Eric Lindros and the Toronto Maple Leafs leave Montreal tonight as winners, with the big man scoring twice to down the Canadiens. On a night when the Habs announced their intention of retiring the number five of Boom-Boom Geoffrion, and the number twelve of Dickie Moore and Yvon Cornoyer, somehow they failed to execute properly on the ice.
It was one of those games where everyone seemed to be just slightly out of synch. Passes never quite hit the tape, and if they did, the receiver bungled the reception. There were missed plays all over the ice, and at times it just looked like a pre-season affair; a very fast-paced game, but riddled with little mistakes.
The Canadiens did come out flying though, with Mike Komisarek driving Darcy Tucker hard into the wall. He was lucky, though, not to get called for the hit, since Tucker had his face to the boards. A little later it was Sheldon Souray working over a Leaf behind the Canadiens net – and he should have been called as well.
Sadly for the NHL, its headliner game on this evening was poorly reffed. Many of the calls that were supposed to have been made were ignored tonight, and there was, therefore, a lot more obstruction in the game. While the flow remained good, there were a few too many things that were ignored. And in such an important game with national exposure, it surely won’t look good on the league.
One person who seemed able to stay ahead of his checkers fairly well was Alex Kovalev. In what was surely his best period of the year, he danced around opposition continually in the first. A few times he had fans moving to the edge of their seats as he majestically pranced around Leaf defenders. His stride was quicker than usual and his defensive work was even better. He also scored his first of the year on a power play to give the Habs the lead.
With the Leafs down a man, Alex Perezhogin darted behind the net and intercepted Ed Belfour’s clearance attempt. With a quick pass out front, he found Kovalev who then scored one of the easiest goals of his career into a yawning cage.
Somehow, after having dominated much of the first, the Leafs found a way to claw back, and by the end of the first, the momentum was all blue and white. Jose Theodore gave up a juicy rebound while the Habs were killing a penalty and Jason Allison pounced and roofed the puck to draw the clubs even heading into intermission.
Lindros scored his first of the night on the power play in the second when Steve Begin, making perhaps his first mistake of the season, was pick pocketed in front of the Canadiens goal before making his clearance. Kyle Wellwood then pushed the puck to Lindros who subsequently fired a laser past Theodore to give Toronto the lead.
Montreal managed to claw back to even in the third on a superb effort from Thomas Plekanec, who played a fantastic game again, and was promoted to the second line in place of Pierre Dagenais after about the halfway point. After controlling the puck around the perimeter and shrugging off two Leaf challengers, Plekanec sent the puck behind the net, where Mike Ribeiro scooped it up and sent out a return pass. The resultant shot was a rifle that left Belfour no chance. It was an impressive play on which to have scored his first goal in the NHL.
With less than eight minutes remaining in the third, Lindros sealed the deal. Another juicy rebound given up by Theodore unfortunately hit a skate in front and settle sweetly on Lindros’ stick, and he easily depotited to cash in the Leafs victory.
The Canadiens defence was exposed tonight and the weaknesses were exploited by the Leafs. They were able to maintain the puck in Montreal’s end for long stretches at a time because, unfortunately, with a sustained forecheck, the Canadiens were unable to retain the puck long enough to connect a couple of passes together.
This is something that Claude Julien will surely address before the Habs next game Tuesday night when Boston comes to town. Because if the Bruins get hold of the game tape, you can be sure they’ll be attacking in waves with the hopes of keeping Montreal penned deep.
Hopefully answers can be found, however, so that the Canadiens can finally record a victory on home ice this season. Against the Bruins, that would be sweet indeed.