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 MONTREAL (CP) – The Toronto Maple Leafs were circling the Bell Centre ice getting ready for practice on Friday when suddenly they were called in for a team meeting.

Neither the players nor coach Pat Quinn said what the meeting was about, but it likely had to do with the Leafs being winless in their first three games of the NHL season.

And it probably included reminders about the surprising Montreal Canadiens, who they will meet on Saturday night (7 p.m. EDT). Last Saturday, the Canadiens shocked the Leafs 4-0 in Toronto.

“The meeting was set up,” said Quinn, who brought the players back onto the ice after the 30-minute meeting. “It was nothing special.

“We haven’t won a game yet,” he added. “We’ve had stretches where we’ve played well.

“But we need to get through this start. We have some guys we need to be playing a lot better.”

The Leafs, who have scored only four goals thus far, had their lines switched for the practice, although Quinn would not confirm they will be used in the game.

They saw captain Mats Sundin centring Mikael Renberg and Nik Antropov, while Robert Reichel was between Darcy Tucker and Owen Nolan. Joe Nieuwendyk centred Gary Roberts and Tom Fitzgerald.

A fourth line was to be made up from Tie Domi, Matt Stajan, Nathan Perrott and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

The Leafs learned last week that the Canadiens, a weak, disorganized club last season, are a tougher opponent now under coach Claude Julien’s tight, defensive system.

Nieuwendyk said the Habs reflect the defensive philosophy of new general manager Bob Gainey, under whom Nieuwendyk once played in Dallas.

“It’s quite clear that Montreal is a much different team now,” said Nieuwendyk. “I know Bob Gainey pretty well and it seems they’ve adopted his style of play.

“If we didn’t know it then, we know now that they’re a team that’s going to be patient and play very well defensively in the neutral zone. Those are the types of things maybe we haven’t seen (from Montreal) for a few years. They’re a pretty good hockey club because they’re consistent in their play.”

Quinn added that the Leafs took the Habs lightly in their first meeting.

“I don’t think our players expected that the few chances we gave up would end up as goals,” said Quinn. “We played in a relaxed state rather than a state of trying to win a hockey game and we paid a price for it.

“They were sharp. They’re going to live by their defensive credo and it’s working for them right now.”

The Leafs’ big guns have been silent thus far. Sundin, Nieuwendyk, Nolan, Roberts and Renberg are all without a point and are all minus-two thus far. Reichel has also been blanked.

“I’m not frustrated,” said Sundin. “You always want to score.

“That’s a big part of my job. But it’s early. As long as I’m getting the chances and the line is getting chances.”

Winger Alexander Mogilny skated before the practice to test a sore groin suffered against Washington on Monday, although Quinn said is not expected back for “a few days.”

And defenceman Bryan McCabe, who has yet to play because of a knee injury, rode a stationary bike but then joined his teammates on the ice near the end of practice.

“It’s coming along,” said McCabe. “I hope to begin full practises with the team (on Saturday).

“Hopefully, I’ll get a full week of practising in and play next weekend, if I’m lucky. It feels awesome. It feels like it did before I hurt it. The key is to get back in game shape. I haven’t had a good hard skate in a while.”

The Leafs are on a bizarre five-game road trip. They flew in from a game Thursday night in New Jersey and will fly back after facing the Habs to play the New York Islanders on Monday night. Then they go to Dallas and Phoenix.


© The Canadian Press, 2003