MONTREAL – Mike Komisarek heard the boos rain down from every corner of the Bell Centre on Saturday night.
But the Maple Leafs defenceman says the reaction is an endorsement of what he brought the Canadiens in his six seasons with the club. “I guess if they didn’t love me when I was here they wouldn’t be booing, so I must have done something right when I was here,” said Komisarek after Toronto’s 5-4 shootout loss to Montreal.
“But it’s a great city with great fans; passionate fans in this building.”
Komisarek spurned an offer from the Canadiens to sign a US$22.5 million, five-year contract with the Leafs on July 1, and his former fans didn’t let him forget it in his first trip back.
His performance gave the sellout crowd of 21,273 lots of material to work with. Komisarek had six hits on the night, none more punishing than an open-ice check laid on Glen Metropolit early in the second period, and he also had a game-high eight blocked shots.
But the bruising defenceman also took two minor penalties, was credited with five giveaways and finished with a minus-3 rating. He’s a team-worst minus-9 on the season.
Still, despite the persistent booing all night and even more persistent questioning about it from the media afterwards, Komisarek would not disparage a fan base who adored him just a few months ago.
“I’ll never say anything bad about the fans here, they’re great fans,” he said. “I wouldn’t have expected anything else.”
While Komisarek’s night was eventful for the wrong reasons, Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala was pleased with his first start since allowing seven goals on 33 shots Oct 12.
Recovered from a knee injury, Toskala made 35 saves on 39 shots before allowing both Canadiens shooters to score in the shootout.
“I can afford to start a new season,” said Toskala. “I faced lots of shots and I made some good saves, so I think it’s good to go on from here. I’d say that was my best game of the season.”
The Leafs headed home after the game with a 1-1-3 record on their five-game road trip. Toronto’s next game is Tuesday against Tampa and could see the season debut of prized off-season acquisition Phil Kessel.
Leafs coach Ron Wilson wouldn’t confirm Kessel’s inclusion, but he warned fans not to expect too much too soon.
“Phil hasn’t played in six months,” Wilson said. “I know everybody thinks he’s going to score six goals on the first night, and I don’t expect that of him if he does play on Tuesday. We have to remember he hasn’t played in six months.”