puck that flipped over his stick and ended up in the net behind Carey Price: thanks to a goal by Thomas Vanek on a low shot that eluded the Montreal netminder.
Although neither team would manufacture a scoring opportunity through the final 40 minutes of regulation play and the five minute overtime, the Canadiens did have their chances, as it turned out, near the end of the second (Robert Lang hits the goalpost), near the end of the third (Sergie Kostitsyn misses the net in the dieing seconds) and near the end of O.T. (with Alex Kovalev having a chance to end this one). But the Habs continued to fire blanks, a pattern which extended into the shootout.
Ales Kotalik and Drew Stafford beat Price with identical moves in close on the Habs’ netminder, while Robert Lang and Saku Koivu were unable to put the puck past Ryan Miller.
The Sabres win the shootout 2-0, and the game, 2-1.
The line of Robert Lang-Sergie Kostitsyn-Tom Kostopolous was the only one that could get untracked for the Canadiens on this night. The line of Plekanec-Kovalev-A.Kostitsyn showed little out there. It was the same story for the unit of Koivu-Tanguay-Latendresse. For a team that’s supposed to beat you with speed and finesse, there was little speed or finesse exhibited by the Canadiens in this, the opening game to their 100th season.
Defensively, Ryan O’Byrne seemed lost out there at times, and Patrice Brisboise was prone to some nasty giveaways. Only the work of Price kept the Canadiens in this one.
The Habs boarded a bus for Toronto and a date with the Maple Leafs tonight, with Jaroslav Halak already penciled in to get the start for the Canadiens.