I guess my "biggest" take-away from the Leaf-Hab tilt is simply this: It's no longer just a game or two- Dion Phaneuf looks absolutely driven to be an impact player this season. His forays into the offensive zone illustrate that he wants to create opportunities and so far, he has succeeded. He played 28 plus minutes against Montreal and he was his usual robust self while making things happen. He is under-rated in terms of his passing ability out of his own zone and if he plays like this (I know that's a big "if") consistently, he will be returning to the kind of play that earned him end-of-season All-Star status for the Flames a few short years ago.
A few other post-game thoughts:
A few other post-game thoughts:
- At some point Gardiner will have to look nervous, but he sure doesn't right now. One of those rare young players who seems totally unaffected by going from college hockey to the NHL in a matter of a few months.
- I can't imagine how good it feels for Grabovski to score in OT against his former team right in Montreal. What a confidence booster.
- Just before Kulemin crashed the crease with Phaneuf to score the game-tying goal, I was wondering when I was going to start noticing MacArthur more. But he was involved in that play, and that's a positive sign.
- Kadri flashed a couple of moves that would seem to indicate he is confident and settling in. He'll have to fight through limited ice time and I could see him earning more and more time on the power play.
- After his now customary less visible night in Boston, Kessel added a goal and an assist to his already impressive early-season point totals and was often dangerous.
- Schenn's ice time was still limited but Komisarek played over 18 minutes.
Hey, people are telling me there Senators look good, and I posted earlier that while they have some nice young players I don't see them as a good team right now. So maybe I'm wrong when I say that, based on the roster I saw on Saturday night, the Habs scare no one. They are a mediocre NHL team. Oh, when Price is phenomenal, as he surely can be, they are competitive and can make headway, but we can say that for just about every team in the NHL- if they get great goaltending, they can cause problems for the opposition. So while it's always a boost to win in Montreal, especially when you come from behind, I'm not sure how much of a tell-tale sign it is for the Leafs, given that Montreal has yet to win a game at home in October.
Nonetheless, whenever the Leafs and Montreal play, there is electricity in the air. We sat it again Saturday night. (My view is that it is more obvious in Montreal, perhaps, because Montreal fans are generally louder than they are in Toronto, but it’s still pretty intense in the ACC when the two teams hook up…)
I was fortunate to be able to attend a number of games between the two historic Canadian hockey rivals many times, especially in the 1970s—both in the legendary Montreal Forum as well as the less aesthetically satisfying but nonetheless functional (and also wonderfully picture-filled, which I loved) Maple Leaf Gardens.
Not to regale you with old-timer stories about “how things were better in the good old days” but there was something special about those games that I have memories from in the late 1950s and throughout the 1970s. Montreal was a powerhouse in the ‘50s and the Leafs were not, but the tide turned in the early part of the ‘60s when General Manager and coach Punch Imlach re-built the Leafs into a 4-time Cup winning team, behind the likes of players like Tim Horton, Bobby Baun, Allan Stanley (seen battling with Montreal great Jean Beliveau, circa 1959/'60 at left), Johnny Bower, captain George Armstrong, Bobby Pulford, and left-winger Frank Mahovlich, along with many others who contributed in ways large and small.
The Leafs in the ‘60s were good, but not as individually skilled as clubs like Montreal and Chicago in those years. However, they played a checking style (long before people talked about “systems of play”) that had been a Leaf trademark through much of the earlier Conn Smythe/Hap Day era. Teamwork and a defensively-conscious style of play (with great goaltending from Bower) was the hallmark of their success.
Though the Leafs were still no match talent-wise for the Habs throughout the ‘70s, they would periodically upset Montreal, both in Toronto and at the Forum, just often enough to keep the spirits of Leaf fans up even when they were winning championships and we…well, we weren’t.
In fact, there were times when beating the Habs in a regular-season game (I remember the night when Tiger Williams scored his first NHL goal at the Forum…I’m thinking it was during the 1974-’75 season) was pretty much our Stanley Cup in that era- sad to say, I suppose. But it still felt good to beat the hated rivals from equally hockey-mad Quebec.
I wonder if younger-era Leaf fans, those who, say, have been following the Maple Leafs in the last ten to fifteen years, still see Montreal in the way that some of us did back in those golden, olden days? Of course, things are very different. When I was a kid, pre-1967 expansion, Montreal and Toronto played 14 times a season, and often more in the playoffs.
For years, though, we were lucky if we got to see Montreal here twice a season and it’s awfully difficult to maintain a serious, fever-pitched hockey “rivalry” when you rarely see the bad guys. (Just like we almost never seem to see the Red Wings any more...)
For me, it’s not really the same as it used to be. Still neat, of course, but it’s difficult to get as cranked up (could be old age, too…) as when at least one of the teams was an NHL powerhouse. Montreal has won 9 Cups since the Leafs last won theirs. Didn’t even Ken Dryden (seen in a great old posed picture at right) in his book “The Game” in the early ‘80s, comment on how, when the Toronto media would play up the supposedly intense rivalry between the two teams in the ‘70s, it really wasn’t that big a deal for him and his teammates? And that was the reality. Montreal was a virtual All-Star team in those days and Toronto was just another OK team they had to play…
If only the two teams had played in the ’93 finals (the last time Montreal won a Cup, so they have a little string of their own that they’d like to break….), the match-up to this day, even in the regular season, may still be off the charts. (I will say that, in that era, Patrick Roy sure could make you dislike the Habs, eh?)
In any event, I’d enjoy hearing from Leaf fans –“older” and new generation— if you think the once glorious rivalry is like it was, or has perhaps been dulled by time, money, divisional alignments and the realities of the modern game. I saw a number of Twitter comments during the game that would seem to suggest there is still some good old-fashioned "ill will"- at least on the part of Leaf fans who seem to have a dislike for young Subban, for example. But is that an indication that the current generation of Leaf supporters still hate the Habs?
Send your thoughts along…