MONTREAL – The Montreal Canadiens may lead the rival Toronto Maple Leafs by eight points in the NHL standings, but one nasty statistic sticks out for both clubs – they have each won only once in regulation time.
When the Canadiens came back from blowing a two-goal lead to the Leafs in the final 3:28 of regulation time to win 5-4 in a shootout Saturday night, it left them a perfect 6-0 in games that go into overtime or shootouts (4-0 in OT, 2-0 in shootouts).
The 7-7-0 Canadiens’ only regulation win was a 5-1 decision over the New York Islanders on Oct. 22, while 1-7-4 Toronto’s only victory of any kind was a 6-3 win at Anaheim on Oct. 26.
“When we go into overtime now we’re thinking, who’s going to get the goal?” Montreal centre Scott Gomez said. “We feel that when we go into OT, we’re confident. But we can’t do that too often.
“There’s no excuses. We have to finish these games. But at least there was no panic. We just said, ‘Let’s go get the two points.”‘
Montreal outshot the Leafs 4-1 in the scoreless overtime and in the shootout, it was no contest.
Vesa Toskala barely moved as Mike Cammalleri and Gomez beat him with near identical high wrist shots, while Jaroslav Halak stopped both Lee Stempniak and Tomas Kaberle, who had a goal and three assists in the game.
The Canadiens have won five straight at home, all with Halak in goal. Because he won, he is expected to start again ahead of Carey Price when they play host to the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday night before facing the Bruins in Boston on Thursday.
Halak has stopped all four shooters he has faced in shootouts this season, including two in a 2-1 victory over Atlanta on Oct. 20.
It wasn’t great hockey as the Canadiens and Leafs, both struggling to find their game after numerous off-season changes, played for a second night in a row – the Canadiens losing 3-2 in Chicago and Toronto falling 3-2 in overtime in Buffalo on Friday night.
But the 21,273 at the Bell centre, including many Leafs fans, were into it from the opening faceoff and the play on the ice was intense.
Alexei Ponikarovsk scored the first of two Toronto power-play goals 1:12 into the second period, but Glen Metropolit, Guillaume Latendresse and Hal Gill scored for Montreal before Stempniak cut the lead to 3-2 late in the period.
Roman Hamrlik looked to have put the game away for Montreal at 9:50 of the third, but Ponikarovsky scored again at 16:32 and, after a time out and with six attackers on the ice, Kaberle’s point shot pin-balled off two Montreal defencemen and went in to tie the game.
“Part of it is learning how to protect a lead,” Canadiens coach Jacques Martin said. “But we haven’t given up leads a lot this year. Mostly, we’ve forced overtime, which is a good situation.”
On Friday night, Mikhail Grabovski scored a last-minute goal for the Leafs, but they were beaten in overtime on Tim Connolly’s power-play marker.
The Leafs ended a five-game road trip in which they at least began to put up points, going 1-1-3.
Toronto’s first point came in the season opener, a 4-3 overtime loss at home to Montreal. Then came seven straight regulation time losses in which they were outscored 31-12.
The road trip began with a 3-1 loss in Vancouver, but then they won in Anaheim and lost in OT or shootouts in Dallas, Buffalo and Montreal to take five of a possible 10 points.
Over the five games, Kaberle had two goals and 11 assists and the Leafs scored nine power-play goals.
Grabovski had three assists against the Canadiens, to give him 10 points (and 54 penalty minutes) in eight career games against his former team.
Defenceman Mike Komisarek, who left Montreal to sign as a free agent with Toronto in the summer, was booed each time he touched the puck and was minus-3. He also took two minor penalties to give him 12 for the season in 12 games, one fewer than Montreal’s Hal Gill, the league leader with 13 in 14 games.
Third on that list, perhaps surprisingly, is Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby with 11 minors in 14 games.
The Leafs return home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, then go back on the road to take on the struggling Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.