Tanguay, Canadiens expose young Maple Leafs
On a night Canadian Olympic medallists were honoured in Toronto, it was the Montreal Canadiens, not the hometown Maple Leafs, who delivered a performance worthy of a medal.
Newcomer Alex Tanguay led the way with a goal and three assists as the Canadiens overcame a season-opening 2-1 shootout loss in Buffalo with a 6-1 dismantling of their longtime rivals on Saturday night.
"It's nice before we get home," Tanguay said of his first regular-season goal after arriving in a June 20 trade from Calgary. "I know how the media in Montreal can be as far as pressure's concerned and you guys are probably familiar with that here too in Toronto."
Tanguay is still adjusting to life with a new team and looking to find a rhythm.
"A lot of thing's been said when we made the trade for him," said Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau. "I think he didn't really enjoy the year last year and wanted to kind of have a rebound year. He knew he was coming to a good team.
"Because he was injured a little bit in pre-season [with a hip problem], he didn't have a chance to really get that timing back and get that chemistry with [centre] Saku [Koivu]. Those two guys have too much talent to be out of that scoring sheet for a long time. Tonight it showed."
Montreal's power play, which led the NHL the past two seasons, clicked three times in a span of five minutes, 28 seconds against the Maple Leafs after an 0-for-4 night against the Sabres.
"We know we have a lot of skill [on the power play]. It's important for us to move the puck quickly and take good shots," Tanguay told Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports. "When you have a quarterback on the power play like Andrei Markov you just try to give him the puck as much as possible and let him do his thing."
The Canadiens jumped out to a 2-0 first-period advantage and led 6-1 after 40 minutes.
Toronto, which had the city abuzz following a 3-2 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, struggled in its home opener with defensive positioning and discipline.
Goaltender Vesa Toskala, who stopped 35 shots in Detroit, received very little support and was lifted in favour of Curtis Joseph to start the third period after surrendering six goals on 23 shots. Joseph kicked out all 11 shots directed his way.
Four Maple Leafs — Luke Schenn, Jonas Frogren, John Mitchell and Nikolai Kulemin — made their NHL home debuts and each of them had tough nights.
The 18-year-old Schenn, who impressed many with his poise in the pre-season, let Tanguay behind him leading to the Canadiens' fourth goal and then shot the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. Sergei Kostitsyn made him pay 73 seconds later with a power-play marker.
Frogren drew the tough assignment of covering Alex Kovalev and couldn't fight off the right-winger as he took a Tomas Plekanec pass at the top of the Maple Leafs crease, spun around and swept the puck into the net.
"They're tough to play down low," Toronto winger Niklas Hagman told CBC Sports during the game, referring to the Canadiens. "We have to get the puck out of our zone a little bit faster."
Mitchell high-sticked a Canadiens player but was spared the four minutes in the penalty box when the referees whistled teammate Matt Stajan, who was standing nearby, for the infraction.
Kulemin was minus-1 and failed to register a shot after scoring a breakaway goal against the Red Wings.
The Canadiens, as they did in Buffalo on Friday, opened the scoring in Toronto at the 11-minute mark as Roman Hamrlik joined the rush from his defence position. After he took a pretty cross-ice feed from Guillaume Latendresse, an uncovered Hamrlik snapped a shot through Toskala's legs.
Kovalev, coming off a 35-goal season, notched his first just 99 seconds later.
Montreal scored four times in the second period, with Sergei Kostitsyn converting twice on the power play and Tanguay adding his first of the season with Stajan serving a double minor.
"We took way too many penalties and our penalty killing didn't work," said Hagman. "Up against a team like that, if we start running around, they're going to make plays."
Latendresse rounded out the scoring for the Canadiens and had two assists, while Koivu and Tanguay chipped in three assists each.
"We knew that we didn't play that well last night [in Buffalo], it was sloppy and didn't seem like the focus was there," said Koivu. "I thought we responded very well."
Jason Blake was the only Maple Leaf to beat Jaroslav Halak, who had a quiet night compared to Canadiens starter Carey Price, who turned aside 35 of 36 shots in Buffalo. Halak made 24 saves.
Before the game, 20 of Canada's Olympians from this year's Beijing Games were honoured at centre ice, including wrestler Carol Huynh (gold), diver Emilie Heymans (silver), sprinter Priscilla Lopes-Schliep (bronze) and trampolinist Karen Cockburn (silver).
Montreal plays at Philadelphia on Monday before returning to the Bell Centre for its home opener against Boston on Wednesday, while Toronto hosts former Leaf Brad Boyes and the St. Louis Blues Monday at 1 p.m. ET.