BUFFALO - The Canadiens kicked the season off on the right foot in Buffalo.
Starting strong with a two-goal game from Brendan Gallagher, a 30-save performance from Al Montoya, 10 different players finding their way onto the scoresheet, and two points in the standings, Thursday night went about as well as the Habs could have expected in the season opener.
After winning three of their final four preseason games before heading to Buffalo to open the campaign, the Canadiens were clearly clicking right from the opening puck drop at the KeyBank Center. Gallagher broke the ice for the visitors less than halfway through the first period, opening the floodgates for an eventual 4-1 win over the Sabres.
"I like it as a start. Guys had the right mentality, sticking up for each other. [There were] a lot of selfless plays out there," said captain Max Pacioretty, who finished with an assist to go with a plus-2 plus/minus differential. "Blocked shots, taking hits to make a play. That's our motto for this team: no matter who you are in the lineup, you have to do whatever it takes to help the team win. This team has the right mindset."
Video: MTL@BUF: Gallagher fires wrister in off post
A testament to the team's depth, no forward cracked the 20-minute mark in ice time on Thursday, and no one in the lineup saw less than double-digit minutes in their night's work. Scoring two goals in his 14:50 of ice time, Gallagher made the most of his 21 shifts on Thursday night. While his workload was a little lighter than he's used to, he sees that as a positive sign - and a potential recipe for success.
"We're a team that relies on playing four-line hockey because we're trying to use our speed and we need to be fresh," mentioned Gallagher, referencing the strong play of Torrey Mitchell and Paul Byron, among others. "All four lines contributed. We were pressing. It started with a big shift from Davey's [David Desharnais] line to start it off and then Pleky's [Tomas Plekanec] line followed, and then Mitchy's line went out and did a great job. Four lines were rolling and I was the benefactor of it. As a group, shift after shift, we did a good job and eventually they cracked."
Despite managing to light the lamp a collective four times in Buffalo, the Habs aren't getting ahead of themselves after picking up a "W" in Game 1. Using the lessons learned last season as a cautionary tale, they're instead looking at Thursday's victory as a building block and a blueprint for the way they want to play for the remaining 81.
"It's definitely nice to get a win, but one of the things we learned last year is it's only a start," warned Gallagher, referencing the Canadiens' 9-0-0 start to the 2015-16 season that ended with the Habs finishing the year near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. "Game by game, you have to have the same focus. There are definitely areas to improve. Obviously there were spurts in the second period where we didn't play very good hockey and we relied on big Al [Montoya] back there to bail us out and he certainly did a good job. There are areas to improve, but we're happy with how the team looked."
"Big Al's" biggest save of the night may have been his stop on a shorthanded Evander Kane breakaway attempt in the first period to help maintain a 1-0 lead.
Video: MTL@BUF: Montoya denies Kane's breakaway in 1st
"My focus is on making that first save, and I think that's all I really had to do tonight," said Montoya, who kicked aside 30 of the 31 shots he faced. "The defense was great, the penalty kill was great, and the guys really let me see the puck tonight."
While he likely wasn't expecting to see action this early in the season when he signed on to play a backup role to Carey Price, Montoya was ready to answer the call when the All-World netminder came down with the flu and was forced to skip the trip to Buffalo.
"There were a bit of nerves coming in. it's always sweet to come in and play that first game for your team. You just hope to give them a chance and that's all my plan was," confirmed Montoya, who may get a second-consecutive start on Saturday as Price continues to recover from his illness. "I wasn't trying to steal the game - I've got a good team in front of me and they were fun to watch tonight. The way they cycle the puck, the way they break it out so smoothly. At times, it seemed flawless. We hope to build off that.
"I'll enjoy this one for a little bit," he added. "But then you just prepare for the next one.