Change gets Leafs going

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

Paul Maurice changed the Thanksgiving weekend dinner seating for the Maple Leafs, moving Alexei Ponikarovsky closer to the meat and potatoes.

Switching the Ukrainian winger with first liner Jason Blake had the whole bench abuzz, but had the desired effect on Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov, who came from two goals down last night for the season's first win, 4-3 in overtime over the Montreal Canadiens. Tomas Kaberle wired Sundin's third assist of the game past Cristobal Huet with 1:34 remaining in the game.

The Leafs can give thanks for their penalty-killing unit getting them the 2,500th win in franchise history, a perfect 6-for-6, including killing a 4-on-3 with Sundin off in extra time. Vesa Toskala, Antropov, Hal Gill and Ponikarovsky played it textbook. And nary a whisper was heard about shaky goaltending as Toskala made 25 saves for his first win as a Leaf.

"I'm happy for the whole team," Kaberle said. "We could've won (Thursday) in Ottawa. We've been playing well and not getting a result."

The Leafs, 1-1-1, still have plenty to work out in the coming weeks. The power play was 0-for-17 before Kaberle scored, the team was plagued by a sloppy breakout and a series of defensive miscues.

By the second period, Maurice had seen enough of the first line's struggles and made the switch in the second period, after Blake had let Andrei Kostitsyn loose for a 3-1 goal. But Sundin went deep and dug out two pucks for Ponikarovsky.

"Blake, Sundin and Antropov spent a lot of energy in those Ottawa games," Maurice said. "Jason's had a lot going on (since joining the Leafs), and we know Pony and Nik have something special going from last year."

Sundin agreed the coach was sending an uncoded message about his displeasure with the group, though Blake was not miffed at having to take Ponikarovsky's spot with Alex Steen and centre Matt Stajan. After 40 goals last year, Blake is 0-for-3 games with two assists.

"It's not a demotion," Blake insisted. "We have four good lines. We'll see what happens (when the Leafs play Carolina here Tuesday).

"My wife reminded me today that I went the first five games last year without scoring."

Toskala made a few big third-period saves, though got lucky when Alexei Kovalev rang the crossbar in the third.

"Everyone knew he needed one in this building," Maurice said. "It can be a difficult place to play."

Sundin was denied his 390th goal as a Leaf that would've broken Darryl Sittler's franchise record, but the three helpers moved him within one of Sittler's franchise points record of 916.

Ian White supplied the first goal by a Leafs defenceman this year after Mathieu Dandenault put the Habs up one. Andrei Markov scored short-handed as the Toronto power play was held to the outside most of the evening.

Cristobal Huet made his second start in goal for Montreal, trying to fend off the Habs from fast-tracking rookie Casey Price.

The deployment of Price caused a rift of sorts within the Habs. Coach Guy Carbonneau wanted Price back in the AHL in Hamilton, getting plenty of pucks, but given the up-and-down goaltending he saw last year, general manager Bob Gainey wanted Price close at hand.


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