Canadiens ride roller-coaster of emotions in opening-night loss in Toronto

Newcomer Newhook scores twice, but the Habs squander a pair of two-goal leads and have one goal called back in 6-5 shootout loss to Leafs.

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The Canadiens aren’t expected to challenge for a playoff spot this season. So the point they squandered Wednesday night probably won’t come back to haunt them come April.

There were definitely some negatives in Montreal’s 6-5 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena to kick off the regular season. But there were plenty of positives as well.

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A team that is expected to be offensively challenged produced five goals against one of the NHL’s elite teams while scoring one power-play goal in four opportunities — an area in which Montreal has struggled.

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And yes, the Canadiens squandered a 2-0 lead in the second period while going 18 minutes between shots, but the visitors also erased a 3-2 deficit with three consecutive goals in the third period, taking a 5-3 lead with slightly more than eight minutes remaining in regulation.

Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis wants a team with spunk; one that will never quit. And through one game at least, his players delivered on that mandate.

Now Montreal has to learn how to protect a lead. Two late Leafs goals, both by Auston Matthews and both scored with netminder Ilya Samsonov on the bench, sent the teams to overtime, where neither team managed to score, sending the game to a shootout.

“We were definitely emotionally challenged,” St. Louis told journalists in Toronto after the game. “To me that’s a big part of this league. We were emotionally challenged in the second, emotionally challenged at the end of that third period. You learn from it. There’s nothing you can do. It’s done. Let’s go.”

Mitch Marner scored the only shootout goal, on Toronto’s third attempt, beating Jake Allen on a high forehand to the glove side, while Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Kirby Dach all were thwarted by Samsonov.

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New left-winger Alex Newhook paced the Canadiens with two goals. Jake Evans, Caufield and Jesse Ylönen also scored. Evans, who opened the scoring for Montreal three minutes into the game, scored only twice in 54 games last season.

After Noah Gregor scored Toronto’s first goal with a weak shot from the left-wing circle that Allen should have stopped, Matthews tied the game 2-2 with a power-play goal at 14:51 of the second period. It was Matthews’s 300th career goal in only his 482nd game. He also produced his eighth career hat trick.

William Nylander scored the Leafs’ other goal, late in the second period. Matthews and Nylander both scored a team-high 40 goals for Toronto last season.

“It was definitely a roller-coaster,” Suzuki said.

The Canadiens looked like they had taken control of the game in the second period, when a Caufield power-play goal briefly provided Montreal with a 3-0 lead. But the Leafs challenged the play and, after a video review, it was determined Caufield was offside.

Toronto killed off the penalty and Gregor scored, giving the Leafs some life, before Matthews and Nylander ended the period with power-play goals. Montreal was outshot 16-2 in the frame, providing little support for the beleaguered Allen.

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“It’s obviously tough when you go from the excitement of taking a 3-0 lead and now you’re down 3-2 pretty quickly after,” Suzuki acknowledged. “It’s just (about) managing your emotions.”

While it’s only one game, the two goals from Newhook, who played on a line with Dach and former first overall draft choice Juraj Slafkovsky, was a welcome sign of potential things to come.

Newhook, who won a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2022, scored a modest 14 goals and 30 points in 82 games with the Avalanche last season. Montreal acquired him in a trade last June for first- and second-round draft picks along with AHL prospect Gianni Fairbrother.

Newhook worked well with Dach, who had two assists and three shots while logging 21:22 of ice time. Slafkovsky also was involved, delivering three hits and one shot during his 15:25 on the ice.

“There are emotional swings in the game,” Dach said. “You have to learn how to find ways to keep on moving forward. Don’t take your foot off the gas pedal.”

On a Canadiens team that does not appear to have a clear No. 1 goalie, Allen had a see-saw night. While he looked weak on three of the goals, he also faced 42 shots — 29 alone over the final two periods — and made some strong stops, especially in overtime, denying Matthews on a breakaway and then Matthew Knies.

But his .881 save percentage on this night wasn’t good enough.

The Canadiens now return home for three games, beginning Saturday night against Chicago and first overall draft choice Connor Bedard, who scored his first NHL goal in the Blackhawks’ 3-1 loss to Boston on Wednesday.

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