Leafs hold off Habs in opener

The Toronto Maple Leafs began their NHL season on a high note, holding off the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 at the Air Canada Centre.

Air Canada Centre, Toronto


Top Performers

Phil Kessel (TOR) — 1 goal

Jean-Sebastien Giguere (TOR) — 26 saves

Carey Price (MON) — 21 saves

The story

The Toronto Maple Leafs jumped on their old nemesis early and never looked back.

Using a two-goal spurt in a 2:15 span early in the first period, the Leafs were able to hold off the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 Thursday night.

Forward Clarke MacArthur sent Toronto to a season-opening win, scoring the eventual game-winner at 1:36 into the third period. MacArthur made a nifty move around Habs defenceman Jaroslav Spacek and flipped a backhand behind goaltender Carey Price.

"That was a special goal for me," said MacArthur. "A lot of my goals are off the side of the net. They're ugly. So I'll take a pretty one every once and a while."

Tim Brent and Phil Kessel also scored for the Leafs, while Montreal received markers from Dustin Boyd and Jeff Halpern.

Toronto took the play to the Habs for most of the game despite being outshot 28-24.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere was spectacular between the pipes for Toronto. Giguere saved his best for the final period as he denied a streaking Boyd on a breakaway early in the period.

The veteran netminder wasn't done.

With the Canadiens frantically attempting to get the equalizer in the dying seconds, Giguere stoned Montreal captain Brian Gionta on two great left-pad saves from close in.

"He played really well," said Leafs coach Ron Wilson of Giguere. "He focuses and battles every shot. Looking at the game, this is probably one that last year we'd get tied against in the last minute. Because of a couple of great saves, we ended up preserving the win."

Battling a flu virus, Price kept Montreal in the contest with some key saves.

Off and running

Surrounded by new linemates, Kessel got off to a good start by scoring his first goal of the season. Kessel got behind Habs defenceman Hal Gill  before tucking the puck behind Price.

Kessel led the team with 30 goals last season and will be called upon to carry the offensive load this year, especially with the large investment the team made in him. Prior to last season, general manager Brian Burke made the risky decision of acquiring the talented scorer from the Bruins in exchange for a first- and second-round pick in 2010, along with a first-round selection in 2011.

Missing parts

The area most affected by the absence of Canadiens defencemen Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik — who are recovering from respective knee injuries — occurred on the power play. Last season, both defencemen played a big part on the hockey club, which boasted the second-best unit in the NHL. However, Thursday's contest showed how disorganized and sloppy Montreal, which failed to score on three chances, is without its top two point men.

"For sure, any time you're without two of your most talented guys, the power play is going to take a hit," said Gionta.

Suspended Hab

Toronto also took advantage of a Canadiens team that was missing winger Mike Cammalleri, who sat out a one-game suspension for slashing New York Islanders rookie Nino Niederreiter in a pre-season game on Saturday. Cammalleri was replaced in the lineup by rookie Lars Eller, who was part of an unpopular trade that sent fan favourite Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis. Eller replaced Cammalleri on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn.

With files from The Canadian Press