About Last Night: Kirby Dach's line shines in inconsistent opener for Habs

Dach, Alex Newhook and Juraj Slafkovsky combined for five points in the Canadiens 6-5 shootout loss against the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

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The Montreal Canadiens blew two leads en route to a 6-5 shootout loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs in their 2023-24 season opener on Wednesday at Scotiabank Arena.

Auston Matthews scored a hat trick for the winning side. In his first regular season game for the Habs, Alex Newhook led the way on offence with two goals. He and linemates Kirby Dach and Juraj Slafkovsky combined for five points on the night.

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Jake Allen got the nod in goal and responded with 37 saves on 42 shots, including a couple goals allowed that he probably wants back. But he also battled into overtime to secure a point in the standings for his club.

Jake Evans opened scoring on a breakaway after TJ Brodie blew a tire in the other end.

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The Leafs acquired Ryan Reaves in the off-season to give the team a little sandpaper, and he showed it early hitting Kaiden Guhle in the letters. Arber Xhekaj immediately dropped the gloves in defence of his teammate, and got the instigator and a 10-minute misconduct for his troubles.

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The Habs were up 1-0 after the first period, and took a 2-0 lead at 1:10 in the second. After causing the turnover behind his own net, Slafkovsky hustled up the ice and set up Newhook for his first goal as a Hab.

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After Cole Caufield had a power-play goal called back on an offside coach’s challenge, momentum swung in the other direction. Toronto outshot Montreal 16-2 in the second period and ended the frame with three unanswered goals.

Camp tryout Noah Gregor got things started, beating Allen from an unlikely angle.

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Then Matthews tied it up on the power play for the 300th goal of his career.

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With time winding down in the period, William Nylander gave the Leafs their first lead of the night with another power-play marker. Leafs were up 3-2 after 40 minutes.

Caufield got his revenge for his overturned goal with a knuckler that beat Ilya Samsonov for a game-tying power-play goal at 4:25 of the third period.

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Just over a minute later, Newhook tipped in a shot by Xhekaj, with Slafkovsky also parked in front of the net, to give Montreal a 4-3 lead.

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For a moment, it looked like Montreal’s comeback was complete when Jesse Ylönen took advantage of a Leafs turnover to give the Habs a 5-3 lead.

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Alas it was not to be. Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe aggressively pulled his goalie for an extra skater with more than four minutes remaining, and Matthews justified the move by cutting Montreal’s lead to 5-4.

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Then with just over a minute left in regulation, Matthews completed his hat trick to send the game to overtime.

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Three-on-three overtime solved nothing. Montreal ended the extra frame on the power play, but couldn’t convert. In the shootout, Mitch Marner was the only skater to find the back of the net. His goal was enough to send the home team to the dressing room with a 6-5 win.

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It was an entertaining season opener in Toronto, with multiple lead changes and chances at both ends. So far so good for the line made up of key Kent Hughes acquisitions: 2022 first overall pick Slafkovsky looked like the physically dominant forward that was advertised when he was drafted, while Dach and Newhook have found immediate chemistry. Hockey Stat Cards tells the tale of their effectiveness as a line.

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The Liveblog commenters liked the new second line, but were less than impressed with the goaltending performance of Allen. The Canadiens emerged from camp with three goaltenders on the roster, but none of them looked like a No. 1 in preseason. Goaltending is always a hot-button issue in Montreal, but the current netminding trio might really cause some consternation this season.

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Thanks to all the commenters who showed up for Liveblog game one. Here’s to another season in good company.

3. “Slaf looked much better tonight. He is using his size, playing with more confidence, and, most importantly, is processing the game faster.” -Michael Way

2. “Isn’t it funny how Domi admitted he missed the Montreal fans, after they asked about the Toronto fans at the Leafs golf tournament.” -Ryan Katz

1. “I expect we might see a lot of this sort of thing this year.” -Max Gray

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