Leafs 'playing with a bit more confidence'
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price makes a save against Toronto Maple Leafs' James van Riemsdyk during first period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Saturday, November 19, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Next on the Maple Leafs’ long to-do list before they can be taken seriously as playoff contenders is beating the Montreal Canadiens.
They lost all four meetings last season (0-3-1), both games in Montreal so far in 2016-17 and as of Saturday are going on three calendar years without a win in Toronto.
“We’ve had two good (one-goal games) with them and they find a way to win,” coach Mike Babcock said Saturday morning. “We have to get tired of that and find a way to win ourselves.”
The Canadiens are suffering through a run of injuries with Andrei Markov, Brendan Gallagher, David Desharnais, Andrew Shaw and Alex Galchenyuk among those on the shelf. That’s mitigated by the Leafs playing Friday night in New Jersey, though it was a 4-2 win and the 10th time in the past 11 games they’ve got a point or two. That put the Leafs into third in the division, the highest the Babcock-era Leafs have been in his season-and-a-half at the controls.
It’s Toronto’s first Air Canada Centre appearance since Dec. 19.
“It’s nice to be home and we’re happy with how we’ve played of late,” centre Tyler Bozak said. “We have a good team we’re trying to catch (a 10-point deficit coming in).”
Frederik Andersen will be opposing Montreal’s Carey Price in goal.
“Price is one of the best goalies in the world,” said Toronto centre Auston Matthews. “We have to get guys in front of him and take away his eyes. It won’t be a pretty goal that beats him, it will be the second and third chances where we’re crashing the net and trying to bury those opportunities.”
Babcock was unable to say if he’ll make any lineup changes after the Devils’ game and holding a team meeting in lieu of a Saturday morning skate. Winger Nikita Soshnikov left Friday’s game briefly with an upper body issue but returned, He’s one of the many Leaf rookies who’ve had a starring role this year. Toronto’s first-year players having amassed 147 points coming in (57 goals, 90 assists) with Matthews a point away Saturday from equaling the Leaf rookie record of a nine-game streak held by three different players.
“We’re not worried about what’s gone on against Montreal in the past,’ said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “We’re not thinking about who’s in or who’s out for them. It’s a huge two points. We’re not coming in here taking any nights off, we’re coming in with a killer instinct.
“We’re playing with a bit more confidence, we know what to expect from one another.”
Centre Frederik Gauthier will be playing his first game against his home province team, with his father in the stands.
“That’s where I grew up, so that’s always fun,” Gauthier said. “But I didn’t go (to the Bell Centre) often.”
After the game, the Leafs will have five days off, part of the mandated break the players association negotiated this season. They reconvene Thursday in New York for a practice, but Babcock is wary of such a long break.
“If I’m a player safety guy, I think it’s 100% wrong. It doesn’t make any sense for me. You have so many games in a short period of time and (after the break) you are jamming in more. To me, the more days rest you have by not playing back to backs and jamming them in, the healthier you have a chance to be.”