BROSSARD – For a record-setting 15th time, the Canadiens will open their season against their eternal rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
During the morning skate, head coach Michel Therrien ran his players through a series of drills emphasizing puck control and shooting, no doubt the two keys to success in Tuesday night’s game against a physical squad.
Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle will undoubtedly have his team looking to play an aggressive brand of hockey, and Therrien’s troops appear ready and willing to counter on the power play if the game gets chippy.
“The Leafs will play their game, we’re going to play our game,” offered Therrien, who will ice a fourth line featuring Travis Moen, Brandon Prust and George Parros to give his team a fighting chance if the gloves come off.
Still, the Habs bench boss knows that victory most often comes from playing to one’s own strengths.
“It’s always a good rivalry. But at the end of the day, discipline will be really important. We’re a tough team to play against because of our style, so we don’t want to change. Our focus has to be in the right place,” insisted Therrien.
A few hours away from his first opening-night experience, sophomore right winger Brendan Gallagher is relishing the opportunity to kick off the season by revisiting a historic rivalry.
“It’s always fun when you play Toronto, [with] the history that comes with these two franchises. Both teams hate each other and we’re not going to hide that. It always makes for an intense and competitive and entertaining game. I’m sure it will be the same storyline tonight,” mentioned the scrappy forward.
It will also be a chance for Gallagher to erase one of the few disappointments from his rookie season, as the lone tilt the 21-year-old didn’t suit up for in 2012-13 was the first one of the year against Toronto.
“It’s going to be exciting, obviously. Sitting out the opening game last year was tough, but you learn from it and you enjoy the moment. Being part of it tonight will be pretty cool. For us, it will be important to block out all the distractions and to play our game and to do what we’ve been talking about all week and execute our game plan. If we do that, we’ll be fine,” explained Gallagher.
Josh Gorges is another player who emphasized the importance of imposing the team’s up-tempo style on its opponents. Tuesday night marks the start of his eighth season in Montreal, but it’s safe to say that playing for a 104-year-old franchise still sends shivers down his spine.
“There’s always a little bit of nerves [playing in Montreal]. I believe that if you’re not nervous before a game, there’s something wrong. It pushes you a little harder, makes you focus and gets you excited. You just want to get out there, get that first shift out of the way, and start playing,” opined the assistant captain.
Lining up next to P.K. Subban, the blue liner will look to continue playing a solid, dependable brand of hockey in all situations, just as he has done for the 398 regular season games in which he’s donned a Canadiens uniform.
“The intensity is always a little bit greater when you play the Leafs. It’s always a big game. I’m sure they’re as excited to get going as we are. There’s a little bit of hate between the two teams, so it’ll be a fun game for sure,” asserted Gorges.
Given the recent and not-so-recent history between the two Original Six franchises, there will almost certainly be some fireworks to look forward to.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.
Game preview: Maple Leafs @ Canadiens
Something to prove