The Toronto Maple Leafs
were terrific at even strength. Killing penalties and the shootout were another story.
Not even some late heroics by Mats Sundin
were enough to keep the Leafs from their fourth straight loss. Andrei Kostsitsyn scored in the fifth round of the shootout and Carey Price
stopped Jason Blake
to give the Montreal Canadiens
a 4-3 victory over the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night.
The Leafs spent the night firing away at Price, outshooting the Canadiens 45-27 in regulation and 46-30 through overtime. They outscored the Canadiens 3-1 at even strength, but were beaten twice in five attempts by Montreal’s league-best power play — both times by Alex Kovalev
. Toronto was 0-for-4 with the man advantage.
The Leafs (8-11-6) now have just eight victories in 25 games, and Sundin, Toronto’s captain, said the responsibility for the slow start falls squarely on him and his teammates.
“There are fingers being pointed at everybody, and as players we look at ourselves and we have to be better. We can't blame anyone else. We're the ones out there playing. There's no one else on the ice. We just have to be better as a group if we want to make the playoffs."
Being near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings isn’t easy in hockey-mad Toronto.
"It is crazy but, hey, I'd rather have people worrying about what's going on with our team than not," Sundin said. "I think most of the guys feel that way.
"When things are not going right, there's going to be things written about you or said about you that you're not going to like, but that's part of being a professional athlete, especially in a market like this."
Coach Paul Maurice
couldn’t complain about his players’ effort against Montreal after poor performances in Dallas and Phoenix over the weekend.
"There was a great sense of urgency in the locker room all day," Maurice said. "We played a really good game. We stuck with it right to the end."
It was a frustrating night for the Leafs, who outshot Montreal 17-6 in the opening period but had nothing to show for it as Price, the Canadiens’ rookie goalie, seemed to be everywhere.
Toronto finally solved Price 2:50 into the second period when Darcy Tucker
scored ( 700K
). But Kovalev evened the game two minutes later. He was in the left circle when he one-timed Andrei Markov
’s pass behind Vesa Toskala
The Leafs went ahead again when Chad Kilger
, returning after missing four games with an ankle injury, scored at 6:35 ( 700K
). But Guillaume Latendresse
jammed home a rebound off a scramble just 33 seconds later ( 700K
Kovalev gave the Canadiens their first lead at 1:09 of the third period with his second power-play goal on a play similar to his first ( 700K
) — he one-timed Bryan Smolinski
’s pass into the net before Toskala could react.
With time winding down, it looked like the Canadiens would hang on, but Blake took the puck to the net. Price stopped his shot but couldn’t control the rebound and Sundin flipped it into the net with 17.6 seconds remaining for his 400th goal as a Maple Leaf ( 700K
) — the first player in Toronto history to reach that mark.
After a scoreless overtime, Kovalev scored in the first round of the shootout and Sundin in the second. Two scoreless rounds later, Kostsitsyn won the game when he came in, got Toskala to open his legs before he slipped the puck into the net and Price stopped Blake.
It was Toronto’s third loss in as many shootouts this season. The Leafs went 4-7 in shootouts last season, when they missed the playoffs by just one point.
"We have as good a team this year on paper that we had last year," Sundin said. "Are we underachieving? Is that what it means? I guess so. We have to find a way to be better."
Montreal had lost a home-and-home series to Buffalo before skating into Air Canada Centre, and captain Saku Koivu
sounded after this one as if they and not the Leafs had come up short.
"We gave (up) too many shots, mostly because I think we played too defensive-minded in the last 20 minutes and didn't push enough for that (extra) goal," Koivu said. "But (Price) made the saves when they were needed, and I thought our defense did a pretty good job clearing out rebounds."
There’s always a lot of pressure to win in Toronto, but Sundin said it’s important to keep an eye on the big picture.
"We have (57) games to play, and we have a chance to be a playoff team and to be a lot better than we are right now," he said. "We did a lot of good things."
Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report.