Preseason Game 35
Canadiens 5, Maple Leafs 5
Saturday, September 13, 1997
Centre Molson, Montréal, Québec
New look Maple Leafs. Same old defensive problems.
While it’s unreasonable to draw steadfast conclusions from one exhibition game, last night’s fast paced but sloppy 5-5 overtime tie with the Canadiens demonstrated that several bad habits still fester within this Toronto team.
This was the Leafs’ debut in the fall friendlies, however it could have been lifted from any one of those horrid February nights last season when this squad repeatedly self destructed.
Last night, the Leafs showed the same disturbing lack of commitment to their own end, and the fleet-footed Habs often buzzed goaltender Félix Potvin, who played the full 65 minutes, and peppered him with good shots.
“We did have some difficulties in the defensive zone, but we haven’t had much opportunity to work on that (at camp),” said coach Mike Murphy, who was generally pleased with what he saw.
“On defence, you have to pin the other guys (along the boards). We didn’t get a lot of pins tonight. But the will was there and I was happy about that. We just didn’t execute.”
Murphy wants his squad to cut its goals against by at least 40 goals this season by playing a tough, defence first style. Exchanging chances with a team like Montréal, while entertaining, is not going to get this squad within sniffing range of a playoff spot.
It didn’t help that Toronto lost Daniil Markov, its most physical defenceman through the early stages of camp, with a knee injury late in the second period. Markov had Shayne Corson lined up for a hip check, but Martin Rucinsky ploughed into him as well. The 21 year old Russian fell awkwardly to the ice with Rucinsky on his back, and his right leg crumpled beneath him.
Early indications are that Markov, who left on crutches, partially tore ligaments in his right knee and won’t be able to even skate for a month. He’ll be examined by an orthopedic surgeon today in Toronto.
While the Leafs were losing one blueliner to injury, it appears their most important defender is indeed healthy again.
Mathieu Schneider, who’s season ended prematurely following groin surgery in the spring, was one of the best players on the ice. He skated strongly, getting more ice time after Markov was hurt, and scored both goals when the Leafs battled back from a 5-3 deficit in the third.
“It’s great to skate pain-free again. The groin didn’t bother me at all,” said Schneider. “I was happy with my offensive game, but I thought we were a little too sloppy in our end.”
Falling into that type of game at a sold out Molson Centre underlined an essential truth about this squad. For it to have any success, Potvin is going to have to be brilliant. He was, at times, last night and made a jaw dropping save on Mark Recchi in the final minute of regulation to preserve the tie.
Murphy said he decided before the game to diverge from the tradition of splitting goaltending duties in early exhibition games in order to let Potvin find his rhythm. Similarly, Glenn Healy will play the entire contest in New York tomorrow night.
Apart from Potvin and Schneider, there were some other positives for the Leafs, which already puts them ahead of last year’s preseason, when they had the NHL’s worst record of 1-5-2.
Sergei Berezin, playing on the right wing of the top line with Mats Sundin and Derek King, had three assists. Prospect Alyn McCauley, an outsider for the number two centre role, did some clever work with the puck and had an assist while newcomer Martin Prochazka, counted on to boost the offence, chipped in with a goal.
The Leafs also showed a little muscle. Defenceman Jeff Ware battled gamely while splitting two fights with Terry Ryan. Newcomer Kris King also earned a split decision with Craig Rivet.
“I just want to play hard and show I’m willing to do anything to try and make this team,” said Ware.
Story originally published in The Toronto Star, September 14, 1997
TOR GOAL – 02:23 – Domi (McCauley)
MTL PP GOAL – 14:55 – Recchi (Groleau, Quintal)
MTL GOAL – 15:13 – Bordeleau (Guren, Ling)
TOR GOAL – 04:58 – Prochazka (Clark)
MTL GOAL – 13:36 – Bure (Rucinsky, Thornton)
MTL GOAL – 17:55 – Rivet (Thornton, Guren)
TOR GOAL – 19:58 – Sundin (Berezin, Macoun)
MTL GOAL – 06:02 – Thornton (Quintal)
TOR PP GOAL – 06:45 – Schneider (Berezin, Gustafsson)
TOR PP GOAL – 09:47 – Schneider (Sundin, Berezin)
MTL – Thibault (14-16), Garon (T, 13-16)
TOR – Potvin (T, 26-31)
SHOTS ON GOAL
MTL – 7+13+11+0 = 31
TOR – 12+11+7+2 = 32