The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are in similar positions heading into Monday’s NHL trade deadline.
Neither team is expected to make any major moves, although Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas may add a right-shot defenceman or hard-nosed forward if an opportunity presents itself. His Canadiens counterpart, Marc Bergevin, is apparently content to hang on to his picks and prospects as his team is fading from contention for third place in the Atlantic Division and now has to fight the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins for a wild-card playoff spot.
Funny thing, though. Early in what turned out to be an entertaining 6-3 Leafs win over the Canadiens on Saturday night, the fan bases for each team could have had divergent views of what their teams should do by Monday’s deadline. Views that changed as the game turned upside down.
With the Leafs coming out hard for the first several minutes and then suddenly looking stunned in their own end as the Canadiens took a 3-0 lead, the unhappiness of Toronto fans could be sensed. The baying for Dubas to find some heavyweights to supposedly make room for the skilled players (as if that is condoned in the NHL these days) picked up.
But after those Leafs skill guys got on the power play for a couple of second-period goals to make it close – with goaltender Frederik Andersen keeping the Habs lead at 3-1 midway through the period with a sequence of big saves – they finished off the Canadiens with four more in the third.
Canadiens head coach Claude Julien summed it up nicely for the fans.
“They scored that second goal; we tightened up,” he said. “I thought we froze. Even in the third period, we have a one-goal lead, it’s a matter of going out there and playing on our toes the way we had at the start of the game.
“We couldn’t even make a play. I don’t know why but we need to learn to manage these situations much better than we have, especially lately. Third periods have been an issue for us in the last week. It was again [Saturday night].”
Andrew Shaw, Tomas Tatar and Jeff Petry scored the Canadiens goals in the first period. Auston Matthews started the comeback when he beat Canadiens goaltender Carey Price with a low shot on the power play early in the second period and Tyler Ennis followed with another power-play goal late in the period. William Nylander tied the score and then goals followed from Zach Hyman, Andreas Johnsson and Hyman again. The last two were empty-netters.
Earlier in the day, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock could have been speaking for Julien as well when the subject of the trade deadline came up. On the one hand, he said, coaches like improving their team, but on the other there comes a point where it’s just time to play.
“As the coach, you’re ecstatic after the trade deadline,” Babcock said of the distractions. “You can get on with it, you can get some of the players that are thinking too much back and you get everyone back and you get going.”
The way the night ended, the Leafs will certainly head into deadline day in an upbeat mood. They ended a three-game losing streak with a huge comeback over their most hated rival in front of their own fans and on Hockey Night In Canada.
“What a win for us to end a losing streak, to come back Saturday night against Montreal,” Hyman said. “It’s awesome. It’s a good feeling. To get the lead after being down 3-0 is pretty cool.
“That was one of our best team wins of the year, to be able to come back like that and have every line chip in, the power play chip in. The [penalty-killing unit] got off to a little bit of a tough start but was able to bounce back and hold them. Freddy [Andersen] bounced back and shut the door for us. I think everybody did their job.”
Perhaps Nylander, Ennis and the rest of the fourth line can take a bow here. The way they played showed depth is not a problem with the Leafs as long as everyone is playing their game at optimum form.
With Nazem Kadri out with a concussion (the Leafs have still not issued a prognosis for him), Nylander stepped in as the third-line centre and is playing his best hockey since his late start after contract problems. Ennis and the fourth line are holding their own, with Ennis scoring his first goal in his third game back from a broken ankle.
And backing all that up is Andersen, who looked solid through the last two periods Saturday after allowing three goals, although his defenders were mostly at fault.
“He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does, night-in and night-out,” Matthews said of the goaltender. “He’s kept us in games we didn’t deserve to win. He kept the [Montreal ] lead minimal, came up with some big saves and got us back and got the offence rolling.”