Leafs look to break losing Hab-it
Toronto goes into Hockey Night in Canada matchup having lost 14 straight to rivals
TORONTO — Here’s everything the Toronto Maple Leafs could want: Saturday night, national TV against their oldest rivals with the stands full.
But this biggest of all regular season stages 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 in Montreal, the Leafs will be trying to end a streak of 14 consecutive losses to the Habs, 10 of those in regulation.
“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 wins. “Hopefully, we can change that and have a good talk after.”
Van Riemsdyk had Toronto’s last winning goal against the Canadiens, in a 5-3 victory in Toronto, back on Jan. 18, 2014. Tyler Bozak, one of only five Leafs then on the roster who is still with the team — along with J.V.R., Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner — assisted on it along with Phil Kessel. Joffrey Lupul had an empty-netter and Jonathan Bernier outduelled Carey Price in goal.
Price didn’t seem to be traumatized by the event — he’s since strengthened his career record against Toronto to 23-13-1. He has more wins against the Leafs than any other NHL club save for the Boston Bruins (24), and has more saves against the Leafs (1,076) than any other team.
New Jersey goaltender Cory Schneider is already in the Leafs’ collective head after making 47 saves on 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 that might have changed the outcome of Wednesday’s game. 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 has one win in four games. But they’ll have four days of rest to get ready.
Because of a mandatory day off Thursday, the Leafs had a 24-hour respite from an intense video session and a harangue by Babcock. The head coach was mighty peeved that the Leafs didn’t pay attention to the scouting data on the Devils, who disrupted Toronto with their speed and spunk, then zapped them with a rare five-on-three short-handed goal.
“They skated us into the ground,” Babcock said Wednesday night. “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 defenceman Morgan 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.
“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 on Wednesday.
“Like I said before (Wednesday),” he said, “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, scored the Toronto Maple Leafs’ last game-winner against the Montreal Canadiens, way back in January 2014. The Leafs have lost 14 straight games to the Montreal Canadiens heading into their matchup on Saturday. — THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES