MONTREAL - While a preseason opening loss to the Bruins was not the way the Canadiens had hoped to kick off the 2006-07 season, the sight of captain Saku Koivu at his usual post Tuesday night had everyone in the Bell Centre and the Habs' dressing room breathing a collective sigh of relief.
Playing in his first game since leaving the ice in the second period of Game 3 of Montreal's first round playoff series against the Hurricanes, following an errant high stick from Justin Williams, Koivu played 22 shifts, logging 14:07 of ice-time against Boston.
Skating on a line with usual sidekicks Michael Ryder and Christopher Higgins, the Canadiens' captain was up to his old tricks, helping set up Ryder early in the second period for the Canadiens' first goal of 2006-07. While Koivu would have much preferred a different outcome than a 5-2 loss to the Bruins to open the preseason , he was glad to finally get his first taste of game action.
"The eye felt fine," said Koivu. "It's going to take some time for me to feel really comfortable but it reacted well. I had to look down at the puck a few times but that's just going to take some getting used to.
"The first game of the preseason is always tough," admitted Koivu, who is also adapting to the use of a new larger visor that comes down lower and closer to his face. "It's going to take a few games for all of us to get ready. But my main concern tonight was to see how my eye would respond and I'm definitely happy about the way things went."
Head coach Guy Carbonneau liked what he saw from his captain in the preseason opener and was happy to see Koivu get that first game under his belt.
"Even looking back to our first intra-squad game early on in training camp, you could see how much of a weight had been lifted from Saku's shoulders," said Carbonneau. "But I think everyone is feeling reassured tonight, especially Saku. Tonight was another big test for him and I'm glad he pulled through.
"He's a big part of this team," added Carbonneau. "When Saku is playing hard, the guys have no choice but to follow."
Carbonneau wasn't the only one glad to see Koivu in the lineup.
"Saku has a lot of character. He works hard and he's our leader, our captain," reaffirmed Steve Begin. "He answered the call and we obviously need him out there. He suffered a serious injury, but knowing Saku, he'll do everything he possibly can to never let that show."
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com