It had been nine and a half months since the Montreal Canadiens last played an NHL game — and it showed.
With a new coaching staff and system, a short training camp and no preseason games to work out the kinks, the Canadiens’ execution struggled in their 2-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There were missed passes, botched plays and slow feet, leading to penalties and, ultimately, a slow start.
“It definitely wasn’t smooth, by any means,” said goaltender Carey Price, who saw action for the first time since March 30, 2012 after having missed the final four games of last season with a concussion. “It was fast but it was choppy.
“It was kind of sloppy.”
Head coach Michel Therrien said the Habs needed the first two periods to find themselves, and captain Brian Gionta, who scored Montreal’s lone goal, acknowledged rust was a factor.
“Our timing was a bit off but it looks that way when you’re not supporting the puck — it looks like you’re off,” said Gionta.
“I think the biggest thing was we were too spread out. We weren’t supporting the puck carrier or the battles in the corner and we made it easy for them.”
The Canadiens thought they had set the tone early with a goal from their bruising fourth line of Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong and Ryan White, but it was waved off for a goalie interference call on White. That was first of two infractions the Habs would get whistled for in the opening three minutes of the frame — and three in the first period — halting any momentum-gaining opportunities.
“That’s a tough way to start your first game of the season, get scored on the first shot. That’s not the way you want to start,” Price said. “It’s tough when you’re a man down for the first four minutes. It’s tough to get into it when you’re chasing the puck around.”
Therrien, making his return behind the Canadiens bench a decade after he was let go from his first stint, was pleased with what he saw from that line and his team’s preparation overall. He also had praise for defenceman Andrei Markov, healthy for a season opener for the first time in several years.
“He played really well. He was a leader out there, not only offensively but defensively,” he said. “I thought he did a good job. That’s good news for us.”
The coach has repeated on several occasions since his hiring that he wants his team to be one that’s tough to play against. And while faced with a rusty roster in the season opener, his plan is in the early stages of being put into place.
“It was a step in that direction. We wish it would have been perfect,” Therrien said. “We have some work to do, but it was a step.”
With only 48 games, there’s little time to waste in getting points on the board — a fact the Canadiens are well aware of with their second game just a few days away.
“We’ve got to get clicking here real quick because we don’t want to fall into a hole right away,” said Price.