TORONTO – Alex Tanguay figures he’s quieted the critics for a little while.
The Montreal Canadiens newcomer had a goal and three assists Saturday to help his team hammer the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-1 and register the first win of their centennial season.
Tanguay was the biggest name added to Montreal’s lineup over the summer and is one of the reasons a team that finished first in the Eastern Conference last year is expected to challenge for that title again. Those are high expectations for both the team and Tanguay, who has already felt the pressure that comes with playing in his home province.
That’s why he was especially thrilled to get his first goal and points in a Habs uniform out of the way so soon.
“It’s nice before we get home,” said Tanguay. “I know how the media in Montreal can be as far as pressure’s concerned and you guys are probably familiar with that here too in Toronto.
“It’s a nice game for us.”
Tanguay is coming off a tough season in Calgary, where he didn’t feel he was used properly by coach Mike Keenan. At his request, the Flames dealt him to Montreal during the entry draft in June.
He’s still adjusting to life with a new team and looking to find a rhythm.
“A lot of thing’s been said when we made the trade for him,” said Habs coach Guy Carbonneau. “I think he didn’t really enjoy the year last year and wanted to kind of have a rebound year. He knew he was coming to a good team.
“Because he was injured a little bit in pre-season (with a hip problem), he didn’t have a chance to really get that timing back and get that chemistry with Saku (Koivu). Those two guys have too much talent to be out of that scoring sheet for a long time. Tonight it showed.”
The game got blown open early in the second period, when the Canadiens scored three power-play goals – two off Sergei Kostitsyn’s stick, the other from Tanguay – during a stretch of five minutes 28 seconds to take a 5-0 lead.
Tanguay assisted on both of Kostitsyn’s power-play goals.
“We put him on the point on the power play – he has good vision,” said Carbonneau. “He went to the net a couple times a couple times and got a bunch of points. Hopefully, he’ll keep going.”
Roman Hamrlik, Alex Kovalev and Guillaume Latendresse also scored for the Canadiens (1-0-1). Koivu added three assists.
Jason Blake had the lone goal in reply for Toronto (1-1-0).
Montreal opened its season with a 2-1 shootout loss in Buffalo on Friday but looked much better just 24 hours later.
“We knew that we didn’t play that well last night, it was sloppy and didn’t seem like the focus was there,” said Koivu. “I thought we responded very well.”
The Habs speed and skill was on full display at Air Canada Centre.
The teams traded chances early in the first period before the Canadiens started to take control. Hamrlik and Kovalev beat Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala just 99 seconds apart to take a 2-0 lead at 12:39 of the first period and Montreal was off and running.
After the Canadiens added the three quick power-play goals in the second period, starting goalie Jaroslav Halak had all the cushion he needed. Toronto didn’t put up much fight.
“We took way too many penalties and our penalty killing didn’t work,” said Leafs forward Niklas Hagman. “Up against a team like that, if we start running around, they’re going to make plays.”
Added Leafs coach Ron Wilson: “I knew that they would be ready to play (after losing on Friday).”
Kostitsyn’s second goal of the night at 8:18 of the second period came with Toronto defenceman Luke Schenn serving a delay of game penalty. Like many of his teammates, the 18-year-old rookie had a tougher time during his second NHL game than in Thursday’s season-opening victory in Detroit.
Overall, the Habs and Leafs gave performances more in line with pre-season predictions than they did in their respective openers. It’s not a secret that anything short of a Stanley Cup will be a disappointment in Montreal.
“I think the players take that challenge with excitement,” said Koivu. “We’re right in the spotlight. People are expecting us to win and go far in the playoffs. A year ago, everybody was saying that we don’t have a chance.
“As a player – especially when you get older – you’re just looking for a chance to be part of a great team.”
Tanguay has already done that in his career with the Colorado Avalanche. However, he was just 22 years old when he won a Stanley Cup with the Avs in 2002.
Soon to be 29, this is a different challenge for the skilled centre.
Montreal plays at Philadelphia on Monday before returning to the Bell Centre for its home opener against Boston on Wednesday. Tanguay is using the season-opening road trip to bond with his teammates.
“Being on the road, you get to go eat with the guys and be with the guys a little bit more,” said Tanguay. “It’s new for me and I’m hoping that I can help the team.”
Notes: Leafs backup Curtis Joseph replaced Toskala in the third period and stopped all 11 shots he faced … Announced attendance was 19,370 … Twenty Canadian medallists from the Beijing Olympics took part in the ceremonial puck drop … Chris Higgins (groin), Georges Laraque (groin) and Francis Bouillon (knee) each missed a second straight game for Montreal … Toronto’s Jeff Finger (foot) and Ryan Hollweg (suspension) also sat out … Habs forward Tom Kostopoulos played his 300th NHL game …The teams split eight regular-season meetings last season … Under the NHL’s new schedule format, they’ll only face each other six times this year … It was just the fourth time Toronto has faced Montreal in its home opener since 1970.