TORONTO - We're just a few days into the 2019-20 regular season, and it's become clear that across the NHL, the competition for points and jostling for playoff spots is well underway and kicked into high gear.
"Last game, everyone was really excited. Both teams were playing with big hits and playing more of a dump-and-chase to get things going," outlined defenseman Victor Mete. "I feel like so far, even from watching [other games], everyone's been going pretty hard."
Video: Victor Mete on his chemistry with Shea Weber
Given how close the standings were last year, it's no wonder teams across the League are playing each and every game like their lives depended on it.
"The first games are very important. We saw last year that we were a few points away from making the playoffs, after losing some games early in the season," added centerman Phillip Danault. "Those points are really important. There are 82 games and it's not for nothing, each one counts."
Video: Danault on the need to show intensity every game
Facing a fast-skating Maple Leafs team with a high-octane offense, head coach Claude Julien feels his squad is in for a similar test to the one they faced in their season-opening game in Carolina on Thursday.
"I don't see a big difference between tonight's game and the last one. It was another team with a lot of confidence, that played with a lot of speed," outlined the Habs bench boss. "We're going to see a lot of the same style tonight against Toronto. We have to prepare ourselves well, a bit like we did the other night, but we have to come out with a better result."
Danault added that the Habs will keep an eye on the Leafs' defense corps on Saturday.
"It's a bit of the same thing tonight; the defensemen will be very involved," explained the Victoriaville native. "It's important for us centers to support our wingers. It's the only way for us to succeed."
When asked if his team was faster than it was last season Julien wasn't ready to make any definitive assessments, but he does feel that the players on his club are more familiar with one another and are operating as a more cohesive unit as a result.
"I sense that our team is probably further ahead right now than it was at this time last year. It took us a while to really master what we were trying to do," shared Julien. "This year, we have a lot of guys coming back who have played a whole year that way, and I think the transition has been a lot smoother."
Video: Claude Julien's pregame press conference
Rookie Nick Suzuki was still in Junior at this time last year, but has made a smooth transition to the pro's in the early goings. And after a successful NHL debut against the Hurricanes, the London, ON native will get to play his second in his home province in a classic Montreal-Toronto Saturday night classic.
Pretty cool, huh?
"It's going to be a lot of fun. I grew up watching hockey Night in Canada, Leafs-Habs," recounted Suzuki. "It's definitely a dream come true to be in this situation."
With an even bigger spotlight on him, the 20-year-old admitted he might feel the butterflies when he steps out onto the ice, but he's going to do his best to focus on the task at hand.
"It's a bit nerves, a bit excitement. I'll try to treat it as another game, but it's definitely going to be a special one for me," concluded Suzuki.
The Canadiens-Maple Leafs showdown is scheduled for a 7:00 p.m. puck drop at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday.