Canadiens’ Home-Opener Against Maple Leafs Will Be Good Litmus Test

Game One will Show How Much the Young Core Has Developed

The Montreal Canadiens may not want to discuss the p-word (playoffs) just yet and with the club projected to finish as the 28th-best team by ESPN, the team has nowhere to go but up. Their first game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 9 will be a good opening test. 

When it comes to off-season moves, Montreal has remained relatively quiet, with the most notable signing being that of Juraj Slafkovský inking an eight-year extension worth $7.6 million annually. The front office has expressed the desire to land a proven veteran scorer for a temporary tenure, but nothing has come to fruition thus far.

Their original-six rivals, Toronto Maple Leafs, have filled the gaps from players who have left in free agency. That being the acquisitions of Chris Tanev, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Anthony Stolarz.

Apart from the signings, Toronto looks to be running it back with the core four from last season. Hypothetically, if the two teams don’t execute any significant transactions going forward, the Canadiens home opener will be an ideal test to see how far the young movement has developed.

What works in the Leafs' favour is that a lot of contending teams have lost talent this off-season while Toronto has remained the same. It doesn’t necessarily mean the same for Montreal. For the Canadiens to have a good regular season, they need to prove that they can match up with strong and weaker teams.

The Canadiens don’t necessarily have to win the opener to showcase how much they’ve grown, but they need to stay competitive for all 60 minutes of play. There are a few questions that need to be answered: Will the top line of Nick Suzuki-Cole Caufield-Slafkovský improve on their solid 2023-24 campaign? Who will be the third forward alongside Kirby Dach and Alex Newhook, and can the trio display sound chemistry? Can the Habs' defence limit the number of shots fired at Sam Montembeault, and can he be consistent in goal?

The latter of the questions is of most interest. In last year’s opener, Toronto outshot Montreal 42 to 24. The game remained close, ending 6-5 in favour of the Leafs, but Jake Allen had a stellar performance in a month that saw him take home the Molson Cup. With Allen gone, and Montembeault taking the reins—or rather, the crease—it will be important to see how he approaches opening day.