After a half-season in Toronto, winger P-A Parenteau has played on both sides of the Maple Leafs/Montreal Canadiens rivalry. And though he sees unmistakeable similarities with the two Original Six franchises, there’s one big difference – for himself, and every French-Canadian NHLer – between the two markets.
“In Montreal, I had to do everything in both languages, which makes it a lot harder,” said Parenteau, who struggled in the 2014-15 campaign, his lone season as a Hab. “When things go well, it’s fun, but when they don’t – which, last year, they didn’t really go that well for me – it’s kind of tough. But the media were never too bad on me last year.
“I find Toronto, they love their team, it’s all they talk about, it’s on every radio station, every TV. It’s great for a player. We’ve been doing a lot of good things, and I feel like our record should be a little better than what it is right now. But it’s not, so the reality of things is that we’re going to have to keep playing better.”
Playing mainly on a line with centre Tyler Bozak and (currently injured) winger James van Riemsdyk, Parenteau is thriving under the coaching of Mike Babcock and has amassed 11 goals and 23 points in 45 games with Toronto while serving as a key component of the Leafs’ power play unit. His offensive numbers are already an improvement on the eight-goal, 22-point season he had with Montreal – and Babcock believes the 32-year-old has quickly become an important part of the Buds’ game plan.
“He’s a puck-transporter, he’s got good offensive skill, he’s been getting unbelievable chances of late – we need him to shoot a few in the net – but he’s an important player for us,” Babcock said of the Hull, Que., native, who signed a one-year contract with the Leafs last summer. “He works way harder than people ever give him credit for – he’s good in (the) ‘D’ zone, he backchecks hard, he competes without the puck, him and Bozak seem to have some chemistry, I thought they really had it going with van Riemsdyk. But everybody’s got to find a way to produce in their own way. I think he’s been excellent, and I think he’s a guy who’s been enjoying his time here.”
In his trademark straightforward manner, Babcock laid out the truth to Parenteau earlier this year, and the winger has responded with strong play at both ends of the ice.
“One day I had a chat with him,” Babcock said. “I said, ‘What do you want? Do you want this to be the last (NHL) stop, or do you want to keep playing? Because if you want to keep playing, you’d better get to work. So, real simple. If you want to work, and you want to compete hard, and you want to backcheck and you want to be good without the puck, and you want to take care of the puck, you’re going to get to play. And if not, you’re going to be mad at another coach. You decide.’ I think he’s great (and) been excellent for us.”
Parenteau and his Leafs teammates didn’t take to the ice Friday for practice, turning their attention to off-ice training and preparing to take on a desperate Habs team that’s been free-falling in the standings. Babcock has given his players a few similar days like this during the season, believing it gives players no excuses when the next game begins. And although the Buds dropped a 1-0 overtime loss to Carolina Thursday, the effort Toronto put forth gave players the sense they’d earned a little time to conserve their energy.
“Definitely, these days are earned,” said Leafs centre Peter Holland. “They don’t come without hard work, and obviously, (Babcock) sees a need for it. And we’ve had a few of them before, just kind of based on what he’s felt we needed as a group. So we want to make sure we take our best foot forward into tomorrow night’s game and come out flying.”
Saturday’s game will have an extra special feel to it, with Leafs legend and Hockey Hall-of-Famer Dave Keon making a rare appearance in Toronto as part of the announcement he and fellow Buds icons Tim Horton and Turk Broda would be honoured with a statue on Legends Row outside Air Canada Centre. In adding that element to the naturally-charged atmosphere that’s a given for any Toronto/Montreal game, everyone on the Leafs expects a tilt with much more emotion than a normal, mid-season contest.
“Anytime you’re playing Montreal when you’re a Toronto Maple Leaf, I think that makes it a big game,” Babcock said. “And obviously, with the guys they’re inducting (into Legends Row), it’s going to be a special night for everyone, and we want to play well.”
“We know they’re going to come out hard, and we’re just as desperate,” Holland added. “We want to come out flying, too. Anytime the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs meet – especially on a Saturday night – it’s a good rivalry, and both teams are hungry for a win. So it should be a good matchup.”