In a time of political uncertainty, unjust wars and collapsing economies, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs showed last night that the game of hockey is as healthy as ever.
In sixty minutes bursting with end-to-end chances, the Maples Leafs beat the heavily favoured Canadiens at their own fast-paced, highly-disciplined game by a final score of 6-3.
There was plenty of speed and clever passing on display from the very first face-off, with the Leafs unexpectedly outrunning and outshooting the Canadians early.
Things turned ugly before the game was five minutes old when Montreal’s Tom Kostopoulos chased Toronto defenseman Mike Van Ryn to a loose puck, and delivered a questionable hit from behind that sent Van Ryn face-first into the glass.
Van Ryn collapsed to the ice and was later pronounced to have suffered a concussion, a broken nose and a broken finger.
Kostopoulos was immediately handed a game misconduct and it is likely that further disciplinary action from the league will follow.
On the ensuing Leafs power play, Niklas Hagman scored the first goal of the game, his first of a pair on the night.
Hagman (6 goals, 6 assists) continues to shine for the Leafs, but he wasn’t the only Leafs off-season acquisition to contribute in the game.
Former Canadiens top-prospect, Mikhail Grabovski, who wasn’t good enough to crack the Habs roster with any regularity last season, put on a performance that has to cast some doubt on the decision to trade him to Toronto.
Grabovski (7 goals, 3 assists) created chances every time he was on the ice and he had the entire Canadiens bench thirsting for his blood by the end of the night.
Saku Koivu had words for the youngster early in the game and even highly-disciplined Habs forward Andrei Kostistyn took a run at Grabovski in the third.
Perhaps it was the tenderizing that Grabovski applied to Carey Price’s midsection with the butt-end of his stick in the first period, or perhaps it was simply his repeated undressing of the Canadiens defense, that had them gunning for him all night.
He finished with a goal and an assist in the contest.
Nik Antropov had a goal and two assists and showed no lingering effects from the bruised foot he suffered in Thursday’s game against the Boston Bruins.
Antropov’s goal resulted from a wild scrum in front of the Canadiens net where his size and strength afforded him the opportunity to deliver a loose puck past a sprawling Carey Price.
Antropov (5 goals, 8 assists) later assisted on a perfectly executed transitional goal by linemate Alexei Ponikarovsky (4 goals, 7 assists).
Pavel Kubina (3 goals, 6 assists) also had a goal on the night
Tomas Plekanec (4 goals, 6 assists), Saku Koivu (5 goals, 7 assists) and Robert Lang (4 goals, 4 assists) scored for the Canadiens, who looked overwhelmed throughout most of the game.
Carlo Colaiacovo got the start for the Leafs and he played a good, physical game.
Ian White also got the start on the wing, but dropped back to defense for several shifts after Van Ryn left the game. There have been rumors that the Leafs are shopping White for a scoring forward, but with the loss of John Mitchell and Van Ryn to injuries, his ability to play forward and defense are proving to be a big asset.
The match was preceded by a lengthy Hall of Fame induction that saw Igor Larionov, Glenn Anderson, Ray Scapinello and the late Ed Chynoweth honoured; as well as a short Remembrance Day tribute involving several decorated Canadian war veterans.
For the first occasion in a very long time, the Leafs were represented at centre ice by someone other than Mats Sundin. This should have been the first indication that the game would be nothing like any recent meetings between the two original-six clubs.
As the Habs struggle to find the chemistry that had them finishing first in the Eastern Conference last season, Toronto continues to be a surprisingly tenacious team to play against early in this season.
Though a first-place finish might be a stretch, the Leafs are beginning to bear a remarkable resemblance to last year's overachieving Habs.