Maple Leafs lose season opener on late goal by Canadiens’ Josh Anderson

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MONTREAL — There’s no disputing that the Montreal Canadiens have the best pregame ceremonies in the National Hockey League, usually events full of pomp and just the right touch.

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Wednesday night at the Bell Center was no different before the 2022-23 regular season opener against the Maple Leafs. The loudest cheers came for injured goalkeeper Carey Price, although a response for new captain Nick Suzuki was not far behind.

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Once the game started, the newly promoted Canadiens had something in store for the Maple Leafs, and it was the unexpected.

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The Canadiens won 4-3, scoring the decisive goal with 18.4 seconds left in the third period. After a pass to Jake Muzzin, Josh Anderson fired past Matt Murray, sending the raucous crowd into a frenzy.

That capped a generally uneven effort by the Leafs. The Leafs, who host the Washington Capitals at home on Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena, will need to do better to register their first win of the season.

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Montreal appeared to have the win late in the game when Sean Monahan beat a pouncing Murray at 17:30 of the third.

But the Leafs tied the game at 18:10 when William Nylander took a pass from John Tavares and fired a shot past goaltender Jake Allen.

Canadiens' Juraj Slafkowski (left) is tripped by Maple Leafs' Rasmus Sandin during the first period in Montreal, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. PIERRE OBENDRAUF/POSTMEDIA NETWORK
Canadiens’ Juraj Slafkowski (left) is tripped by Maple Leafs’ Rasmus Sandin during the first period in Montreal, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. PIERRE OBENDRAUF/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Although the Canadiens iced a defense corps that lacked much experience — Kaiden Guhle and Arber Xhekaj were making their NHL debuts and the Montreal D-men had a combined 932 NHL games on their collective resumes, compared to 1,024 for the Leafs’ Mark Giordano — Toronto did not take advantage of.

Coach Sheldon Keefe talked in the morning about the importance of the Canadiens’ and Allen’s emphasis on defense, but it didn’t happen with any consistency. The Leafs were never able to sustain the pressure at any point in the game. The power play, meanwhile, was ineffective, going 0-for-4.

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Toronto boasted improved structure, but then gave up too many odd shots.

The Leafs had several great chances to take the lead heading into the third period. Instead, the game was tied 2-2 as the clubs skated on the ice for the final 20 minutes of regular time.

Alex Kerfoot missed the first penalty shot of his NHL career, called at 17:20 of the second when he was tripped by Jekai.

Earlier in the period, Auston Matthews and Dennis Malgin both hit the post, while Allen made some great glove saves on Nylander.

The Canadians thought they might have taken a 3-2 lead with seconds before Kerfoot’s penalty kick, but a lengthy review showed the puck didn’t cross the goal line on an attempt to wrap up Kirby Dach. Credit goes to Murray for getting over the line to deny the Montreal forward. Not so much for Nicolas Aubameyang’s sloppy play that led to the chance.

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Cole Coffield, dangerous all night, tied the game 33 seconds into the second period. After Morgan Rielly was caught on the ice, Caufield covered a pass from Nick Suzuki on a two-on-one.

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Malgin turned his good preseason into his first goal with the Leafs, putting a loose puck into the open net at 9:06 of the second. It was the first NHL goal for Malgin, who has spent the last two seasons in Switzerland, since January 18, 2020, when he was with the Florida Panthers.

Caffield’s quick wrists ensured Toronto’s lead was short. At 15:56, Cofield fired a shot over Murray’s left shoulder after carrying the puck into the Leafs end.

Before the game, Matthews was asked about Coffield.

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“I really like his game,” Matthews said. “Really smart player. He has a really great shot and he can use that and find that quiet space to get him out. He’s a guy that we have to keep a key on and make sure we’re aware of when he’s out there because he doesn’t need a lot to make his shots.”

The Leafs’ desire to get into a rhythm was halted early in the game as Toronto picked up two Cubs within the first six minutes. Each one was killed without being too taxing, however, and Murray only had to make one tough save on those penalties, which came on a one-time glove save by Caufield.

A third Leafs penalty was partially nullified when Montreal’s Chris Wideman was called for interference.

Mitch Marner’s puck trickery led to the first goal at 11:41 of the first. After escaping a check and making a few moves behind the Canadiens net, Marner fed Bunting, who found some open space and fired a quick shot past Allen. TJ Broady also assisted, putting Marner’s puck deep in the Montreal end.

Murray finished the first period with eight saves. Allen stopped seven Leafs shots in the first 20 minutes.

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