Maple Leafs 4, Canadiens 1
Saturday, October 2, 1999
Centre Molson, Montréal, Québec
There was an overriding message here last night. One that should be both familiar and comforting to Toronto hockey fans.
If the Maple Leafs are to go anywhere this season it will be Mats Sundin and Curtis Joseph who will take them.
This isn’t terribly new, nothing about these Maple Leafs really is, but with both those stars playing at the top of their game, last night’s season-opening 4-1 victory over the Montréal Canadiens played out like a foregone conclusion.
Sundin was both brilliant and dominating, displaying the same intensity he brought to his game in last spring’s playoffs. Earlier this week the captain stated that he believed he could be a top-five scorer in the NHL. Against the Habs he showed this wasn’t idle chatter.
The elegant Swede, frequently double-shifting and heavily involved in penalty killing again, scored the game’s first goal on a pretty shorthanded effort.
Sundin, who responded to coach Pat Quinn’s challenge and reported to camp in terrific shape, then set up Toronto’s next two goals. He played a team high 24 minutes on 26 shifts.
At the other end, Joseph continued to let his teammates freewheel up ice and he was always there when his defence, cobbled together in the last few days, got sloppy in its own end. As he was last season, Joseph was particularly sharp when it mattered, making three or four acrobatic stops early in the second when the lead was only 1-0.
“That’s as good a game as Mats has played in a while in our coaches’ estimation,” said Quinn. “And ‘Cujo’ was very sharp. He made a couple of real big stops.”
There will be tougher tests for Toronto, such as when the Bruins visit the Air Canada Centre tomorrow night, but for the Leafs it was a good start. It was almost as if the off-season didn’t happen. The Habs were just as bad as advertised defensively and the Leafs, who made very few player moves during the summer, played like exactly the same squad.
They skated fast and hard. They moved the puck quickly in their transition game. And they struggled at times on defence and, always, on the power play.
“I can’t see any reason to change our style. We had a lot of success with it last year and when you look at the team we have – good skaters who move the puck well – I think it’s the style we have to play to be successful,” said Sundin.
Sundin seemed to elevate the play of Jonas Hoglund – the mark of a good player – who started on his left wing despite a mediocre training camp. After scoring his own goal – stealing the puck from Barry Richter at the Toronto blue line for a solo dash – he set up Hoglund for a 2-0 lead.
Hoglund buried a rebound but it was Sundin’s determination, combined with Montréal’s tepid defence, that made it happen. For Hoglund, it was extra sweet. After two seasons in Montréal he was let go during the summer when the Canadiens refused to make him a $550,000 qualifying offer. He instead signed with Toronto as a free agent for $400,000.
“Scoring against a former team that wouldn’t even make you a qualifying offer…that felt great,” said Hoglund, who had only eight goals for Montréal last season.
“Mats was unbelievable tonight. He was flying. It was the opening game and you could see he wanted to get it going right away.”
Toronto’s other goals came from Tomas Kaberle, on a bad angle shot, and Sergei Berezin.
Montréal’s only marker came early in the third when defenceman Bryan Berard left Martin Rucinsky uncovered at the side of the net to take a goalmouth pass from Trevor Linden.
Not only did Sundin and Joseph pick up where they left off last season so did defenceman Alexander Karpovtsev, who led the NHL in plus-minus last season. He was a plus-three. So was Hoglund.
Quinn elected to dress seven defencemen for the game, putting both Berard and newcomer Cory Cross in the lineup.
Story originally published in The Toronto Star, October 3, 1999
TOR PEN – 04:19 – Cross, hooking
TOR SH GOAL – 06:05 – Sundin
TOR PEN – 08:03 – Perreault, tripping
TOR PEN – 01:08 – Valk, high sticking
MTL PEN – 04:28 – Linden, hooking
TOR PEN – 09:25 – Thomas, hooking
MTL PEN – 10:39 – Corson, holding
TOR PEN – 14:09 – Valk, boarding
TOR PEN – 16:32 – Berard, fighting major
MTL PEN – 16:32 – Poulin, fighting major
TOR GOAL – 17:13 – Hoglund (Thomas, Sundin)
MTL GOAL – 07:02 – Rucinsky (Linden, Lachance)
TOR GOAL – 10:23 – Kaberle (Sundin)
TOR GOAL – 19:30 – Berezin (Korolev, Valk)
TOR PEN – 20:00 – McAllister, fighting major
MTL PEN – 20:00 – Stevenson, fighting major
TOR – Joseph (W, 25-26)
MTL – Hackett (L, 25-29)
SHOTS ON GOAL
TOR – 10+8+11 = 29
MTL – 5+12+9 = 26
TOR – Goaltenders: Curtis Joseph. Defence: Bryan Berard, Sylvain Côté, Cory Cross, Tomas Kaberle, Alexander Karpovtsev, Danny Markov. Forwards: Sergei Berezin, Tie Domi, Jonas Hoglund, Mike Johnson, Igor Korolev, Chris McAllister, Yanic Perreault, Steve Sullivan, Mats Sundin (C), Steve Thomas (A), Garry Valk, Todd Warriner.
MTL – Goaltenders: Jeff Hackett. Defence: Francis Bouillon, Scott Lachance, Barry Richter, Craig Rivet, Igor Ulanov, Eric Weinrich. Forwards: Arron Asham, Shayne Corson (A), Craig Darby, Saku Koivu (C), Matt Higgins, Trevor Linden, Patrick Poulin, Mike Ribeiro, Martin Rucinsky, Brian Savage, Turner Stevenson (A), Dainius Zubrus.
TOR – 1-0-0-0 (1.000)
MTL – 0-1-0-0 (.000)
⭐ Mats Sundin (TOR)
⭐⭐ Curtis Joseph (TOR)
⭐⭐⭐ Jeff Hackett (MTL)