Despite only getting one point in a game in which the Leafs led 2-1 heading into the third this game was encouraging. Montreal will be one of the teams that the Leafs will have to beat to 8th place despite their lofty expectations (it's true, ask a Habs fan!) and for most of the game the Leafs dictated the pace of the game.
The Leafs used a strong forecheck to wreak havoc among the Habs' rearguards and frequently created goal-scoring chances from turnovers. The Peca, Steen, Kilger line seems to have settled together to give the Leafs at least two complete lines. O'Neill continued his incremental improvement. He played a much more rambunctious game and got himself into good scoring positions. He did not score tonight but it looks like it is coming along. Baby steps for the Phoenix.
As much as the Habs are labelled as a speedster team the Leafs were able to skate with them the entire game. Mats has yet to break his goose egg but it was not for a lack of effort (7 shots tonight) and it was more a case of David Aebischer giving Montreal a goaltender controversy with his standout play. He stood on his head during the Leafs' powerplay which looked amazing. Wellwood and Kaberle pulled the strings nicely and all that stood between the Leafs and another blowout was the Habs' goaltender's strong effort. Not to be outdone Andrew Raycroft continued to make JFJ's gamble look good. He came up with three massive saves on a late Montreal powerplay. Highly-touted Habs' super rookie Guillaum Latendresse, clearly excited by the rumour that David Beckham will eventually move to the MLS, demonstrated his love for soccer with the sort of dive that would not have looked out of place in a Serie A game. It was literally his only contribution. So much for being better than the Leafs' young guns.
Unfortunately, the shootout ended in familiar fashion when the Habs won on Michael Ryder's sudden death goal. The big difference from last year was that the Leafs' shooters looked like scoring on each shot.
The highlight of the broadcast, though, had nothing to do with the game. Don Cherry used Coach's Corner to lambast Toronto Star writer and professional Chicken Little Damien Cox for writing that no one knew that Wellwood would be a good fit on Mats' wing. He then showed us clips from last October and March when he said that not only was Wellwood suited for the new NHL but that his hands were perfect to complement the captain and a move to the wing would be easy. Don Cherry the visionary. It is hard to be humble Grapes.
Maple Leaf Goals
The Leafs powerplay was dominant tonight and this first goal was a great example. The puck was zipped around, recovered and finally found its way to Darcy Tucker, who continued his strong play with a series of hits, via a Kyle Wellwood pass.
Local boy Matt Stajan gave the Leafs the lead by scrambling home a bouncing puck. The Leafs' forecheck kept the Habs pinned in their zone before the puck fell to Stajan's stick and he slid it under a sprawling Habs defenceman.
And as always, the part where some journalists show that they have watched the games and others sort of glossed over the highlights, it's...
The Final Word
Against 17 enemy power plays in three games, the Leafs have allowed just two goals and scored once shorthanded. In the first three games last season, five power plays goals were scored on Belfour on 16 opposition extra-strength situations. Goaltending and efficient penalty killing, inextricably linked, will still get most teams a lot further in today's high-speed NHL than loosey-goosey offence. This season, they've already been worth one encouraging point for these refurbished Leafs.
Damien Cox, Toronto Star, showing that sometimes he watches the games before writing about the Leafs.
The Leafs seemed headed for a win before a former player tied it. Johnson, who began his career in Toronto, scored at 6:47 of the third period, snapping a shot from the high slot that beat Raycroft stick side. The play began with centre Radek Bonk hitting Leafs defenceman Hal Gill behind the net and getting the puck out to Johnson, who netted his first in a Montreal uniform after coming over in a trade from Phoenix this summer.
Pierre Lebrun, Canadian Press, jumping in with the 'Blame Hal Gill' crowd despite highlights showing that Ian White was the one that got hit and coughed up the puck. Attaboy Pierre, change your reality! I think Fox News just called you.