BROSSARD - With just a day to go before the Canadiens' first regular season game against the archrival Toronto Maple Leafs, the excitement was palpable in the locker room after practice on Friday - both for players who were getting set for their first taste of the rivalry and for those who've been around the block.
"I've always enjoyed these games. Anytime you play in these historic rivalry games, it makes you appreciate getting the opportunity to play for the Montreal Canadiens," described forward Brendan Gallagher, who has suited up for an even 20 games against the squad located at the other end of the 401. "Not every hockey player gets the chance to say they've played in a Toronto-Montreal rivalry game, and it's special when I get to do that."
The fact that the Leafs have been red-hot to start the season doesn't hurt, either.
"You see the excitement that's built around their team. Those players are definitely doing a good job to generate it. They have a lot of talented guys out there. You can't have any lulls, you have to be on top of your game for 60 minutes," continued Gallagher, who has six goals for 10 career points against Toronto. "A team with that much talent is going to be tough to play against."
Video: Brendan Gallagher on facing the Leafs
Defenseman Karl Alzner got up close and personal against the Leafs last season, having played the first two games of Washington's hotly contested first-round postseason series against them before getting hurt.
"I'm very excited about it. I watched a lot of these games growing up, so it's something I'm extremely familiar with. It's fun," proclaimed Alzner, whose Capitals triumphed over Toronto in six games - five of which were decided in overtime. "Whenever you're playing a big rival, it's always a little more exciting, you get even more amped up for a game and a little extra mean streak in you. It's pretty cool to be in the biggest one in the League."
Alzner believes that the Maple Leafs team the Habs will face on Saturday is even better than the one that bowed out to the Capitals last spring.
"Without a doubt. They have a good system, they all work hard, they stay within that system and they have the high-end talent to be creative when the time calls for it," said Alzner, who boasts a plus-14 rating in 25 career matchups against Toronto. "It's an impressive team, they're doing a great job and they're relying heavily on a lot of guys who don't have a ton of experience. At the same time, that works for them because they just go out and play and just have fun playing the game."
Video: Karl Alzner on being amped up for the rivalry
For fellow blue-liner Victor Mete, the game will have extra-special significance, given that the 19-year-old grew up a member of Leafs Nation.
"I'm really excited, playing against my hometown team. It's cool that it actually counts this time and it's not a preseason game. It's also cool that it's a home game here - it'll be my second one - and it'll be a cool experience," the Woodbridge, ON native explained. "Everyone in my family loves the Leafs. We always used to go to games when we were younger and support them. But my parents are finally starting to switch to being Habs fans now."
Mete agrees with Gallagher that the Leafs have been making a name for themselves as one of the more dynamic and interesting young teams to watch so far.
"You can't miss that the Leafs are doing well this year. Especially being from Toronto, my friends are excited for them," he went on. "They're such a young team and they have a lot of potential. Tomorrow is going to be a tough game and we have to be ready for it."
Video: Victor Mete on cheering for the Leafs growing up
As part of the preparations for the dance against Toronto, head coach Claude Julien decided to give Mete a look on the power play alongside his even-strength partner, Shea Weber, at practice. The 13-year NHL veteran recognizes that the pair may have to make some adjustments as they go, but given they've been a duo since the start of training camp, they should be able to get the job done if called upon.
"[The power play] is still a different situation, but those are little things that we could work on even today and get to know what we both like out there," Weber pronounced.
For his part, Mete believes the transition to special teams will be relatively seamless for him and his coworker.
"Having the chemistry we've had together so far, and only playing with him throughout the whole camp and season so far, I think it'll be good. We each know what the other is about. We know what we're going to do out there," he concluded. "It's a different look. We haven't tried this yet, but I thought it looked pretty good in practice. Hopefully we can transition well to a game."