MONTREAL – Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Paul Maurice already had plenty of reasons to be angry after watching two and a half periods of listless play from his team, but his mood really soured after watching his top minute-munching defenceman go down for at least the next six to eight weeks.
Bryan McCabe suffered three broken bones in his left hand when he was thrown into the boards by Montreal’s Andrei Kostitsyn in the third period of Toronto’s 4-1 loss Saturday to the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
Maurice was irate after the game, accusing Kostitsyn of grabbing McCabe by the throat and whipping him into the boards. The six-to-eight week timeline was Maurice’s own estimate of a best-case scenario for McCabe.
“It’s not a natural thing, it’s not like getting hit into the boards where you can recover, but when you get hog-tied around the throat and you go back into the boards that’s just brutal,” Maurice said. “He’s too good a player to miss that much time on a play like that.”
McCabe, after a difficult start to the season, emerged as the Leafs’ most reliable defenceman over the past month. Since Nov. 17, McCabe played at least 30 minutes in eight of the Leafs’ 12 games entering Saturday’s contest, and was sixth in the NHL in ice time with 26:33 per game.
The Leafs’ lack of depth on the blueline will make those minutes that much more difficult to replace.
“He’s a key guy on our team, you don’t want to see anyone go down,” said Tomas Kaberle, who is averaging over 24 minutes a night and will likely see that number increase now. “It’s tough to replace a 30-minute guy, but someone will be getting more minutes.”
McCabe refused to comment, though Kaberle spoke with him and said he obviously wasn’t pleased with the situation.
McCabe was battling along the boards with Kostitsyn for a puck near the Montreal blueline at the time of the incident just over eight minutes into the third period. Kostitsyn reached back and pulled McCabe into the boards, jamming his left hand on a play that eventually resulted in a goal by Alex Kovalev to make it 4-0 Canadiens.
McCabe lay face down on the ice wiggling his legs in pain for a few moments before skating toward the bench clutching his left hand and pulling a U-turn toward the Leafs dressing room.
“It’s unbelievable, a little respect out there would be nice,” Maurice said. “You’d almost rather take a cheap shot than that,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, it’s going to be his hand, it’s going to be his knee, when you do something like that somebody’s getting hurt. That’s just not a natural thing to have happen on the ice.
Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau defended his player, saying he thought Kostitsyn made a normal play.
“I just watched it and I didn’t see anything wrong with it,” Carbonneau said. “It was a hockey play.”