And so, the proper level of humility has once again been found.
The Leafs were knocked around badly in a 6-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the first regular season home game for the locals. It was an unceremonious drubbing in what had been a night of fine ceremony.
Before the game, the 48th Highlanders continued their longstanding tradition of entertaining the home crowd before the opener. Members of Canada’s Olympic team were saluted and then the 20,000 or so sang an A capella version of O Canada that prompted sniffles and shuffling feet, even along press row. At least it prompted mine.
What would follow would prompt many more.
“We made them look good,” said veteran forward Jamal Mayers. “We didn’t play our game; we didn’t control the puck or support each other. We didn’t play well in five man units. All the things we did well in Detroit (in the Leafs’ 3-2 win) , we didn’t do.”
The Canadiens burst through 11 minutes in when Roman Hamrlik took a pass beside the net and beat Toronto netminder Vesa Toskala. Then Jonas Frogren couldn’t handle Alexei Kovalev in the crease and the Habs led 2-0.
“I don’t think Vesa was very sharp,” apprised Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “He was back in his net. He got tentative like the rest of our team.”
From then it was three consecutive power play goals by Sergei Kostitsyn, Alex Tanguay and Kostitsyn again. The score stood at 5-0 before the second period was half over.
It was a particularly ruinous turn of events since righting a disastrous penalty kill had been a priority for Wilson and his staff.
“Obviously in the second period the last thing you want to do is take penalties against Montreal,” Wilson said. “The first period we didn’t. The second period we took four or five minors and their power play absolutely killed us.”
Jason Blake broke through for the Leafs but the Habs got that goal right back when Guillaume Lantendresse whipped a shot past Toskala after Mike Van Ryn, fearing he would kick the puck into the net, lifted his skate. It was that kind of a night.
Curtis Joseph spelled Toskala in the third. Nik Antropov’s power play goal was waved off because the puck went in off his elbow. Like I said, that kind of night.
“If you’re a little off they’re going to expose you and tonight we were a little bit off,” Joseph said. “You’ve got to learn from those mistakes. We’re 1-1. Monday (against the St. Louis Blues) is the big game."
“When we got down in the game we just threw the plan out and everybody was playing a survival type of game which bad teams do,” Wilson said.
The Leafs coach was adamant. Don’t blame the young players. It was the greybeards who were behind the collapse.
“Our veteran defencemen who have been playing 10 years have to get used to the speed of the NHL,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t our young players who laid an egg. It was some of the veteran guys who probably want to say it was the young guys who didn’t get the job done. Some of the veteran guys have to step up in a situation like that. I thought Mikhail Grabovski
and Luke Schenn
were two of our better people. We need more from our other guys.”