TORONTO -- Some members of the Toronto Maple Leafs faithful will chalk up the loss at home to the rival Montreal Canadiens to a couple of questionable calls from the on-ice officiating crew on Wednesday.
But the home team was not very good in the one-sided 5-2 victory by the Canadiens, who stayed atop the East standings thanks to an impressive nine-game run that has produced a 7-0-2 record.
If you don't believe your humble agent that the Canadiens were the much better team at Air Canada Centre, maybe you should consider the observations of Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle.
"We were flat, flat, flat, flat," said Toronto's bench boss, whose team is now a mediocre 3-3-0 in their past six outings.
"It looked like we were playing in our boots and they were in their skates."
The Canadiens were at their skating best on this night, even though the Maple Leafs tried to hit the Habs early and often.
Physical intimidation worked in the Maple Leafs previous two meetings in Montreal that resulted in wins this season. So Toronto wanted to follow the same blueprint as evident by the season-high 14 minutes and 55 seconds Colton Orr played.
The Maple Leafs even went up 1-0 on a fluky goal from Frazer McLaren that was set up by some solid forechecking from his linemate Mike Brown.
But the good vibrations did not last for Toronto. Canadiens defenceman Alexei Emelin tied the game on a screen shot. Then at the end of the opening period, Brown was whistled for a five-minute checking-from-behind major penalty and game misconduct.
The penalty was excessive. As Carlyle opined afterwards, Brown clearly hit him from the side. I thought he deserved a two-minute boarding penalty. But instead he was removed from the game.
The Maple Leafs did an excellent job killing off most of that penalty and no doubt would have received a huge lift if they escaped the five minutes without a Montreal goal. But with six seconds remaining in the major, Toronto goalie Ben Scrivens steered a rebound right into the shin pad of Montreal forward Max Pacioretty for the go-ahead goal.
All of a sudden the Maple Leafs stopped hitting. It took them more than a half a period to recover. Mikhail Grabovski failed to take advantage of his penalty-shot attempt, stuffing his deke into the right pad of Montreal goalie Carey Price.
Funny how things worked out in this one. The accused biter (Grabovski) from last game missed his chance to give his team a lift. The player who was bitten in the melee (Pacioretty) scored twice.
Maple Leafs defenceman Cody Franson gave his team life when he made a super play to keep the puck in at the blue-line. He also had the vision to find Nazem Kadri with a rink-wide pass. It didn't take long for Kadri to locate Clarke MacArthur for the tying goal with less than five minutes left in the second period.
Canadiens took over
But the Habs took over in the third period. They went ahead on a deflection from Brendan Gallagher because Toronto's Tyler Bozak lost a defensive zone draw to Canadiens centre David Desharnais.
It was clear that Bozak was not ready for the faceoff. Moments earlier, he had committed too quickly when he thought veteran linesman Jean Morin was going to drop the puck. But he didn't have time to reset before Morin did drop the puck. As a result Desharnais had an easy win.
Both Bozak and Carlyle expressed their displeasure with Morin immediately after Gallagher's second game winner of the season. But the Toronto coach and his player had calmed down afterwards.
"Usually, if it's deemed an unfair faceoff, the option is to blow it dead," Carlyle said.
"We had a different interpretation."
Bozak said, "[Morin] thought [my stick] was down and ready. It was his call.
"It has happened before, but it hasn't gone in."
It didn't matter. Montreal was the better team anyway and deserved the two points.
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