The Leafs travelled to Montreal to pay their respects at the grave of their 2005-2006 playoff aspirations. This year's playoff hopes got a boost as the Leafs stopped a 3 game slide with a 5-4 shootout win. They might have blown another 3rd period lead but there was a lot to like about this game.
The domination was achieved on the basis of a return to the effort and tactics that had fans laughing at pre-season declarations of doom. They had a suffocating forecheck, they won most of the races to the puck, they fired shots from every angle and crashed the net, and they played in simple in their own end. Sure, those are all cliched keys to victory but things are cliches because they are so prevalent and true.
The game followed to pattern of the team's earlier meeting down to the domination for 50-odd minutes followed by a few minutes of madness and a shootout. This game was actually much more total domination than the game in Toronto as the Leafs, despite firing 51 pucks on net, could not score the fifth goal that would have killed the game. Unlike that previous game David Aebischer was not able to steal the extra point for the Habs in the shootout as first Tomas Kaberle and then five shooters later Kyle Wellwood made the poor Swiss tender look porous as they deked him completely out of his jockstrap.
Matt Stajan continued his strong play and the difference between him as a rookie and now is remarkable. He has been one of the team's best forwards this season. J-S Aubin did well in dealing with what little offence the Habs created (not great but ok) but he saved his best work for the shootout where he kept the Habs shooters at bay until a rejuvenated Kyle Wellwood (he had looked a little jaded the past three games) showed that he should always be in the shootout with a lovely deke.
The real star of the game, though, was the team's #1 defencemen, Tomas Kaberle. Kaberle had the kind of game that we had been waiting to see as he put up four points. Of course, three of those were goals to give him the first hat-trick by a Leafs' defenceman since Borje Salming potted three in the 1981-82 season. To call a Kaberle hat-trick a surprise (you have to shoot to score right?) is an understatement. To call his shootout move a surprise is to misunderestimate his abilities. Maybe he merits a spot in the shootout list next time.
The Leafs continue their road trip with a traditionally point-friendly jaunt through the Southeast Division. Their first game is tonight against a Thrashers' team that the Leafs just obliterated 9-1 early last season and dominated in the other 3 meetings. Unfortunately, they have replaced their shooter tutor with Kari Lehtonen and they possess Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa so the Leafs would be well advised to give a repeat performance of the first 50 minutes of Saturday's game with a 10-minute bonus scene where they don't cough up the lead.
The Final Word
When the Toronto Maple Leafs allowed a two-goal lead to slip away with less than seven minutes remaining in regulation time, it appeared the old adage when it rains, it pours had reared its ugly head for the struggling club.
Tim Wharnsby, Globe and Mail, capturing the shared dread of Leafs' fans that their Hallowe'en parties would be ruined. Kaberle and Wellwood ensured a fun night out for Toronto.
C'est congÃ© aujourd'hui pour les joueurs du Canadien. Ceux qui ont la foi, ne serait-ce qu'un petit peu, devraient aller saluer le bon Dieu pour le point arrachÃ© aux Maple Leafs de Toronto, hier soir, au Centre Bell.
Francois Gagnon, La Presse, suggesting that the Montreal Canadiens spend some time in church thanking God for getting a point after being played out of the Bell Centre for 53 minutes.