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Driven Phaneuf leads again but is the Montreal-Toronto rivalry what is used to be?

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:

  • 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…


  1. I'm 31, so that should put me into the newer generation. I feel there is a bigger hockey rivalry with Ottawa than Montreal, mostly due to "recent" playoff history with them. I just love to hate them. With Montreal, there is still a passionate dislike, but it seems less to do with a specific hockey rivalry and more to do with a general dislike of Quebec/Montreal and their fans.

  2. I still get a special thrill when we beat Montreal - heck, I even feel the rivalry when I see someone wearing the Habs' sweaters. It's definitely a childhood thing - back to the 50's and 60's - because the cultural rivalry it once represented is long gone. In fact, aren't the Habs the only team of the two that has Ontario-born players? I agree with Anon above - those playoff series with Ottawa have elevated them to an elite "hate-on" status with us. The Red Wings used to be in there too, but now that we only seem to play them every other year, that's faded out. (Maybe a post on how scheduling has weakened traditional rivalries - and they could be reinvigorated - would be interesting?)
    As for last night, there was a lot to like. Gustavsson made some nice saves and honestly - I don't think Georges Vezina could have stopped any of those goals, (well, maybe the Cammalleri one). Our newly mobile D is adding a dimension we've been missing for a while, Steckel could have had three, Kadri played with imagination and laid out a couple of solid checks, and the Grabovski line looks like it's finding its rhythm. Gardiner's poise under pressure is amazing, and I'm always happy to see Komisarek play well. Even Schenn is starting to look like his old self.
    I may have the rosy glasses on this morning... but that's what happens after celebrating a win over the Habs!

  3. Great win for the Leafs last night. Gardiner looked like a veteran Dman and seems to be getting better with every shift, on both sides of the puck. Phaneuf is showing us that his past Norris nomination was no fluke. He has a gear that can dominate this game.

    I have a bone to pick with someone.

    I was disgusted with two of Glen Healy's comments last night. The comment about Reimer overacting or embellishing the hit to his head by Gionta and the comment about how bad Phaneuf passes to his wingers were. 'Montreal exposes that by covering the wingers and letting Phaneuf make his mistakes.'

    First, Healy backtracks his comments about Reimer by saying 'it's not a good sign Remier is not playing.' It was clearly a violent hit without even have to look at the replay. Pure garbage comment. I was happy to see the Leafs respond by crashing Price a few times. I.E. NazKad crashing the net.

    Second, I watched the game for a second time this morning and tried to find a reason for Healy's comment about Phaneuf. I counted three missed passes, all on the left-wing, from Phaneuf to a winger. All three passes hit the stick of the winger but for some reason or other Healy felt it was Phaneuf's fault the pass was incomplete. I also counted 8 passes Phaneuf made that resulted in scoring chances and even a goal (the long breakout pass to Grabo that resulted in the 4th goal for the Leafs.) Dion Phaneuf was one of the best Dmen on the ice last night for both teams. Healy's comments were unwarranted. I'm sick and tired of listening to his drivel on HNIC. The guy wouldn't be able to evaluate a hockey game if the script was for him by Scotty Bowman. I hope idiots like him keep underestimating Dion's game. There is no doubt Dion would prefer it that way. As someone said on twitter last night and I paraphrase 'Healy should feel comfortable pretending to be a commentator, he pretended to be an NHL goalie for almost 20 years' LMAO!

  4. I loved last night’s game, the rivalry is alive and well. Grabovski scoring in OT was one of life’s perfect moments when “the universe is unfolding as it should”. How is that for the seventies? For sure, a number of goals against Gustavsson have been ringing in against the far post. It certainly seems like a case of “oh well, what can you do?” However, I am concerned about Gustavsson’s positioning, his angles and depth in the net. Moreover, he appears to commit to the butterfly too soon. While I could be wrong, because camera angles can deceive, he seems too close to the short side, and perhaps too deep in the net. When a shooter sees a lot of space on the far side it effects his dynamics. Recall Lupul and Frattin commenting about Pavelick’s low glove. That low glove creates a visible target above the glove. With Gustavsson’s size, on those shots that range off the post, the shooter should have seen a lot of Jonas, and not much else. That would be true if he was lined up square and far enough out. Instead, what they are seeing is a lot of net, which gives a sniper a target to hit. To make matters worse, the quick commit to butterfly is now predictable, telling the shooter to shoot high. On the positive side, these positioning problems are easily correctable, whereas the early commit to butterfly is probably a confidence issue, a question of Jonas trusting his perception.

