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Five Takeaways - Leafs vs. Canadiens - 01/07/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 5-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Saturday at Air Canada Centre:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

1. Canadiens waste little time jumping ahead, but Bozak and Kadri get Leafs back in it. It's always a spirited affair when these two Original Six arch-rivals square off, and it didn't take long at all for the Canadiens to assert themselves - just 20 seconds of the first period, as a matter of fact. That's when Montreal winger Alex Radulov carried the puck deep in the Leafs' zone on a Toronto power play and set up teammate Max Pacioretty in front of the net for Pacioretty's 19th goal of the season. And just 3:27 later, the Habs increased their lead when winger Artturi Lehkonen netted his eighth of the year.

However, as we've seen throughout the year, the Leafs weren't devastated by being down a couple goals. They ramped up their efforts, cut the lead in half on centre Tyler Bozak's ninth of the year at the 8:25 mark, then evened the score on the power play (their third of the period) thanks to centre Nazem Kadri's 16th of the year at 16:01. The Buds still have defensive lapses like every other NHL squad, but few have Toronto's capability to put themselves right back in the hunt via a deep and talented offence.

2. Habs rookie scores first NHL goal less than a second before first intermission to put Montreal ahead again. Montreal winger Nikita Scherbak was playing in his first career NHL regular-season game Saturday, and the 19-year-old made a splash right away, taking a feed out of the corner from blueliner Jeff Petry and making a terrific move to beat Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen on the power play with just 0.9 seconds before the first intermission and give the Canadiens a 3-2 lead heading into the middle frame.

Scherbak was clearly elated to register his first goal in hockey's best league, and the young Russian's offence put a halt to the momentum Toronto had built up late in the period. That's the type of immmediate impact every rookie hopes to have in their first game.

3. Leafs don't help themselves with early penalty in second, and Radulov puts Montreal ahead by two again in a highly-emotional middle frame. The Leafs began the second period in a non-ideal manner, as winger Mitch Marner took a hooking penalty 20 seconds into the frame, and Radulov scored his 10th of the season at the 36-second mark to give the visitors a two-goal lead once again. 

And from there, as the second period unfolded, the action got especially heated: centre Frederik Gauthier got the best of Montreal winger Bobby Farnham in a fight, and on the same sequence, winger Matt Martin and winger Michael McCarron got into a major bout. (Gauthier and Farnham were ejected for being the second fight on the play.) And shortly thereafter, winger Zach Hyman drove to the net with the puck, collided with Montreal blueliner Alexei Emelin, and crashed into goalie Carey Price at full speed. The Canadiens players did not take kindly to that series of events, and the bad blood carried over throughout the rest of the period and the evening.

You always expect passion from a Leafs/Habs contest, but this one was especially emotional.

Video: MTL@TOR: Marner finds van Riemsdyk with smooth setup

4. van Riemsdyk finishes off play created by Marner's speed to pull Buds within one goal entering third. Marner entered the night with two goals and three points in his past three games, and despite the first-period penalty, the rookie had one of his better efforts of the year Saturday: in addition to generating the primary assist on both of Toronto's first two goals against Montreal, he was a force on both special teams and dazzled the Air Canada Centre crowd late in the second by using his almost-otherworldly speed - and hand-eye coordination at top speed - to set up winger James van Riemsdyk with 1:45 remaining before the second intermission to pull the Leafs within one goal of the Canadiens.

On that play, Marner basically skated the puck all the way around Montreal's zone before connecting with van Riemsdyk for his 14th goal of the year and Marner's third point of the night. The 19-year-old's vision and savvy with the puck is a huge part of his game, and his linemates usually wind up benefitting from his contributions.

5. McCarron's marker re-establishes Canadiens' two-goal advantage early in third. McCarron gave Montreal a two-goal lead again at the 3:51 point of the third when he shot the puck at Andersen from the Leafs' goal line off to the goaltender's right side, and Andersen got tangled up in the way he played it.

Toronto continued to challenge Price for the remainder of the game and finished the evening outshooting Montreal 36-31, but the Habs blocked 23 shots and the Canadiens goalie held off the Leafs to preserve the lead and secure the win for his team.

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