'We're due against these guys': Leafs need to learn how to beat Habs
BROSSARD, Que. — The Montreal Canadiens know all too well that the Toronto Maple Leafs are no longer to be taken lightly.
Led by gifted youngsters Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, the Leafs (3-1-0) have piled up 22 goals in their first four games, while the punchless Canadiens (1-3-0) have tallied only four non-shootout goals.
So when the NHL's oldest rivals meet Saturday night at the Bell Centre, it will be the Leafs who are favourites despite coming off a 6-3 setback to New Jersey on Wednesday night.
"You see the excitement that's built around that team," said right-winger Brendan Gallagher, who leads the Canadiens with only two points. "Those guys have definitely done a good job.
"If you're not on top of your game for 60 minutes, they're going to come after you."
The Canadiens have owned the Leafs in recent years, piling up 14 straight wins, only four of them in overtime or shootouts, since their last loss in Toronto in 2014.
But this is among the most intriguing of their meetings, with Montreal desperate to starting finding the net against a defensively suspect opponent, while the Leafs look to keep their attack in high gear against goaltender Carey Price, whose 3.30 goals-against average and .899 save percentage are well off his usual all-star numbers.
And adrenalin is always high on both sides.
"Every time you play in these historic rivalry games it makes you appreciate getting the opportunity to play for the Montreal Canadiens," said Gallagher. "I'm sure for those guys it's the same.
"Not every hockey player gets to say they've played in a Toronto-Montreal rivalry game. To get a chance to is special. It's always a fun game."
Price, who is on an 11-0-0 run against Toronto, called it too early in the regular season to talk of must-win games even if murmurs of panic are starting to be felt by some fans. The Canadiens started the season with a shootout win in Buffalo but have since lost three in a row, despite outplaying their opponents in at least two of the losses.
"It's a big game regardless of our record," said Price. "We're not going into it with any doubt or any concerns.
"We're going into it trying to win the game regardless of the situation."
Part of the Canadiens' scoring woes stem from the power play, which is 0-for-14. Coach Claude Julien spent much of practice working on it, particularly trying to find ways to get point man Shea Weber open to use his cannon shot, mainly by moving him up closer to the net.
Julien smiled when asked about the changes.
"What I'm hoping for is some goals," he said. "Because the other way hasn't produced goals."
Among those struggling is winger Alex Galchenyuk, who was demoted to the fourth line this week. Then the third overall pick in the 2012 draft missed practice with a flu.
Julien said he wasn't punishing Galchenyuk, but is trying to spur the former 30-goal scorer to get back on track.
"Alex is having a tough start," he said. "With the amount of ice time he's had on the power play and everything else it doesn't seem like he's getting scoring chances right now, so I have to do what I have to do as a coach.
"It's certainly not only him because there are other guys who we feel can produce and they're not."
Julien, who likes to roll four lines, said there is plenty of opportunity for an offensive player to produce on the fourth unit.
"When you have (Ales) Hemsky on the right side it isn't like you're with guys with no skill," said Julien. "So it's not like we're trying to bury him, it's just that we need to make decisions for the time being to get us going in the right direction."
Rearguard David Schlemko returned from injury and was sent to Laval of the AHL for conditioning. That promoted placing veteran defenceman Mark Streit on waivers. He cleared Friday but the Canadiens are not sure yet what is to become of the 39-year-old.