Preseason Game 36 – Canadiens 2, Maple Leafs 1 (OT)

Preseason Game 36
Canadiens 2, Maple Leafs 1 (OT)
Tuesday, September 16, 1997
Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario

Mike Murphy has changed his mind. He isn’t in the cutting mood just yet.

Last week, Murphy said the first cuts from his bloated 39 man training camp roster would come after the Maple Leafs finished playing three exhibition games in four nights.

Last night’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Montréal Canadiens marked the end of that run, but now Murphy is preaching patience. He says he needs more time to acquaint himself with some of the new faces trying to wear a Leaf jersey this season.

“I think it is important for everyone to get to know the players and it is tough to be too critical of some of the new players, so you are not going to cut them,” said Murphy, who meets with his staff and GM Ken Dryden and associate GM Mike Smith daily about the players in camp.

It sounds as if Murphy, who has had two weeks to get to know his players, is unsure about which direction to take.

On one hand, he says he wants the Leafs to have a stronger physical presence, one in which the key is defence first and foremost.

If that’s the case, why is he still looking at Martin Prochazka and Igor Korolev? Sure, the Leafs need goals, but at what expense?

Prochazka is a scorer who has the skills needed to play in the NHL, and there have been times when the Czech has proved he could cut it. But those times are few and far between, and last night’s game was another example.

“I didn’t see him much tonight, so if I didn’t see him, I think he was probably…,” Murphy said about Prochazka, his voice trailing off. “The ice was horrible and it is tough to play on an ice surface for the way he skates. He needs a faster rink so we’ll reserve too much criticism. I think he was adequate out there.”

Prochazka said he’s had time to adjust to NHL games and he feels fine on the ice.

“The ice was bad, but I feel good about my camp,” he said.

Korolev, in his first preseason game, was also “adequate,” Murphy said.

One of the issues facing Murphy and the Leaf braintrust is that none of his prospects has stood up and been counted since camp opened.

The game against Montréal had its moments. A sweltering Gardens, soft ice and maybe a little fatigue made for an entertaining effort.

As expected, Mats Sundin, Jason Smith, Félix Potvin, Tie Domi and some of the regulars turned in a strong effort. You’d expect that.

As for potential Leafs, Jeff Ware probably enhanced his chances of sticking around, while Alyn McCauley didn’t look out of place.

Mike Johnson scored the Leafs’ lone goal late in the second period and earned praise from the coach for his effort.

Johnson said there’s no use in fearing what news the coach could bring at a moment’s notice. “You can’t waste opportunities because these are the games he makes his decision on,” he said.

Another bright light was McCauley, who again showed he’s got a big upside. But it’s no secret the Leafs think he needs some time to develop.

In overtime, Éric Houde netted the winner for the Habs with 39 seconds left in the period on a defensive lapse.

“I did not like the way we lost; nobody was in front of our net when they scored,” Murphy said.

Story originally published in The Toronto Star, September 17, 1997

1st Period
MTL PEN – 02:11 – Higgins
MTL GOAL – 08:37 – Ward (Quintal, Tucker)
MTL PEN – 09:47 – Rivet
TOR PEN – 10:42 – Prochazka
MTL PEN – 14:25 – Ward
MTL PEN – 16:24 – Recchi
TOR PEN – 16:24 – Schneider
MTL PEN – 18:41 – Tucker

2nd Period
MTL PEN – 04:37 – Ryan
TOR PEN – 05:07 – Cooper
TOR PEN – 07:59 – Modin
MTL PEN – 11:15 – Ryan
TOR PEN – 11:15 – Domi
MTL PEN – 13:03 – Houde
MTL PEN – 16:37 – Rivet
TOR PEN – 16:37 – Hendrickson
TOR GOAL – 17:19 – Johnson (McCauley)
MTL PEN – 17:58 – Brisebois

3rd Period
TOR PEN – 01:34 – Clark
TOR PEN – 09:44 – Sullivan
MTL PEN – 16:00 – Recchi
TOR PEN – 16:00 – Domi

MTL GOAL – 04:20 – Houde (Bordeleau)