  5. TM_Beeker...I know many people find Healy annoying. From my perspective, he does seem to have an "edge" when talking about the Leafs. Perhaps this dates back to his playing days and feeling somehow mis-treated, or his not getting the GM's job in more recent years. I suppose Leaf fans can be accused of over-reacting, but there are too many instances where his acerbic comments are Leaf-directed for it to be accidental...

  6. I agree that the Reimer embellishing comment was particularly odd, given that, even at the time, he was clearly not embellishing the hit. While I have a general impression that Phaneuf’s passing accuracy could improve, he is so effective in so many areas that the caustic comment seemed disproportionate relative to his overall skill and marked determination.

  7. Bobby C....Thanks for your thoughts on The Monster. I don't have the goalie-specific technical expertise that some observers do, but I sense that Gustavsson can be a good NHL goalie. I don't think we have seen him at his best and we will only see that when he feels confident and knows management and the team believe in him. It's a bit of a Catch 22. Management wants him to be really good, but he has not been getting a run of games to get comfortable. Goalies often go through high's and low's in their career, and he is no different.

  8. Michael L., I agree. Gustavsson has the skill set to be not only a good NHL goalie but, under the right circumstances, a dominant one. If the coaches, players and management around him are supportive and the stars finally line up, he has the potential to surprise what Ron Wilson calls “the unsophisticated observer” with a successful career. I wish him the best, if that happens to be as a Leaf or elsewhere.

  9. And I'm OK with Gustavsson being successful elsewhere, Bobby C., if that's what it takes for him to feel comfortable and confident.

  10. At 40 years of age I have to say I was just catching the end of the true Montreal-Leafs hatred. Since the mid 80's I would have to say the Leafs were more interested in beating Chicago and Detroit. In the late 90's and since there is a much bigger rivalry with Ottawa but even that is on the wane. The Leafs biggest rivals right now are who? No one really. 6 years out of the playoffs will do that to a team. That is the rub, to really have a rivalry teams have to meet in the playoffs, preferably over a couple of seasons. Look at Chicago and Vancouver.

    Right now I can't think of a single team the Leafs are rivals with, not one. Sure a divisional game can be a little extra but really when was the last time you watched a game and really hated the other team? For me it was when the Leafs would loose the regular season series against Ottawa and then beat them 4 out 4 over 5 years in the playoffs. During Ottawa's run tp the cup final I cheered for every other team to beat them because it would have physichally hurt to see the win when the Leafs hadn't. At one time I would have thrown something if the Leafs had even thought about aquiring Spezza (who back then was a gutless no good for nothing overhyped piece of crap, or so I thought) now I look and say he is a piece who could really help the Leafs. I really don't have any feeling about Ottawa except they are also in the NHL, just another team like Montreal, Detroit or Florida. If the Leafs ever get back to true contender status then we will have a rivalry again. I can't wait.

    About last night I think the Leafs answered some questions. Kessel wasn't his most dominant but still found a way to produce, good on him. I am starting to believe in Kessel which is something I had not done previously. Phanuef has been all star caliber all year around. Yes mistakes still happen, as they always will, but he truly does seem to be much more invovled this year. Every time something happens it seems Dion is right there in the middle of it. Komisarek played excellent last night, a very tough situation to come into and he excelled like the veteran he is. Gardiner looks better every time I see him play. Liles was also better (nice play on the overtime goal) marginally but I am still not sold on him as a top 4 dman or a powerplay quarterback.

    Overall a good bounce back win. The warts are still evident but they and more importantly Kessel didn't allow a bad night in Boston to spiral into a twenty game wasteland. That is an important development in a young teams's evolution.

  11. Great post Wilbur...Rivalries are so important and I tend to be with you, I'm not sure the Leafs have true "can't wait to beat these guys" kinds of rivals these days. Ottawa a few years ago, yes, the Habs, sure and Detroit (if we ever saw them!) but when you're not in the playoffs you just don't reach those levels of "hate" that you build up over a two-week series.

