by John McCauley
October 11, 2003 (TORONTO)
-- It wasn't the way Joe Nieuwendyk envisioned his Maple Leaf debut, after he signed with the club a month ago.
It wasn't the way Leaf Nation envisioned it either.
The Montreal Canadiens spoiled Toronto's season-opening party with a 4-0 victory over the home squad, Saturday night at Air Canada Centre. It was the 661st meeting between the two original six teams and should have resulted in a fast paced game full of moxie. That wasn't the case.
"I'm not sure emotion was the problem," said head coach Pat Quinn said of his lifeless looking team. "It was more of execution. We lost a lot of battles.
Three second period goals, a host of penalty trouble, a couple bad bounces made the Leafs look like they could have used a couple extra exhibition games instead of six full days off this past week.
| Joe Nieuwendyk was surely hoping for a win in his debut. |
(Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
"We got, I hope, a pretty good slap in the face," Quinn quipped.
It was supposed to be a special night for not only Nieuwendyk, but Bryan Marchment, Ken Klee and Maxim Kondratiev, all making their first appearance in the Blue and White. For Stajan and Kondratiev it was their NHL debuts.
All now know that with anything less than above average effort, the fans will let the boo birds out. Against Montreal the win-hungry ACC faithful let the team here it after the second period and throughout the third.
"We all felt the electricity in the building (before the game)," Nieuwendyk said. "That's what is so frustrating is to give our fans a performance like that. I can certainly understand why they were disgruntled."
The veteran forward performed well in his first real tilt, showing the grit and playmaking skills he's become known for. While on a 2-on-1 break with Gary Roberts in the second, the 37-year-old crashed knees first into the net. Nieuwendyk didn't suffer any ill effects except slight tear to his finger nail, but nothing a little tape doesn't solve.
"We have a lot of work to do," Nieuwendyk said trying to access the performance. "We have to come together as unit. You can see when we get behind our frustration level gets a little high and that can't happen. There are lots of areas we have to continue to work on."
Defense is one of those areas needing improvement, but it can't be totally blamed on the rearguards. Klee, who was one of the Leafs best players, knows there's room for improvement. He wasn't thrown off by the crowd's reaction either.
"That's going to happen. They want to see the Leafs win and so do I," said Klee.
Head coach Pat Quinn started out with the same line combination he'd been using all week, but by the third period not one was left intact.
Mats Sundin and Alexander Mogilny were back together. Stajan, who started on the wing, was moved to centre between Darcy Tucker and Owen Nolan. Robert Reichel was with Gary Roberts, a pairing that has been together before.
"We certainly looked flat," Sundin said. "It wasn't the effort we wanted. There are 81 games to go, but you never like to lose."