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Celebrating a century in Montreal

by John Kreiser
Maybe Alex Tanguay and Robert Lang should have worn Nos. 755 and 756 when they stepped onto the ice in Buffalo on Friday night for the opening game of the Montreal Canadiens' 100th season

Tanguay, who actually wore No. 13, and Lang (No. 20), two of the Canadiens' offseason acquisitions, joined 754 other players who have suited up for the Canadiens since the NHL's oldest franchise was founded in 1909 — eight years before the NHL was formed. Georges Laraque figures to be No. 757 after he recovers from a groin injury; his first appearance with the Canadiens could come as early as the home opener against Boston on Oct. 15.

Of the 754 players, Reg Abbott, who played three games in 1952-53, is first alphabetically; Dainius Zubrus, now with New Jersey, is last (and no one whose last name starts with an "X" has ever played for the team). In all, 44 of those 754 men have been enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame (including Dick Duff and Patrick Roy this year), and 14 have had their numbers retired; Roy's No. 33 will make it 15 on Nov. 22.

Roy is one of 76 goaltenders who've suited up for Montreal over the years. Jacques Plante was the busiest (556 games played, five more than Roy) and most successful (314 victories, the only Montreal netminder to reach the 300-win mark), though Ken Dryden has by far the best regular-season winning percentage (258-57-74. .758). Montreal goaltenders have won the Vezina Trophy 28 times, more than any other franchise, and own 450 shutouts.

No franchise comes close to the Canadiens' 24 Stanley Cups (23 as a member of the NHL). In all, 209 players have celebrated at least one Cup as a Canadien. Montreal has won a record 90 playoff series, including 28 sweeps.

Saku Koivu is the Habs' 27th captain, and will become second in tenure when he steps onto the ice in Buffalo. Koivu is beginning his ninth season wearing the "C" — passing Butch Bouchard and Bob Gainey, both of whom were captain for eight seasons. Only Jean Beliveau, who was captain for 10 seasons from 1961-62 through 1970-71, has had the captaincy for longer.

Though the Canadiens are by far the NHL's most successful franchise, they played their opener against one of the few teams to have much success against them. The Sabres have a 101-95-31-3 mark against Montreal for 236 points in 230 games after Friday's 2-1 shootout victory. The Canadiens are 98-95-31-6 for 233 points. Of all the teams the Canadiens have played 100 or more times, the Sabres are the only one that has earned more than half of the available points.

Still perfect — Any team that wants to win its season-opener in 2009-10 might be advised to refrain from playing the New York Rangers, at least as long as Tom Renney is coaching.

Renney led the Rangers to a 2-1 season-opening victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning last Saturday in the first game of Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008-Prague. He's now won all six openers as an NHL coach — two with Vancouver and the last four seasons with the Rangers. No other active coach is unbeaten in more than two games.
Renney needs to win next year's opener to match the NHL mark for winning season openers without a loss. Lester Patrick led the Rangers to opening-night wins in the franchise's first seven seasons (1926-27 through 1932-33). Tommy Ivan and Toe Blake also won their first seven openers.

Deuces wild — By sweeping Tampa Bay in Prague, the Rangers also became the first NHL team to win both games when opening the season outside North America.

The NHL has opened its season in Japan three times (1998, 1999 and 2000), as well as last year in England and this year's forays to Stockholm and Prague. Before this year, three series ended in splits and Calgary went 1-0-1 against San Jose in Tokyo to open the 1999-2000 season. The Rangers beat Tampa Bay twice in Prague while Ottawa and Pittsburgh split, with the Senators' loss coming in overtime.

The Rangers are also only the third team since expansion to open the season with back-to-back victories while scoring two or fewer goals. Florida started the 2005-06 season with consecutive 2-0 shutouts of Atlanta and Tampa Bay, while the 2003-04 Phoenix Coyotes beat St. Louis 2-1 in overtime and then blanked Anaheim 2-0. The Coyotes actually won their first three without breaking the two-goal mark — their third game was a 2-1 win over the Panthers.

All even — Toronto's season-opening 3-2 win at Detroit on Thursday not only spoiled the Red Wings' opening-night celebration, it pulled the teams even in their all-time season. The Wings and Leafs now have met 641 times in the regular season; each team has 274 victories and 274 losses (including overtime losses), while 93 games have ended in a tie.

Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood also played in his first season-opener for the Wings in eight years, the longest such gap in franchise history. Osgood started every Detroit opener from 1996 to 2000, then played on opening night for the Islanders in 2001 and 2002 and for the St. Louis Blues in 2003. He watched Manny Legace play for the Wings in 2005 and Dominik Hasek in 2006 and 2007.

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