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Shea Weber puts on game face for Canadiens

Goal, big check, Halloween mask highlight defenseman's Montreal debut

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- It's a little early to say that Montreal Canadiens fans have fallen in love with Shea Weber. But it's safe to suggest they have a strong crush on the big defenseman following his solid debut at Bell Centre on Thursday.

Weber scored in a 6-1 preseason win against the Toronto Maple Leafs, had a game-high seven shots, two hits and three blocked shots, and played 25:24, second-most on either team behind Montreal defenseman Nathan Beaulieu (26:05).

In the end, it was a successful maiden bow on the Montreal stage for the 31-year-old who was traded to the Canadiens on June 29 from the Nashville Predators for hugely popular defenseman P.K. Subban, a shuffle whose aftershocks continue to be felt in this city and likely will be for a long time to come.

"It was good; it's always good to win and finish off [the preseason] the right way," Weber said. "I was just trying to get accustomed to all my new teammates. The transition has been pretty easy so far. Next week will be taking some more steps and doing a lot more things."

Weber and the Canadiens have a week to prepare for their season-opener, on the road next Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres.

The plan probably wasn't for Weber to get this much ice time in his first game, but a first-period injury to defenseman Jeff Petry shortened the bench. Weber said jokingly that this training camp of one game was either the shortest of his career or the longest, "depending on which way you look at it," following the intense World Cup of Hockey 2016 championship run with Team Canada.

Video: TOR@MTL: Weber finds back of the net from blue line

You couldn't tell the raucous crowd that this preseason game didn't really count. Of vital importance and in sharp focus was the return of Montreal goaltender Carey Price, along with Weber's debut.

Price led the Canadiens onto the rink for the warmup, Weber following ahead of only backup goalie Mike Condon and veteran center Tomas Plekanec, who's always last out.

Much louder was the reaction when the Canadiens skated out for the start of the game, each announced in the starting six.

Price hadn't played in his home arena since a season-ending knee injury last November, and Weber hadn't yet taken a shift in a Canadiens jersey.

Of course, Montreal fans enjoyed a good look at them in recent weeks, when Weber and Price starred for Team Canada.

On Thursday, the ice still wet, Weber muscled Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov out of Price's goal crease, a gesture the goalie will appreciate when the puck is dropped for real next week. The two skaters would meet again midway through the first period, when Weber flattened Komarov at the Toronto blue line.

"I was [in a bad spot]," Weber admitted sheepishly of the thunderous check. "I was flat-footed and [Komarov] was coming at me. It was the only thing I could do."

Not that any of the roaring fans much cared how or why the check was delivered. Even a few hours before Weber skated into action, he was as large as life in this city.

There he was in the Bell Centre boutique, sort of, standing beside Price, the very lifelike nylon faces of the players on mannequins that wore Canadiens hoodies. Price was smiling, in sharp contrast to the almost snarl on Weber's mug.

"Halloween," a store clerk said brightly.

"How great would it be," it was suggested to Weber after the game, as he saw his mask for the first time, "for you to go trick-or-treating wearing your own mask, then take it off at someone's door and still be wearing the same face?"

Weber grimaced at the look of himself, calling it "the creepiest thing I've ever seen," then laughed and said, "I should wear it. No one would ever imagine it's me under it."

It was pushing late afternoon Thursday, 99 days to the hour since The Trade -- it's a proper noun in Montreal -- when Weber was going about the business of getting ready for the Maple Leafs as he does for any opponent: home after the day morning skate, a bite to eat, a nap, then back to the rink, this time carpooling with some teammates from the city's South Shore.

It was a magnificent early autumn afternoon, not a cloud in the sky. You couldn't have said the same of the summer afternoon of June 29, when Montreal nearly swallowed itself whole in first-blush reaction to The Trade.

As Subban was about to speak by teleconference from Paris, where he was vacationing, a huge black cloud rolled over Mount Royal in downtown and the skies opened with biblical rain. The tears of the hockey gods, a few melodramatic fans claimed.

All that Weber has done is bring what Canadiens management and fans hope he will provide this season and for years to come: leadership on the back end and in the locker room, a dependable zone exit, tremendous physical force, and some offense.

For much of this game, he was talking on the bench with defense partner Beaulieu and others on his new team.

"You try to help each other out as much as you can and discuss different plays," Weber said. "They're all new guys to me, so I'm trying to get used to their tendencies, talk with them, see what they like to do and tell them what I like to do. Hopefully we'll get comfortable and work on some more stuff in practice.

"We played a fast game tonight. We did a lot of good things. If we clean up a few areas in front of the big guy (Price), we'll be good."

On this night, as first impressions go, it was a dandy.

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