Maple Leafs knock off listless Habs
Air Canada Centre – Toronto
Tomas Kaberle (TOR) — 1 goal, 1 assist
Phil Kessel (TOR) — 1 goalFredrik Sjostrom (TOR) — 2 assists
The Toronto Maple Leafs looked good in 3D.
But really, mired in their most challenging stretch of the first half of the season, the Maple Leafs pulled through quite well for a bottom-tier team.
Their hard-fought 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday — a game that was broadcast in 3D on Hockey Night in Canada — meant the Maple Leafs checked in with three victories in an eight-day tour that saw them play the top five clubs in the Eastern Conference.
"When you look at the whole week, I don't think anybody said we were going to win one of those games," Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "We won three of them, so I'm proud of my team.
"We actually had a really good week. With the teams that we had lined up in the schedule, with the five games, we went 3-2 so that's a pretty good week. We dug in and got the job done. We worked hard.
"Early in the game tonight we got rewarded and took advantage of any of the mistakes they [the Canadiens] made. We moved the puck really well, which is a positive."
After come-from-behind shootout wins over the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals, the Maple Leafs didn't look good in losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, but they managed to rebound against a tired Canadiens team that played the previous evening in Detroit.
"I think we rose to the challenge when we play good teams," Maple Leafs forward Fredrik Sjostrom said. "We show we can play with the best teams, but we just need to do it on a consistent basis."
The problem is that the Maple Leafs have dug themselves into an early-season in the standings. They are 13th in the East with an 11-14-4 record and already eight points behind the eighth-place Tampa Bay Lightning.
Still, for the most part, the Maple Leafs have played better defensively and that has them confident about their game.
"It all starts in your defensive zone," Sjostrom said. "If you don't do that right you won't get any offence, either. We can keep turning the puck over and giving other teams odd-man rushes."
The Maple Leafs now head to Western Canada for stops in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.
After being banished to the press box for three games, Montreal rookie defenceman P.K. Subban has struggled in his return. He was on for both Toronto goals in the first period and had his shot blocked by Sjostrom that led to the empty-net goal from Maple Leafs forward Kris Versteeg in the final minute.
"It seems like it's been a tough two nights," Subban said. "I have to find a way to get my confidence high again. Right now the puck is not bouncing my way."
He refused to blame his ineffectiveness on being rusty because Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin benched him.
"He's the coach and he's going to make the calls," Subban said. "It's my job to get myself ready to play."
Veteran Montreal blue-liner Jaroslav Spacek was knocked out of the game with an upper-body injury midway through the first period. It appeared to be a serious arm or shoulder injury, but the exact diagnosis won't be known until Spacek is re-evaluated.
Spacek accidentally collided with Toronto forward Clarke MacArthur in the Maple Leafs zone and then MacArthur attacked the Canadiens defenceman, falling on top of him.
Back-to-back losses for Habs
The Habs have lost back-to-back games for the first time since they suffered defeats to Florida and Columbus on Oct. 30 and Nov. 2.
"We've come on strong after losses all season," forward Jeff Halpern said. "But we came out flat in the first period and we came out flat in the second period for the most part. It wasn't the rebound game we were looking for."
Montreal backup goalie Alex Auld has not seen a lot of action this season. He made his third start of the season and first since facing the Maple Leafs two weeks ago.
Auld looked sluggish in yielding goals to Toronto's Kessel and Kaberle in the first period. It was only the 11th time in 29 games that the Maple Leafs managed to score first.
The Maple Leafs honoured some of their alumni in a pre-game ceremony. Johnny Bower, Darryl Sittler and Wendel Clark received the biggest cheers from the crowd of 19,656, the largest crowd to see a Maple Leafs game this season.
Other former Toronto players introduced included: Bob Nevin, Brad Smith, Tiger Williams, Allan Bester, Mark Osborne, Jim McKenny, Mike Pelyk, Alyn McCauley, Todd Warriner, Steve Thomas and Jimmy Jones.