First of many Hab visits

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 12:31 PM ET

As a kid growing up in Toronto, Michael Peca had plenty of exposure to the rivalry between the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.

But Peca was not about to get all worked up about the idea of becoming an active participant in the storied competition.

"Not really," the Leafs centre said.

"I think I am old enough and aware enough to understand the importance of the rivalry, but I'm just trying to think about the game and getting a win. We've had good starts to our first two games and we want to see that continue."

The Leafs were put through a rigorous practice by coach Paul Maurice yesterday at the Air Canada Centre in preparation for tonight's game versus the Canadiens, but there was one player whose absence was obvious. Sophomore forward Kyle Wellwood, who had a career-high four assists in Ottawa in a 6-0 win against the Senators on Thursday, was not on the ice.

Maurice cautioned against concern, saying Wellwood was "fine"and would play tonight.

"Hurt himself in one of the hugs (after a Toronto goal)," a deadpan Maurice said. "Got squeezed between a couple of big guys."

Thanks to the grand thinking of the NHL schedule-makers who figure that eight games against clubs within the division may lead to better rivalries and not bore people, the Leafs and Canadiens game tonight is the first of eight this season.

It also is the first meeting since last March, when Toronto's playoff hopes were ruined with back-to-back brutal performances in Montreal. Before that double-whammy, the Leafs had beaten the Canadiens in four of the previous six games.

Maurice doesn't really mind the idea of playing divisional opponents so often. And having seen Montreal a few times in the pre-season, he has a handle on what to expect.

"Their speed and their patience," Maurice said when asked what it is about the Canadiens that concerns him.

"Over the years their style has not changed an awful lot. They move the puck side to side very well. And I know they are going to be incredibly disciplined with the guy (former NHL defensive guru and new head coach Guy Carbonneau) behind the bench."

The Habs, who opened their season last night in Buffalo against the Sabres, added speedy Sergei Samsonov in the off-season and he will play with another talented Russian, Alexei Kovalev.

Other newcomers for Montreal include former Leaf Mike Johnson and hot-shot rookie Guillaume Latendresse.

"And they recently got Janne Niinimaa, who I think will help them on the blue line," Peca said.

"They are a team that is high in the skill department. Staying out of the box is going to be a priority for us. Playing five-on-five, we have been solid defensively, and if we continue that and don't allow them big momentum on the power play, we are going to be all right."


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