Hoping white is all right

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

Convinced their home record must be some kind of terrible typo, the Maple Leafs are using the white-out tonight against the Montreal Canadiens.

In trying to avoid losing for the eighth time in 11 games at the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs will be in their road whites, a pre-arranged request with the National Hockey League for the 753rd regular season/playoff meeting with the Habs, who are wearing their full bleu, blanc et rouge ensemble. But the numbers suggest the wardrobe change is a sly one on the Leafs' part.

They are 3-4-3 at home in blue, and 3-3-1 away in white, including Nov. 2 when they topped the Habs in the Bell Centre, an emotional 3-2 win that improved them to 10-4-4 overall against Montreal since the lockout ended.

"That's an old junior hockey trick, saying 'we forgot our (unlucky) sweaters,' " coach Paul Maurice said yesterday.

But joking aside, if Toronto really has a hex on the Habs it's best served using every trick in the book. The Leafs have to make up the points they have squandered in winable home games, sloppy third periods, shootouts and poor defence.

NO EXCUSES

"There are no excuses, especially with Montreal coming in," said Matt Stajan, the late-game hero in the previous meeting.

"The emotion will be there. We have to climb over that .500 level and get on a roll."

Toronto has only one set of back-to-back wins this year, both on the road. It gets its first look at Habs rookie sensation Carey Price in net after Cristobal Huet allowed late goals in the earlier matches.

The Leafs could always sit back and just let Tomas Kaberle do the work. When it comes to the Habs, he's a Czech wrecking crew, with 37 points in 43 games, including two goals this year. Of his 66 career goals, Kaberle has 11 versus Montreal.

The Leafs could make three lineup changes tonight, topped by Marlies callup Staffan Kronwall making his 2007-08 debut on the blue line in place of the injured Pavel Kubina.

Left winger Chad Kilger was the first on the ice yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena, but it might be a case of hurry up and wait. When practice began, he was on a line with recent scratches John Pohl and Wade Belak, while Bates Battaglia replaced him on the fourth line with Mark Bell and Darcy Tucker.

Vesa Toskala had flu-like symptoms and was excused from practice with Scott Clemmensen replacing him. If Toskala can't go tonight, Andrew Raycroft will start with Clemmensen backing him up on emergency recall.

A glum Kubina stopped by the rink yesterday, with undetermined damage to the MCL in his right knee.

"He's out indefinitely, but he's proven to be a quick healer," a hopeful Maurice said.

The coach wondered if he jinxed himself after Buffalo when he observed how smoothly the Leafs ran with a full lineup.

"Keep that tape, it's probably the last time I'll say it," he said ruefully. "Pavel was taking more minutes in each game, he was (hitting) in our end and picking up some points (11 in 18 games). Now he'll have higher expectations when he comes back."

This will be Kronwall's chance to show he belongs after last year's early-season ankle injury ruined the good impression he'd made in 34 games in 2005-06.

At nearly 6-foot-4, Kronwall is about as tall as Kubina, with a longer stick reach, though not as offensive-minded.

"The new (obstruction) rules work well for me," Kron-wall said. "I'm not overly aggressive, I try and use my body to keep the puck moving. This is a big test for me."


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