The Buffalo Sabres brought pretty much what will be their opening-night roster to Montreal last night, and to many people's surprise, the half-staffed Canadiens gave them a serious challenge. There was so much to like about the way the Habs played last night.
Among the kids, Brendan Gallagher had a couple of nice chances, and played a very high-intensity game. Young Nathan Beaulieu made a couple of mistsakes, but he showed offensive flair and poise on the point during the PP, and he played nearly half the game.
Of the returning guys, P.K.Subban was flying, Max Pacioretty and Josh Gorges looked like they'd never been away and David Desharnais showed his typical tenaciousness and creativity. Peter Budaj made enough good saves to make us feel okay about him backing up Carey Price. Jaro Spacek appeared to have picked up a step.
All that is the good news, but, while it was great to see the Habs give Buffalo a good challenge, it didn't answer a few outstanding questions. For example, how much is Travis Moen still able to contribute? Moen has dropped another notch down the forward depth chart with the addition of Erik Cole this year. Last night, he looked awkward with the puck and didn't play a particularly physical game either. He needs to prove he can still make a difference on the ice for the Habs, and that means he has to be better than he was last year. He didn't look any better against Buffalo.
Also of concern is the failure of either Aaron Palushaj or Andreas Engqvist to step up and prove they deserve to be on the big team. There's a spot available, presumably for one of those guys or Brock Trotter, but none of them has yet proven they're ready to be NHL regulars. If none of them wins the job outright, Pierre Gauthier will have to go shopping in a very thinly stocked free agent market.
The hope had been that Engqvist in particular would stand out because the Canadiens desperately need a centreman who can win faceoffs. Again last night they were repeatedly booted from the circle and spent a lot of time chasing the puck after losing draws. With the departure of Jeff Halpern, either Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez need to get better on faceoffs pronto, or Gauthier finds a high-percentage centre somewhere. If Engqvist isn't that guy, the Habs could be in trouble. Faceoffs are important, and the Habs don't win very many of them.
All in all, though, last night's game told us a couple of things about our team. We know they're going to be super fast. We know they'll challenge any team they face. We know the PP will be deadly in a couple of years when Nathan Beaulieu and P.K.Subban are manning the points full time. And we know this is going to be a really fun season.