Final score: Montreal 3, Toronto 1
Honestly, this game went better than expected. Wasn’t great, not in the slightest. But it was better than expected. It’s no secret that the Leafs are in for a rough few seasons, while the Habs are a team that considers themselves to be a legitimate Cup contender. So a 3-1 loss with the 3rd goal being an empty netter really isn’t horrendous on the whole. But boy, did this game start in pretty much the worst way possible.
As anyone that regularly watches the Leafs play knows, Jonathan Bernier has a history of letting in weak goals. So when Max Pacioretty put the first Montreal shot on net and it handcuffed Bernier, bounced over his shoulder and trickled in, I was not surprised. I literally burst out laughing. 100% that was an early omen for the rest of Toronto’s season. However, aside from the standard weak Bernier goal, he played pretty well, coming up huge with a couple of massive saves during the typical Toronto defensive lapses. No question, Bernier kept the Leafs in this game.
Moving on to the defense, despite being a constant lighting rod for criticism, captain Dion Phaneuf had a relatively quiet, but decent game. He ate up minutes, wasn’t a total defensive liability, and played pretty well with his new d-partner, alternate captain Matt Hunwick. He even picked up a secondary assist on the lone Toronto goal. Hunwick, while I don’t believe he is capable of playing top-4 minutes on a consistent basis, had a solid game. He showed some decent chemistry with Phaneuf and was a stabilizer on the ice, logging 4 hits and playing over 20 minutes, along with Captain Dion. Morgan Rielly was Morgan Rielly. He played a touch over 20 minutes, had a few offensive bursts, and was mediocre in the defensive zone, finishing with a -2 rating. Likewise for Jake Gardiner, he played a classic Jake game. Flashes of the Gardiner we saw in the playoffs in 2013, rushing with the puck and being a potential game changer, but we also saw what put him in the doghouse since then. The amount of times I see Jake Gardiner screwing up a pinch and having to rush back, stick flailing and leaving his d-partner out to dry with a 3 on 1 break is enraging. There’s no question that he has immense offensive talent, but that doesn’t mean anything when you don’t record a point, have limited offensive chances, and barely play good defense. This may be a make or break year for Gardiner. Now, it gets ugly with these final 2 players. Martin Marincin and Scott Harrington are two young players that were making their Toronto debut. And they sucked. I’m not going easy on them. They were constantly a defensive liability on the ice and frankly, they looked outmatched by a pretty damn good Montreal squad. Harrington failed to properly cover Alex Galchenyuk on the 2nd Habs goal, and there were countless other instances where both young men were caught up ice, or coughed up the puck, or simply got outmatched. Neither of them are NHL ready, that’s what I got out of this game. I’d like to see either Roman Polak, who was scratched tonight, or Frank Corrado get a shot next game.
Regarding the forwards, James van Riemsdyk scored the lone goal for Toronto (a fluky double tip), but aside from that, the core Leafs players were mostly non-factors. Nazem Kadri looked undisciplined to start, taking a stupid interference penalty early in the game. Joffrey Lupul floated, looking like a shell of his former self. Tyler Bozak was a total non-factor. What I did like, was how well some of the new Leafs acquisitions played. He was a -2, but Brad Boyes may have been the hardest working player in this game, and was a constant buzz on the ice. The fourth line of Nick Spaling, Daniel Winnik, and Mark Arcobello/PA Parenteau was dynamic at times and was easily the best Toronto line. Spaling had a great scoring chance that would’ve tied the game, but was let down by a bouncing puck. Arcobello was on the power play and seemed to be rotating in and out of this line with Parenteau, who didn’t look as good as the rest of these guys. Winnik was a gem last year before the trade, and played like the guy that Leafs fans initially fell in love with. Toronto registered 37 shots on goal, outshooting Montreal by 7. That’s unheard of for recent Toronto teams, who are literally used to being outshot 45-20. Michael Grabner was a healthy scratch tonight, which I’m sure will change. His speed and offensive ability intrigues me, I’d like to see him on the top line at some point. Regardless, there were definite steps in the right direction, but not enough production and effort from Toronto’s top guns, which was disappointing to see.
Carey Price may have been the guy who won the game overall tonight, but Toronto definitely could’ve played worse on the whole. Get used to it, Toronto fans. It’s gonna be a rough year.