TORONTO — Even though Montreal Canadiens players bristle at the notion that their success is driven by Carey Price, the goaltender provided another reminder of that at the start of a new season.
Price made 36 saves as the Canadiens beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 Wednesday night in the season opener.
The Leafs controlled much of the play and outshot the Habs 37-30 in the first regular-season game under new coach Mike Babcock. But Price, the reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy winner, was there to stop the puck almost every time.
The only goal Toronto got past Price was on an impossible deflection in front of the net off James van Riemsdyk’s left skate.
Price’s dominance is nothing new to Montreal or the NHL. Last season he set the franchise record with 44 victories and had a league-leading 1.96 goals-against average and .933 save percentage.
With Price sharp, all the Habs needed was some timely offence and they got it against the Leafs.
Newly anointed captain Max Pacioretty scored on Montreal’s first shot against Jonathan Bernier a few minutes in, the first goal of the 2015-16 NHL season. Alex Galchenyuk scored the game winner 12:02 into the third period, and Pacioretty added an empty netter.
While Price was at his best, Bernier looked shaky. Not only did he allow Pacioretty’s initial shot to hit him, go over him and in but he fought the puck all night and gave up many juicy rebounds.
Bernier finished with 27 saves, but the rebound on Galchenyuk’s winner epitomized his night.
Habs defenceman P.K. Subban appeared to suffer a left leg injury a couple of minutes later when he was boarded by Leo Komarov. Subban stretched his leg out on the bench and tested it several times during stoppages of play but stayed in the game.
The Leafs had a much better effort in Babcock’s coaching debut but couldn’t manufacture the goals against Price.
Babcock made some history Wednesday night, too, initiating the first coach’s challenge in NHL history. Jeff Petry appeared to score in the second period, but Babcock challenged that Tomas Plekanec interfered with Bernier.
The referees looked at replays and ruled that Plekanec did interfere with Bernier, so the goal was taken off the board.
Notes — Defenceman Matt Hunwick, signed to a one-year contract July 1, was one of the alternate captains for the Leafs, along with Tyler Bozak. … Several Blue Jays players were in attendance as the Leafs honoured the franchise’s first playoff team since 1993.
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Stephen Whyno, The Canadian Press