Upon his arrival in Toronto, Mike Babcock emphasized “There will be pain.”
Surely over the course of the 2015-16 season which kicked off Wednesday night, the Leafs will find themselves on the losing end of the scoreboard more often than not, as was the case with their 3-1 defeat to Montreal in their opener at Air Canada Centre.
But if the 729th regular season matchup between the storied rivals is any indication, Leafs fans may be taking solace in the fact that the Babcock work ethic will at least produce an effort – night in and night out – worthy of the price of admission.
No more Kessel-like lackadaisical coasting.
Instead, more grinding, and up-tempo pressure, as exemplified by the third line of Daniel Winnik, Nick Spaling, and P.A. Parenteau.
There was also Nazem Kadri, establishing physical presence by renewing hostilities with Alexei Emelin.
“I thought we won a lot of battles,” Babcock said. “We had good structure, we did a lot of really good things, we played hard enough. We can still get way better, obviously.”
The weakest link on the Leafs on the evening was in goal. While Jonathan Bernier did come up big in the middle stages to keep his team in the game, the goals he surrendered were unspectacular.
Just over three minutes into the game, Max Pacioretty opened the scoring on a right wing rush after Bernier couldn’t squeeze the rebound, watching helplessly as the puck trickled agonizingly slowly behind him.
The Leafs evened the score on a power play, at the 19-second mark of the second period. James van Riemsdyk was the beneficiary after the puck – initially fired by Nazem Kadri – deflected off his skate and in behind Carey Price for Toronto’s first goal of the year.
In the third period, moments after Nick Spaling missed the net on a setup by P.A. Parenteau, the Habs got the go-ahead goal. Alex Galchenyuk pounced on yet another Bernier rebound for the eventual game winner.
Pacioretty fired into an empty net to complete the scoring.
Unfortunately for Leafs fans, the gritty efforts can’t compensate for the lack of firepower. Spaling, along with snake-bitten Peter Holland were among the forwards that couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities in the game’s waning moments.
“When you get your chances, you’ve got to bury them,” Babcock said.
“There are no moral victories in hockey.”
Fans in Toronto should get used to this script over the next six months; great effort, but fewer goals.
Compared with last year – it’s a different kind of pain.
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