The Maple Leafs should have marched out of the Air Canada Centre right behind the 48th Highlanders when the opening ceremony ended last night.
Fresh off a surprising 3-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena, the Leafs returned home and laid an egg the size of Etobicoke.
They had a couple of chances early, but after failing to capitalize, completely fell apart, dropping the regular season home opener, 6-1, to the fleet and creative Montreal Canadiens.
"You can't have four or five guys not play hard when you play a great team like that," a sombre Toronto head coach Ron Wilson said. "We had everybody going the other night (in Detroit) and for whatever reason, first-night jitters at home, whatever you can think of, it just wasn't there (last night). We had to be as ready as we were against Detroit, and we weren't."
The euphoria from the Detroit win disappeared as quickly as a bag of peanuts on an Air Canada flight. Montreal jumped ahead 2-0 after the opening period and 6-1 after two. Too many Canadiens goals were the result of ill-timed Toronto penalties, along with weak coverage in front of goaltender Vesa Toskala -- who mercifully was pulled at the start of the third for Curtis Joseph.
Forward Alex Steen said the loss clearly demonstrated that the rebuilding Leafs will not win a lot of games if they don't play disciplined hockey.
"We've got to get in their face a little bit more, the forecheck wasn't as good, because we were one step behind them," Steen said. "It is important for us to see how hard we have to work night in and night out and we have to compete every night in order to play against teams like Detroit and Montreal."
Two of Montreal's goals, and the two yielded in Detroit, were the result of the Toronto defence not taking out the man in front of Toskala.
The Toronto blueline, supposedly the club's strong suit, certainly was exposed in Game 2 of the regular season. Newcomers Jonas Frogren and Luke Schenn looked slow and lost at times and had trouble keeping up with Montreal's speed. But they certainly weren't the only ones. In fact, Wilson insisted that Schenn was the best Toronto defenceman on the ice.
"It wasn't our young players tonight who laid an egg, it was some of the veteran guys who will probably want to say that it was the young guys who didn't get the job done," Wilson said. "But some people have to step up in a situation like that and lead. You just can't go off on your own plan when you get behind in a game, and that's exactly what we did."
Veteran Toronto forward Matt Stajan, who has been relegated to fourth-line duties, allowed the floodgates to open in the second period when he took a four-minute high-sticking penalty, resulting in power play goals by Sergei Kostitsyn and Alex Tanguay, and a 4-0 Montreal lead.
It seems probable that Stajan may sit tomorrow in favour of the recently reinstated Ryan Hollweg when the St. Louis Blues touch down at the ACC. But Stajan certainly wasn't the only Leaf who had a weak game. Time and again, the blue and white took bad penalties. The Habs scored three power-play goals in the second and had a jump in their step, despite playing the night before in Buffalo.
Wilson said another problem was a lack of grit against the Habs.
"We just didn't have that element going at all," Wilson said. "We've got a couple of big people who have got to be more physically involved -- not running out of their way to get a hit, but I saw a lot of turnaways, when they had somebody lined up."
The Leafs charged out of the gate in the first period, just missing on a number of good chances. Stajan deflected a Mike Van Ryn shot that went off the post, while Nik Antropov set up Jason Blake on a beautiful cross-ice pass, but Blake was stoned by Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
Those missed opportunities came back to haunt the Leafs. The Canadiens grabbed the momentum and jumped into a 2-0 lead on goals by Roman Hamrlik and Alex Kovalev, who picked the puck from a pass behind the net and easily swung around and deposited the puck behind Toskala, with Frogren falling on his rear.
Tanguay had a goal and three assists for Montreal, while Kostitsyn finished with two goals and an assist and Saku Koivu had three assists.
Blake scored on a power play in the second period for Toronto's lone goal.
Toronto forward Matt Stajan was nailed with a four-minute high-sticking penalty early in the second period, which led to two quick Montreal goals.
The Maple Leafs are 0-5-2 in their past seven home openers, five of those losses coming against the Ottawa Senators and two against the Montreal Canadiens. Two of those losses were in overtime.
LET'S GET REAL
Another example of how dopey in-house entertainment services are at the ACC: In the second period, with the score already 4-0 Montreal, a group of Canadian Olympians were put on the scoreboard and told to chant "Let's get loud" to the crowd. The normaly comatose ACC crowd responded with a collective yawn.
TOUGH LITTLE GUY
Toronto forward Dominic Moore showed some chutzpah when he went after Mike Komisarek in the third period after the Montreal defenceman hit him from behind into the boards. Moore, who sent Komisarek flying after the whistle, was given two minors. Komisarek was not penalized.