Commentary

Questions still surround Montreal Canadiens' play

Updated: November 9, 2008, 11:02 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

TORONTO -- On a night when we looked for the Montreal Canadiens to make a statement regarding their place among the Eastern Conference elite, they instead left the Air Canada Centre chagrined by the mounting question marks surrounding their play.

In the annual Hall of Fame game Saturday night, the host Maple Leafs made life miserable for Montreal netminder Carey Price and the Canadiens, peppering him with 41 shots and repeatedly crashing the net en route to a 6-3 victory.

It was the first regulation loss for the Canadiens, who still boast an impressive 8-2-2 record.

Still, on the heels of a shootout loss Friday night in Columbus, the smooth path that had greeted the Canadiens out of the gate in this young NHL season has quickly turned bumpy.

"We played like dogs," Price said. "We came in thinking it was going to be easy. Well, they showed us what was what."

The Leafs took three straight interference penalties on Price, perhaps trying to unnerve the 21-year-old. Regardless of whether it was part of the Leafs' game plan or coincidence, Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau had little sympathy for his netminder.

Said Carbonneau: "Well, Carey better get ready for this because he's 21 years old, he's going to play in this league for a long time and it's going to happen."

The Canadiens, 20th in average penalties per game, took 39 more minutes in penalties Saturday. The tally included 17 minutes to Tom Kostopoulos, who rammed Mike Van Ryn from behind 7:03 into the first period, breaking Van Ryn's finger and nose and leaving him with a concussion that will cost him at least a month.

The Leafs took advantage of the Canadiens' lack of discipline with three power-play goals. The Canadiens came into the game with the league's ninth-ranked penalty-killing unit.

The penalties were only part of the problem, though.

"That and the lack of effort, lack of concentration, lack of focus, lack of everything," Carbonneau said. "You've got to give [the Leafs] credit; they have to work to be successful. They did, we didn't, they won."

The Canadiens did score twice on the man advantage, but the power play has been a source of disappointment thus far as they were ranked 14th heading into action Saturday.

Former Canadiens coach Jacques Demers, now an analyst in Montreal, told ESPN.com on Saturday the team is more talented than last season with the addition of Robert Lang and the maturity of players like Price, Andrei Kostitsyn and Mike Komisarek.

Their play doesn't always reflect that talent, Demers said.

"No question they have the potential to be the best team in the league, but they haven't played like that," Demers said.

Last season, the Canadiens' power play was almost a sure thing as they led the league in power-play efficiency. "If they get that back on track, they could win the East," Demers said.

The Canadiens are celebrating their centennial this season and their strong start has fueled the belief among the passionate fans in Quebec that this might be a campaign of destiny. Saturday suggested destiny means little if there isn't enough effort.

"Coach said it best between periods, we haven't accomplished anything yet," Komisarek said after the game. "We have to expect better of ourselves."

The victory marked the end of a three-game losing streak for the up-and-down Maple Leafs. Before the game, Toronto coach Ron Wilson talked about how the Leafs' goals aren't necessarily about scraping into the final playoff spot -- although that would be fine -- but rather about building for something bigger for seasons to come.

Saturday's game marked a positive change for the Leafs, who have been bedeviled by slow starts. They led the game 2-0 early in the second period, then, after the Canadiens tied the game at 3, scored the game's final three goals.

"Big. A huge win for us, to be honest," Leafs forward Niklas Hagman said. "The past two or three games we haven't played very well. You can look at Montreal; they're a very good team. I think we showed we can play well against them and I think we've shown we can play well against any team in the league."

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.