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Scrivens, defense help Leafs hold off Habs

by Arpon Basu /

MONTREAL -- The Toronto Maple Leafs' goaltending and overall team defense were major sources of concern for the organization over the long offseason.

One game into the new season, so far, so good on both fronts.

Goalie Ben Scrivens got the nod over assumed incumbent James Reimer and needed to stop only 21 shots to backstop the Maple Leafs to a 2-1 opening-night victory against the rival Montreal Canadiens.

The Maple Leafs finished 29th in the NHL in goals-against per game last season, but they played tight, defensive hockey and snuffed out any momentum the Canadiens could have had after an emotional opening ceremony to kick off the 2012-13 season.

"Our entire team played extremely well defensively," said Scrivens, who has been an American Hockey League standout this season with the Toronto Marlies and brought that level of play up to the NHL with him. "It's not just our defense; our wingers were down low clogging up the slot and picking up rebounds. That's what we need to do to be successful."

Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak scored power-play goals, and Phil Kessel assisted on both for the Maple Leafs to provide Scrivens all the offense he would need -- though he received a lot of help from teammates who kept the Canadiens largely on the perimeter and chasing the puck most of the night.

"I thought we did a really good job of keeping the puck to the outside and limiting their opportunities," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. "When you have a team that has speed, skill, and they've got some big forwards up there that take the puck to the net, you've got to keep them to the outside. The reason we kept the shots down tonight is we kept everything to the outside, we blocked a lot of shots, and we had our sticks in good lanes."

The Canadiens, as they often do, marked the beginning of the new season by honoring its prior ones.

The team's theme for the season is "Raise the Torch," so former Canadiens captains Yvan Cournoyer, Henri Richard, Vincent Damphousse, Serge Savard and Jean Beliveau -- who received an ovation that nearly blew the roof off Bell Centre -- conducted a torch relay that ended with current captain Brian Gionta on the ice.

The torch was passed from player to player as they were introduced to the sellout crowd, and 18-year-old rookie Alex Galchenyuk received one of the loudest ovations prior to his NHL debut.

But one of the most enthusiastic crowd responses was reserved for coach Michel Therrien, coaching his 500th game, his first since being hired for his hometown team.

The warmth from the crowd, however, did not last very long -- the Canadiens took a penalty 46 seconds after the opening faceoff when Ryan White was called for goaltender interference, triggering a Montreal parade to the penalty box.

Erik Cole took Montreal's second penalty of the game 16 seconds after White's ended, and the Maple Leafs took advantage when Kadri jumped on a blocked centering pass from Kessel and caught goaltender Carey Price moving the wrong way at 4:51 of the first. It was Toronto's first shot on goal this season.

The early Canadiens penalties took the crowd out of it and gave the Maple Leafs momentum they would not relinquish. Were it not for a number of strong saves by Canadiens goaltender Carey Price, the game could have gotten out of hand.

"That's a tough way to start out your game," said Price, who had 24 saves. "First game of the season and you get scored on [on] your first shot. That's not the way you want to start, but it's tough when you're a man down for four of the first six minutes. It's tough to get into it when you're chasing the puck around."

The Maple Leafs' tight defensive play should be a welcome sign for their fans and coach Randy Carlyle, who is beginning his first full season behind the Toronto bench after taking over for Ron Wilson on March 2, 2012.

"I thought we tried to establish a strong and aggressive defensive zone coverage, and for times in the game we had a strong forecheck," Carlyle said. "We can skate, but when we got ragged we stopped skating."

Montreal's frustration appeared to show itself at 7:14 of the second period when Tomas Plekanec was whistled for unsportsmanlike conduct after giving Scrivens a snow shower.

Bozak scored Toronto's second power-play goal of the game less than a minute later, jumping on a rebound of a Kessel rocket from the slot at 8:12 to put Toronto ahead 2-0.

By the end of the period, the crowd that was so revved up by the opening ceremony was booing the Canadiens.

"There was a lot of emotion for that game," Therrien said. "We took some penalties that took the momentum out."

The hostility continued into the third period despite the fact Montreal began showing signs of life, spending extended stretches in the Toronto zone for the first time in the game and pressuring the Maple Leafs. The hard work paid off at 13:51 when Gionta jumped on a Scrivens rebound at the lip of the crease on the power play in his first game since Jan. 10, 2011, after missing most of last season with a torn biceps muscle.

But the Maple Leafs successfully held off the late Canadiens charge and headed back to Toronto to prepare for their home opener Monday against the Buffalo Sabres with a perfect record.

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