TORONTO - The good vibe that greeted Mats Sundin night at the Air Canada Centre Saturday night left the building steadily and with purpose.
First, it was a dreadfully dry opening period as the Maple Leafs normally speedy attack was thwarted by the sit back and clog style of the Montreal Canadiens.
By the second period, sleepiness had degenerated to sloppiness — and four Habs goals — leading to a runaway loss.
The Habs weren’t exactly peppering the Leafs, but suspect goaltending from James Reimer and even worse defensive play from the normally reliable Toronto blueline, resulted in one of Toronto’s worst periods of the season.
By the intermission, the Habs had a 4-0 lead on their way to a humiliating 5-0 victory over their Original Six rivals. And the sellout ACC crowd that had heard Sundin refer to them as the best fans in the league in his pre-game ceremony, were loudly (and justifiably) booing them off the ice.
“We got beat in every aspect of the game except the shot clock and we’re not happy about it,” said Dion Phaneuf, the man who succeeded Sundin as captain. “It’s disappointing where we are in the standings to come out and not play our best.”
Yes, the standings that looked much more rosy a week ago are considerably less this morning.
The Leafs remain in eighth place in the East, but just a point ahead of Washington, which has two games in hand.
It was the Leafs’ third loss in a row, but a particularly troublesome one given it was their lone home date in a six-game stretch.
The Habs certainly have the formula to slow down the Leafs’ speed by making it extremely difficult to gain momentum in the neutral zone. The Leafs have yet to find a way to handle teams that do it and will surely face many more down the stretch, starting with the three-game Western Canada road trip beginning Tuesday in Calgary. “You get down to a team that wants to play everybody back and rob your speed and the kind of game you like to play, the first goal was critical,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said ... The second period was ugly from start to finish, beginning with a power-play that didn’t produce a shot on net (something that happened three times on the night for the Leafs.) ... Seconds after it expired, Erik Cole beat Reimer with one of the weakest to get by his this season, a five-hole shot that should have been an automatic save ... Goaltending is obviously going to be a major issue going forward for the Leafs as the tandem managed to stop just 13 of what should have been a light workout 18-shot night. “At the end Carey Price made all the stops and we didn’t get very many,” Wilson said ... Price, meanwhile, has stopped 64 of the last 65 he’s faced from the Leafs ... Luke Schenn was the goat on the second Habs goal when he let a puck squirt away in his own zone leading to a Rene Bourque one-timer blast ... By the end of the period, Wilson had seen enough of Reimer and the four goals he surrendered and replaced him with Jonas Gustavsson for the third. Of course his welcome to Sundin night involved a Mathieu Darche breakaway goal on the first shot he faced.
Welcome (Back) Mats
The night certainly started off with more promise as Sundin hit all the right notes in a classy ceremony.
The former captain’s
No. 13 banner took its place in numerical order, between No. 10 George Armstrong and No. 21 Borje Salming up high in the ACC rafters ... Best fan reaction was the loud guy who interrupted Sundin’s speech with a “Put on your skates, Mats.” Little did he know how true the words were on this night ... Habs defenceman and former Sundin teammate Hal Gill on No. 13: “In clutch time, he’d find an extra gear and skate wide, something you wouldn’t see often with a guy his size late in a game.” ... Nice to see Hockey Night In Canada made the right call to have Bob Cole making a rare appearance to call a Leafs game. Cole, by the way, called Sundin’s first goal as a Leaf ... Classy touch by the Habs to have former Sundin pal and teammate Tomas Kaberle take the ceremonial faceoff.
If you wondered where Leafs winger Colby Armstrong has been some nights since his return from his latest injury, know that Wilson has been wondering the same thing. Armstrong, who hasn’t scored a point in the five games since returning from a concussion, was a healthy scratch as Darryl Boyce returned for fourth-line duty ... With defenceman Mike Komisarek out as a healthy scratch for the sixth consecutive game, that meant two “A’s” in the press box. As a result, Kessel had one sewn on his jersey Saturday. The rough defensive outing against the Habs could well be Komisarek’s ticket back to the lineup, however ... Boyce moved in on the fourth line with David Steckel and Mike Brown, a unit that had by far the most energy of any Leafs line. You know if Brown is your best player on the ice, it’s going to be a long night ... Not much heart left for the Leafs late in the third when Kessel tussled with Habs defenceman P.K. Subban and none of his teammates came in to help. Not until the next shift, anyway, when Brown came calling ... How bad was the Leafs power play? On three of them Saturday night, the Habs had better chances short-handed