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Canadiens-Maple Leafs Preview @NHLdotcom
Canadiens-Maple Leafs Preview

GAME: Montreal Canadiens (22-20-6) at Toronto Maple Leafs (24-22-3).

TIME: Saturday, 7 p.m. EST.

The Toronto Maple Leafs try to break out of their worst losing streak in nearly a decade when they host the Montreal Canadiens, a team they have already defeated three times this season.

The Maple Leafs, who play the Canadiens eight times this season, won by a single goal in each of the last three meetings after losing 5-4 in the first matchup on Oct. 8.

Toronto has won 10 of 14 against its longtime rival, good news for a team which has lost seven in a row.

The losing streak is the club's longest since dropping seven straight in January 1997. The Maple Leafs haven't lost eight in a row since February 1996, resulting in coach Pat Burns being fired.

Goaltender Ed Belfour left the ice to a chorus of boos and Toronto lost 8-4 on Thursday to the Buffalo Sabres. The eight goals allowed matched a season high for the Leafs, who let Ottawa score eight against them twice.

Belfour's early exit came in the second period after Buffalo scored a fourth straight goal, leaving the Maple Leafs trailing 4-1. Coach Pat Quinn replaced Belfour with Mikael Tellqvist. Even though Toronto cut the deficit to one with three goals in the second, the Sabres scored four more to run away with the win.

"I'm not standing here now pointing the finger at him," Quinn said of Belfour. "We made the change to see what was going in the other guys' minds."

The 40-year-old Belfour is winless in his last seven starts, posting a 4.58 goals-against average and .843 save percentage. Belfour, second on the all-time wins list among goaltenders with 453, has allowed at least four goals in six straight games.

"It's always discouraging when you don't have things go your way," said Belfour, who shrugged off the booing from the home crowd Thursday. "They are frustrated just like the rest of us."

Alex Steen scored two goals, and Alexander Khavanov and Alexei Ponikarovsky each added one for Toronto, which outshot the Sabres 37-32.

The Canadiens were held to a season-low 12 shots and lost for the fourth time in five games with a 3-0 defeat to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

Montreal goalie Cristobal Huet, who started the previous night in a 5-3 win over Philadelphia, had 30 of his 37 saves in the first 40 minutes.

"We have to be pleased with his play," coach Bob Gainey said. "He got bombarded and he stood in."

The Canadiens will close a six-game road trip Saturday, having lost four of the first five.

STANDINGS: Canadiens - 50 points, 4th place (tied), 22 PB, Northeast Division. Maple Leafs - 51 points, 3rd place, 21 PB, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Canadiens - Michael Ryder, 20 goals; Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov, 23 assists; Koivu, 35 points; Steve Begin, 93 PIM. Maple Leafs - Darcy Tucker, 18 goals; Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle, 34 assists; McCabe, 49 points; Ken Klee, 62 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 26): Canadiens - Power play: 18.7 percent (52 for 278), 9th in NHL. Penalty killing: 80.8 percent (244 for 302), 20th. Maple Leafs - Power play: 20.1 percent (63 for 314), 6th. Penalty killing: 80.5 percent (252 for 313), 21st.

GOALTENDERS: Canadiens - Jose Theodore (16-14-5, 0 SO, 3.37 GAA); Huet (3-4-1, 2.88). Maple Leafs - Belfour (18-17-2, 3.45); Tellqvist (6-5-1, 1, 2.69).

SEASON SERIES: Maple Leafs, 3-1.

LAST MEETING: Nov. 26; Maple Leafs, 4-3, OT. At Toronto, Tomas Plekanec scored for the Canadiens with less than five minutes left to force overtime and Mats Sundin scored the game-winner.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Canadiens - 8-14-4 on the road; Maple Leafs - 15-9-1 at home.

Associated Press
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