October 7, 2011
Better luck next time, Habs
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
TORONTO - If the Maple Leafs indeed put an end to a seven-year itch — which, in this case, is the playoff drought that the organization drags around like a sack of bricks — one of the teams they will have to get past, based on last season’s standings, are the Montreal Canadiens.
The Canadiens finished sixth in the Eastern Conference last season with 96 points, 11 more than the Leafs, who were 10th.
And before excitement bubbles over with a 2-0 Leafs victory against their arch-rivals in the season opener on Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre, remember that a year ago, the Leafs beat the visiting Canadiens in the first game.
Following a 32-save performance by Leafs goalie James Reimer, the Canadiens were lamenting what could have been had they capitalized in the first period.
For all of their speed, and there is lots of that, the Canadiens couldn’t finish despite 14 shots on goal.
“When you don’t capitalize, it gives them real life, you know?” Mike Cammalleri, a Richmond Hill native, said in a nearly empty Montreal dressing room.
“When you get shut out it is always somewhat frustrating, but I thought we did some really good things. Overall, I feel pretty good about our game.”
The Canadiens, through the first period and a bit, moved the puck with more authority than the Leafs, especially through the neutral zone. The shifty Canadiens caused problems with their speed, something that Toronto coach Ron Wilson anticipated this week.
The Canadiens had a handful of glorious chances in the first period but Reimer thwarted them at every turn. While Reimer made some sharp saves, bad luck and an inability to close the deal plagued the visitors.
Tomas Plekanec fired a shot at Reimer, and the puck trickled through the goalie and behind him, but it was cleared before it could cross the line.
During another flurry, Erik Cole missed a wide open net, shooting the puck back across the crease. Andrei Kostitsyn was left muttering after he rang a shot off the post.
It wasn’t just immediately in front of Reimer, though, that the Canadiens could not get it done. When Matthew Lombardi scored a short-handed goal 33 seconds into the second period, Max Pacioretty skated past the loose puck. That left Lombardi with an open net as goaltender Carey Price lay prone on the ice.
Price was not overly busy but made perhaps the biggest save through 40 minutes when he snared a re-direct by Joffrey Lupul. With the Leafs on a two-man advantage, Tyler Bozak centred the puck and Lupul got the blade of his stick on it, but Price grabbed the puck out of the air with his glove.
A third-period giveaway by defenceman P.K. Subban enabled the Leafs to gain control of the puck in the neutral zone, and at 4:42, Dion Phaneuf hammered a shot past Price.
A Canadiens power play that was seventh in the NHL last season had nothing to show for five opportunities. The bad penalty killing units that the Leafs employed last year were helped right away by David Steckel, who won the majority of draws he took, taking away the Canadiens’ ability to set up.
The early schedule does not favour the Canadiens as it does the Leafs, who have another four games at the ACC before they hit the road. The Habs returned home for a couple of days of practice before jetting to Winnipeg, there they will play the Jets on Sunday afternoon in one of the biggest hockey games in the history of the province of Manitoba.
As for whether the Leafs will put the Canadiens behind them in a quest to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004, Cammalleri did not want to hear it.
“All I can tell you about tonight is I am not even thinking about that,” Cammalleri said. “That’s a tough question to answer. I’d be lying if I gave you one.”