ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. - Tie Domi said during Monday morning's practice that the Leafs first preseason game would be tough to get up for because of last week's tragedy in the United States. In hindsight, he was right. The Leafs played uninspired hockey during their 3-0 loss to the Canadiens in front a sellout crowd of 5,813 at Mile One Stadium on Monday night. A shutout to their most bitter rivals wasn't exactly the way the Leafs wanted to christen their farm team's new arena.
But while fans went home discontented with the outcome of the game, the Leafs go to Montreal on Tuesday knowing that this game means nothing on two levels. First, preseason has always been a time to see where players progress during training camp.
Second, the Leafs' lineup for Monday's game consisted of many players who will not be with them once the regular season begins. While Mats Sundin, Mikael Renberg, Gary Roberts and Curtis Joseph all played, Alexander Mogilny, Robert Reichel and Shayne Corson took the night off.
What may be a minor concern for the Leafs is that the Canadiens dressed more players who will not start the season in the NHL and were still able outplay them. The Canadiens were faster and more aggressive even without veterans Brian Savage, Benoit Brunet and former Leaf Yanic Perreault.
Plus, the Canadiens didn't even dress their top two goaltenders in Jeff Hackett and Jose Theodore. It was Mathieu Garon and Vadim Tarasov who shutout Toronto. Two goaltenders that won't see any playing time with the big team this season unless Hackett or Theodore go down with injuries.
"You'd like to say it's early in the season but it's the same for the other guys too," said Leaf coach Pat Quinn. "We didn't move the puck well and we had a lot of people that planned on maybe having an easy night. Unfortunately, you get veterans that don't seem interested at certain times during the game. All our bubble guys (players that may not make the team) worked hard, but our veterans in my opinion did not."
As anticipated, Sundin played with Mikael Renberg in what's expected to be the best producing line for the team. Both players didn't really create many scoring chances, but they still have eight games to adjust to one another's game.
Joseph was one of the few Leafs that looked to be in midseason form. During his 30 minutes of play, Joseph made several great saves. Twice he robbed Canadiens winger Eric Chouinard from point blank range much to the delight of the sellout crowd. Joseph had no chance on the two goals he allowed as the Canadiens had the better scoring chances.
"He's a good player, especially when we're not very good," said Quinn. "He has to play well or he'll get embarrassed. The other guys can embarrass themselves but sometimes if your goaltender bails you out then it doesn't look bad. We could have played a lot of teams tonight (Monday) that were of another league and still have the same result."
The Leafs may also be planning some extra work on their power play for the rest of this preseason. Last season, the team struggled on the power play for the first half of the year. Toronto continued that trend by going 0-3 with the man advantage on Monday night.
In the end it was Montreal's speed that impressed the Leafs the most.
"They skated very well and showed their skill," said Leaf forward Gary Roberts. "They definitely dominated us in the first period and if it wasn't for Cujo, it probably would have been 5-0 at the end of the first. We felt that we were all a little sluggish out there."