Leafs looking to end losing Hab-it
TORONTO Here’s everything the Toronto Maple Leafs could want: Saturday night, national TV against their oldest rivals and the stands full of their “real” fans.
“They spent their own dough to get here and they came here to see us,” Reggie Dunlop would snarl if Mike Babcock could bring the Slap Shot star back for a pre-game dressing-room address.
But this biggest regular-season stage for the Leafs, lining up against the Montreal Canadiens, is getting to be a pain in the posterieur. When they arrive at the Bell Centre, the Leafs will be trying to end a streak of 14 consecutive losses to the Habs (0-10-4).
“Thanks for reminding me,” winger James van Riemsdyk said after Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils ended the Leafs’ undefeated start at three and put more emphasis on a win Saturday. “Hopefully we can change that and have a good talk after.”
Van Riemsdyk had Toronto’s last winning goal against the Canadiens, a 5-3 victory in Toronto back on Jan. 18, 2014. Tyler Bozak, one of only five Leafs still on the team with JVR, Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner, assisted on it along with Phil Kessel. Joffrey Lupul had the empty-netter and Jonathan Bernier outdueled Carey Price in goal.
Price doesn’t seem to have been traumatized by the event, going on to strengthen his career record against Toronto to 23-13-1. That’s more wins for him against any other NHL club aside from Boston (24) while making more saves against the Leafs (1,076) than against any other team. It has helped Montreal maintain a comfortable lead in the centuryold series (355-285-88-8).
New Jersey goaltender Cory Schneider is already in the Leafs’ collective head after making 47 saves Wednesday, which makes facing Price all the more daunting.
“They’ll be ready for us and they have a great goaltender as well,” Kadri said. “We have to find a way to get that (extra) inch to put the puck in the back of the net instead of outside it.”
He was referring to all those posts the Leafs hit on Schneider that might have changed the outcome. Price holds a .924 save percentage against the Leafs, though the good news for Toronto is he’s one of the few positives for the Canadiens. Their revamped lineup in the face of controversial player moves has produced one win in four games. But they’ll have had a four-day rest to get ready for Toronto and the noise their fans bring.
“That’s a fun building to play in,” Kadri agreed.
Because of a mandatory day off Thursday, the Leafs had a 24-hour respite from an intense video session and a haranguing by Babcock. Not that the coach was going to whip them hard for one loss, but he was mighty peeved they didn’t pay attention to pre-scout data on the Devils, who disrupted Toronto with their speed and spunk, then zapped them with a rare 5-on-3 short-handed goal.
“They skated us into the ground,” Babcock said Wednesday. “But it’s over with now. We have lots of time to look at the game tape and get ready to face a hungry Montreal team.”
As Rielly pointed out, Saturday will be the Leafs’ first divisional game. Take away last season’s fail against Montreal (0-3-1) and the Leafs gained 39 of a possible 52 points against the rest of the Atlantic, which sustained their playoff push.
“We have to take those games very seriously,” Rielly said.
Goaltender Frederik Andersen said the Leafs should learn from taking last year’s playoff orphan Devils too lightly Wednesday and not get bogged down thinking about the Habs hex.
“Like I said before (Wednesday), it doesn’t matter what happened before. You can’t use the record (to predict) anything. It’s a new game and we have to be prepared.”
James van Riemsdyk, right, and the Maple Leafs have lost 14 straight games to the Canadiens.