Matthew Lombardi had a lot of time to think about how his return to the National Hockey League and his first game with the Toronto Maple Leafs
would turn out.
First and foremost, Lombardi was just hoping that game would one day come as he struggled to recover from a concussion and neck injury that has kept him on the sidelines since last Oct. 13. But that day did indeed come -- and Lombardi couldn't have scripted it much better if he tried.
Lombardi's shorthanded goal in the opening minute of the second period proved to be the winner thanks to a 32-save shutout performance from James Reimer
in a 2-0 opening night Maple Leafs over the Montreal Canadiens
on Thursday night.
But even though Lombardi got the personal glory of a goal, he said that was not the most satisfying part of his night.
"It was real nice to get in there, and it's great to win," Lombardi said. "It's just a good feeling in here, the guys are excited. To be a part of that win is pretty cool because I've been sitting on the outside looking in for a long time. It's nice to be a part of that and be a part of a team. It's awesome."
Reimer's shutout also came under somewhat strenuous circumstances.
Firmly planted as the Leafs No. 1 goalie, Reimer will be under a fair amount of scrutiny at the start of the season to see if his strong play down the stretch last season -- when Toronto was essentially out of the playoff race -- can continue when the points at stake are more valuable.
Thursday night was an excellent first step toward proving just that.
"James starts right where he left off last year," coach Ron Wilson said.
Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf
also scored and added an assist to give the Leafs an opening night win over Montreal for the second consecutive year.
Goaltender Carey Price
was just about the only member of the Canadiens to truly excel, even though he gave up two goals on just 18 shots.
Defenseman P.K. Subban
had a particularly rough evening as he was caught up ice on Lombardi's shorthanded goal and coughed up the puck on Phaneuf's goal, leaving him with a deserved minus-2 rating.
"We dominated the first period, but our mistake at the start of the second when they got their shorthanded goal changed our style of game," Montreal coach Jacques Martin said. "They used that goal to take advantage of the period on our turnover."
The Leafs penalty kill not only killed all five Canadiens power plays, they finished a plus-1 on the night thanks to Lombardi's shorthanded goal. A big reason for that success was obviously Reimer, but recent acquisition David Steckel
had a huge role to play in that as well.
Brought in earlier this week via trade from New Jersey for his faceoff prowess, Steckel did just that by going 18-7 in the dot, including a 13-4 mark in the defensive zone.
"He's a 60 to 65 percent winner and that's a huge advantage, especially killing penalties," Wilson said. "Every faceoff in our zone, as long as he wasn't winded on the bench, I put him out there. It's an advantage I haven't had since I've been here, to have a real go-to guy for faceoffs."
Not only did the Canadiens lose the game, they also lost newly acquired defenseman Chris Campoli
when he limped off the ice to the dressing room just past the midway point of the second period. The team announced he had a lower-body injury and would be re-evaluated Friday.
Both the Canadiens and Maple Leafs took turns dominating the game through the first two periods, except Toronto actually capitalized to take a 1-0 lead into the third period.
"In the first period we played a simple game, we had a lot of puck support, we attacked the net, we put pucks on net," Martin said. "In the second, we tried to play individually, and the Leafs benefitted."
The Canadiens were flying in the first, outshooting the Leafs 14-4 and controlling the play territorially but not really making life particularly difficult for Reimer. Andrei Kostitsyn
had the two best chances of the period, once getting to a puck that had trickled past Reimer into the crease a fraction of a second late, and later hitting a post.
It was a completely different Leafs team that came out for the second period, asserting themselves physically and forcing the Canadiens into turnovers.
"There wasn't any panic, it was 0-0 after the first," Phaneuf said. "We came in and said we knew we had better, we got that first period out of the way and I thought we really settled in and played well for the rest of the game."
Montreal began the period on the power play, but Subban lost the puck deep in the offensive zone leaving his fellow point man Tomas Plekanec
to defend a 2-on-1 led by Lombardi. Plekanec did well to force Lombardi to keep it and shoot, but Mike Brown
controlled the rebound after it seemed to sit in the slot for an eternity and slid a pass to Lombardi, who had wheeled around the net. Lombardi's high slot beat Price 33 seconds into the middle period.
"It just stayed there for me, it looked real good in front," Lombardi said. "I was just real excited to get that one."
The Leafs very nearly made it 2-0 just before the two-minute mark of the third, but Joffrey Lupul
couldn't put the puck over the outstretched glove of Price, who picked it right off the goal line.
The Leafs did make it 2-0 a few minutes later, though, when Subban's attempted stretch pass was picked off by Lupul in the neutral zone. The puck went to Phil Kessel
, who teed up a one-timer for Phaneuf, and his cannon from the high slot ticked off the crossbar and into the net at 4:42 of the third.
Toronto hosts the Ottawa Senators on Saturday in the second game of their season-opening four game homestand. The Canadiens head home for practice Friday before flying to Winnipeg on Saturday to serve as the visiting team for the official return of the Jets on Sunday.