Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Saturday at Bell Centre.
1. Canadiens start strong, but Leafs get power play goal to cut Habs' lead in half. Prior to the game, the Habs weren't the NHL's top team - and unbeaten in regulation at home (10-0-1) - by accident, and they showed why at the start of Saturday's action in Montreal, forcing the Leafs into taking three penalties in the first 21 minutes of the game and building a 2-0 lead on goals from Paul Byron at 15:45 of the first period and Alex Galchenyuk 32 seconds into the second frame.
However, Toronto answered back with a power play marker from William Nylander - his sixth goal of the season - at the 8:47 mark of the second period to make it 2-1 in the Canadiens' favour. The Leafs were outshot 14-9 in the first, but turned the tables in the second, outshooting Montreal 13-7 and giving themselves some momentum heading into the second intermission.
2. Special teams a major factor for both sides. The Leafs gave the Canadiens five man advantages in this game - and although Toronto's very solid penalty-killing crew killed off four of them, the one they didn't proved to be the game-winner from Galchenyuk. And on the other side of the coin, Toronto had four power plays, including one with approximately four minutes remaining in the third period, but couldn't beat Montreal goalie Carey Price more than once despite firing 32 shots at him.
It's a common refrain in NHL circles, but it's true - special team play often decides who wins and loses at hockey's top level. And just one fewer mistake, or one more success, on special teams would've made a world of difference for the Leafs.
3. Price continues to play well - but Andersen does, too. It was no surprise to see Price at the top of his game, making difficult saves look easy and impossible saves look merely difficult. But Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen was no slouch, either. He stopped 27 of 29 Canadiens shots Saturday, and was arguably Toronto's best penalty-killer.
Andersen's game has been functioning at a terrific level for weeks now, and he gave his teammates the opportunity to tie and win the game. Price's impact prevented that from happening, but Andersen showed everything you'd want to see out of your goalie in a brutal battle against a high-octane rival.
4. Zaitsev sets new personal best in ice time while improving all-around impact. Rookie blueliner Nikita Zaitsev finished the game with 26:15 of ice time, setting a new personal NHL-best in that category in his 18th game. The 25-year-old played his now-usual steady, savvy game, and was relied on by head coach Mike Babcock in all situations, as evidenced by his 4:00 of power play time and 4:27 of penalty kill time.
Zaitsev is still looking for his first NHL goal, but focusing too much on his offensive stats is missing the forest for the trees; the reality is he makes smart decisions far more often than not, and has excellent instincts and panic thresholds with and without the puck. He has earned the respect of the coaching staff in a very short span, and he'll likely only improve as he continues to learn opponents' tendencies.
5. Once again, emotions between Original Six rivals boil over. The high penalty totals for both sides didn't necessarily indicate the intensity between the longtime foes, but the longer the game went on, the more chippy and salty it became. And when Habs blueliner Alexei Emelin cross-checked Leafs winger James van Riemdsyk into the boards in Montreal's zone just as the final buzzer was sounding, the players on the ice scrummed, pulled and pushed at one another before disengaging and heading to their respective dressing rooms.
You can't ever definitively predict the winner of any Leafs/Canadiens battles, but you can almost always expect to see them show their mutual dislike of the other side. And this tilt was no exception.