Montreal excites Kaberle

Canadiens defenceman Tomas Kaberle plays the puck against the Devils at the Prudential Center in...

Canadiens defenceman Tomas Kaberle plays the puck against the Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., Dec. 10, 2011. (ANDY MARLIN/NHLI via Getty Images)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:56 AM ET

TORONTO - Tomas Kaberle was sitting in his stall in the visitors’ dressing room a number of years ago, shaking his head in awe at the electricity flowing throughout the raucous Bell Centre.

As part of an assignment for the Toronto Sun at the time, I asked various players around the league to list their favourite rinks in the NHL. For Kaberle, who was a member of the Maple Leafs at the time, the answer was a slam dunk.

“The atmosphere in here easily is the best in the league,” Kaberle said. “We can actually sit in here before warm-ups and hear our fans yelling ‘Go Leafs Go.’ That gets the Montreal fans going. They chant against each other before we’ve even come out for the pre-game skate.

“I would say this is easily my No. 1 road rink.”

Kaberle was being polite. Once the tape-recorder had been shut off and the pad and pen put away, he then let his guard down, admitting that the Bell Centre was No. 1 on his arena list, not just in terms of “road rinks.” He just didn’t want to make that statement publicly, fearful of insulting the Leafs organization, its fans, and those who work at the Air Canada Centre.

Kaberle doesn’t need to hide his feelings anymore. He’s a member of the Canadiens now, joining his fourth team in the past 10 months after being acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes for veteran blueliner Jaroslav Spacek the other day.

The Kaberle acquisition has brought a lot of heat on general manager Pierre Gauthier, who is portrayed in Montreal as making a panic move for an overpaid, underachieving player.

Spacek was in the final year of a contract with a cap hit of $3.833-million US. Kaberle, meanwhile, has two seasons remaining after this one on a deal that features a cap hit of $4.25-million.

The Hurricanes admit the deal was made as a cash dump, with GM Jim Rutherford telling the Raleigh News & Observer on Friday that Kaberle had “not done as well as expected.”

“It’s always tough to hear stuff like that,” Kaberle told reporters after the Habs’ morning skate in New Jersey on Saturday. “I don’t really control what is going on on the outside. I don’t really read papers and stuff like that, but I felt my game was a lot better the last few games.”

Kaberle also confirmed the claims of Hurricanes management that he arrived at training camp overweight after enjoying his summer celebrating his status as a first-time Stanley Cup winner, having helped the Boston Bruins win their first title in 39 years.

“At the start I was a little bit heavier,” Kaberle said. “I lost some weight and I feel a lot better.”

All signs pointed to this transaction being a shipwreck for the bleu-blanc-rouge. While Kaberle was seen as a band-aid replacement for the continuously injured Andre Markov on the Montreal power play, the ex-Leaf had been sputtering in the offensive end, collecting just nine points (all assists) at the time of the trade.

But maybe a change of scenery is what Tomas Kaberle needed.

This particular change of scenery, anyway.

Pulling on the fabled Habs jersey for the first time on Saturday afternoon, Kaberle’s presence paid instant dividends in Montreal’s 2-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at Continental Airlines Arena.

First, he assisted on the Habs’ opening goal, lugging the puck into the Devils’ end on the power play before starting a three-way, tic-tac-toe passing play with Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty that ended with the latter beating Martin Brodeur for a 1-0 Montreal lead.

Then, early in the third period, Kaberle notched his second point of the game, assisting on a Cole goal that proved to be the game-winner.

“He addresses our need of a quarterback on the power play,” coach Jacques Martin said after the game.

Kaberle understands the microscope he is under.

“Another Original Six team,” he said. “I know the pressure that’s on me but I like the challenge.”

He certainly answered the bell on Saturday.

Now it’s off to the Bell Centre for his home debut on Tuesday against the Islanders.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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