    And I agree that there despite a less than perfect performance, there were many good signs last night...

  12. I think we forget about our rivalry with the Habs right until when we have to play them again. Beating the Sens in Ottawa is nice, but it's like beating your little brothers in the street game- satisfying and all and it generates good trash-talk, but not impressive. Beating the Habs at Montreal, however, that's another story. Especially when the wound is packed with the salt of a tying game off the netting and Grabbo seals the deal in OT. Sometimes I refer to the Habs as "honoured enemies", but when the puck drops, I hate them as much as I ever have. The interesting thing is how the worm seems to be turning- if someone told you ahead of time that Reimer would get injured with a head-shot in the first and that Monster would play the 2nd and 3rd, what likely outcome of the game would you envision? It seems that things just aren't going the Habs way at all this season and the Leafs are in ascendency, regardless of how sloppy we can be. I think it's primarily due to two factors- BB as GM and Phaneuf as the first Leafs captain in a while who was born to be a Leafs' captain.
    Re: Monster, I'm at the point of no return with him for the first time. Man, his flaws are serious, and I think almost all of them with the exception of his terrible glove position, are in his head. Being the big narrative person that I am, it's possible fate is putting him between the pipes vs. Philly tomorrow. When I watch him play, I think maybe the only thing that will settle him in is being thrown to the wolves in a situation like this. This may be his best opportunity to shine the entire season, yet it could be the beginning of the end of his time as a Leaf as well. I hope, really, really hope, he rediscovers this part of him game-
    But the odds are stacked against him deep now.
    If, like so many of us, you've had enough of the crap coming out of Glenn Healy's mouth (along with the terrible duo of Hughson and Simpson), here's your outlet-
    Remember to specify complaint and television. We are, after all, the fan base that brings home the bacon for the CBC.

  13. I think thats it Michael. I guess it is still important when they play the Habs, but to my mind it is more of a nostalga trip than any sense of real excitment.

  14. KidK, your comment on Gustavsson is well taken. I sense a lot of us see his flaws, but know he has legit talent. But confidence is SO important. As you point out, how he plays (if he gets the chance) in Philly may determine how far the Leafs (and Wilson, in particular) will run with him. I've been stressing Monster's potential, but yes, we ultimately have to see it consistently. If things don't go well, I can see Wilson look to Srivens or whoever is playing well for the Marlies....

  15. I still think if Gustavsson can trust his instincts, he'll be OK. He plays a little deep, for sure, but that can be corrected and you've got to give some credit to the shooters and deflectors. He made a couple of great reflex saves late in the third - perfectly positioned. I'm wondering if the "Allaire Method" is causing him some problems.
    Having said that - I'd like to see Scrivens.

  16. Gerund O'...Apparently Gustavsson has the net tomorrow night in Philly, so we'll see how he responds on the road again. (And how his teammates respond in front of him!)

    As I've posted here in the past, I'm not sure Allaire has been the right tutor for The Monster....

  17. I'm 28 and grew up in the Yukon, so I was never really exposed to the rivalry, unless you count The Hockey Sweater being one of my first books, but I've cheerfully bought into the Leafs-Habs rivalry. Living in Vancouver, I reserve the majority of "hate", if such a strong word applies to hockey, for the Canucks and their fans, and kind of regard the Habs as "worthy enemies" of a sort. Love to beat them, and love to chirp with their fans, but they don't set my teeth on edge like the Canucks do.

    I was around for the Leafs-Sens playoffs matchups pre-Lockout, but given how those always went and Ottawa's recent degeneration I think the rivalry is more schadenfreude than anything...

    If Toronto has a real rival right now, I'd suggest Carolina. They don't play super often, but they're both playoff bubble teams, and I'm still bitter about the '02 Playoffs. ;)

  18. Thanks for the post Malcolm W....Interesting that the Canucks have that effect on you- I guess any time we don't like a particular team and live near that city and their fans and see the constant media coverage, it gets on our nerves.

    By the way, I am with you on the '02 playoffs. Still have no clue how we lost to Carolina. That was our year to get to the Cup finals...maybe '04 as well.