Leafs rookie Stuart Percy had a memorable NHL debut for 59 minutes, followed by a stroke of bad luck that he would like to forget.
The 21-year-old Oakville native, who had a strong training camp to earn a roster spot on the Toronto blueline, seemed to be at the right place, right time, when a centering pass by Montreal centre Tomas Plekanec caromed off his skate and into the Leafs goal with just under 43 seconds remaining in regulations. Plekanec’s second goal of the game held up as the game-winner as the Habs edged the Leafs 4-3 in the 725th regular season edition of the historic rivalry.
“I guess I’ve got to move my foot,” Percy said on more than one occasion in the Leafs dressing room, adding that his teammates encouraged him not to worry about the bounce. Percy had an otherwise impressive outing, logging 20:21 of ice time. In the first period on a Leafs power-play he found Tyler Bozak, from the corner, for a go-ahead goal to collect his first career NHL assist and point. He also displayed sound positioning, stifling a Montreal scoring chance in the third period after Joffrey Lupul turned the puck over at the Leafs blueline.
“I thought he played a fairly strong game for us,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “I can only remember one other incident in the game where he kind of got caught flat-footed. Malhotra beat him along the wall. That was the only other miscue from my vantage point. But I thought he had a heck of a hockey game, he moved the puck effectively. He’s very, very calm with the puck.”
With goals by Nazem Kadri, then Bozak, in the first twenty minutes, the Leafs carried a 2-1 lead into the second period. But the middle frame was Toronto’s undoing as the Leafs were outshot 13-7 with the only goal coming courtesy of Plekanec, who split the defence before roofing a backhander past Jonathan Bernier on a breakaway. Max Pacioretty, who earlier had registered the NHL’s first goal in 2014-15, had a pair of scoring chances thwarted by Leo Komarov and Phil Kessel.
“We’re going to build on the things that we were able to create, if we can demonstrate a work ethic for 60 minutes like we did for – I would say – 45 minutes of the hockey game,” Carlyle said. “I thought in the second period we got back on our heels, we stood around and watched. We didn’t support the puck, we turned it over and Montreal took the game to us.”
The Habs reclaimed the lead at 8:41 of the third period after PK Subban unleashed a bomb. No, not the scatological type for which he made headlines this past week. Rather, a shot from the point that eluded Bernier, resulting in a flamboyant celebration that delighted more than a few of the 19,753 fans at Air Canada Centre which has its patrons divided in loyalty whenever the Canadiens visit.
Toronto appeared to send the game into overtime when a centering pass by a pinching Morgan Rielly in the corner was first mishandled by Habs goalie Caery Price, then deflected off Lars Eller before a waiting Mike Santorelli could pounce on it. But Plekanec’s goal off Percy’s skate sent the Leafs to the showers with nary a point.
Brandon Kozun, whose shot was defelcted by Kadri for Toronto’s first goal, also earned his first NHL point.
“It’s early and there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Kadri said. “We weren’t perfect tonight, that’s for sure.”
Follow TMLfans.ca on Twitter: @TMLFansRob