A night of firsts, then, at the Bell Centre.
First NHL games for 27-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Mike Kostka and 25-year-old first-year player Leo Komarov. Ditto for 18-year-old Montreal rookie Alex Galchenyuk.
First Leafs goal of the season scored by professional irritant Nazem Kadri (first opponent to try to do serious physical harm to the silky-handed Kadri: Montreal defenceman Andrei Markov).
And, most of all, a first win for Toronto and a first loss for Montreal.
There is a tendency, what with a 48-game season and all, to overdramatize losses and over-lionize wins.
But good, solid reasoning is no match for the emotions of a Montreal hockey crowd, and so it was that the first boos of the season rained down from the cheap seats - and the first cries of “P.K.! P.K.!”
More on that later.
As one would expect from a pair of teams coming off six-day training camps and four months spent doing things that aren’t NHL hockey, Toronto’s 2-1 win was not an oil painting.
But in truth, only one team looked like a bunch of guys who hadn’t had time to prepare for their exam.
Well, if said guys had also contrived to finish in last place in the conference last season.
For the men in home red, too many passes went astray, too many defensive assignments were missed, and too many power-play chances were squandered.
“We needed to be more in sync,” Habs captain Brian Gionta said afterward. "We needed to support our defencemen more."
Yes, you did.
But it’s still early - a phrase that won’t sound like an excuse for a few more weeks.
And it’s not like the Leafs looked like an all-conquering juggernaut either.
Toronto goaltender Ben Scrivens was good when he had to be in picking up his fifth career NHL win, but also had enough shaky moments (like nearly misplaying Galchenyuk’s first NHL shot into his net and falling to the ice as he played a puck) to suggest the question marks over Toronto’s goaltending won’t be wiped away any time soon.
Although he did play a key role in the outcome of this game by being heavily snowed upon while covering up a puck in the second period.
By then, the Leafs were already up 1-0 courtesy of Kadri’s power-play goal six minutes into the game (set up by Phil Kessel and Kostka, an Etobicoke, Ont., native and longtime minor-leaguer who recorded his first NHL point).
But the incident that turned the game came when Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec, chasing a long shoot-in with Mike Komisarek hot on his heels, slammed on the brakes and sent a cascade of snow and ice chips onto Scrivens, who had covered the puck.
Up went the referee’s arm, onto the power-play went the Leafs, into the net went the puck when Tyler Bozak shoveled a rebound past Habs goalie Carey Price, who was the Habs' best player this night.
In the event, Plekanec didn't think much of the call:“There’s things that can do differently, but in that situation I didn’t feel I had time [to stop short],” he said.
The Czech centre needn’t feel too badly, there was lots of blame to go around on the Habs side of the ledger this night - starting with rambunctious forward Ryan White, who bowled over Scrivens in the opening minutes to negate a Brandon Prust goal.
“I thought the roof was about ready to pop off the building with that one,” said Colby Armstrong, the third member of the Habs’ fourth line. “It was a little deflating.”
Montreal staged a late push after Brian Gionta popped home a loose puck on a power-play late in the game, but the Habs never seemed like they had a tying goal in them.
For Toronto, it’s home to face the Buffalo Sabres on Monday.
The talk between now and then will surely be about a strong team showing, the game played by Kadri - Toronto’s most eye-catching player this night - and the added bonus of a strong performance from Kostka, who played alongside team captain Dion Phaneuf.
“To be able to start my career in a place like this was pretty special and pretty amazing,” Kostka said.
The hockey conversation in Montreal is also likely to centre on a rookie: Galchenyuk.
The 18-year-old, picked third overall in the 2012 draft, gave a good account of himself in just over 13 minutes of playing time, recording two shots and a takeaway.
“It’s my first NHL game, it’s not like I was thinking going in that I would completely dominate. I was trying to work hard, and hopefully not make to many mistakes, I felt as the game went on I got a little more comfortable but it’s definitely a huge step for me,” said Galchenyuk, who was greeted with a raucous ovation during the glitzy player introductions.
The one player not mentioned in the presentation was the unsigned P.K. Subban.
Montreal’s defence remains something of a shambles, and while the restricted free agent defenceman is something of a swashbuckler in his own end, it would help matters if he were in the fold.
The pressure will merely build if the Habs look as disorganized in their own end against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday evening.Report Typo/Error