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Fresh off of the NHL All-Star break, yet not much healthier, the Toronto Maple Leafs return home to a tight race in the Eastern Conference standings when they face the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night (7:00PM ET, CBC).

Toronto's last game was yet another nightmare for the inconsistent club and its fans, losing 8-2 to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The All-Star's 3 Points, along with fellow All-Star Youngstars Evgeni Malkin's 5 Assists and Jordan Staals goal in the 1st, helped to put the boot to the Leafs who dared to tempt what ended up being a lethal powerplay by the Pens.

The team's discipline was yet again forgotten, as the penalties they took in the 1st and 2nd put the team down 5-1, and perhaps ended the team's chance at a win when the game was only halfway through. Pittsburgh scored on 5 of Toronto's 19 Powerplays, 3 of them off of Mark Recchi's stick for the Hattrick.

Related Topic: http://www.hockeyforum.com/toronto-maple-leafs/7198-gameday-49-toronto-maple-leafs-pittsburgh.html

Mark Recchi said:
''I'm not going to lie to you; we wanted to get there before the break, and we got to that goal. Guys were talking about it and paying attention to it. Now we can enjoy our break.''
When they face Montreal tonight, the Leafs will continue to be without Winger Darcy Tucker (Foot), Centerman Kyle Wellwood (Hernia), and Defenceman Ian White (Shoulder). The earliest return could be White, expected back in 2 weeks.

Related Topic: http://www.hockeyforum.com/toronto-maple-leafs/7382-wellwood-miss-two-months.html
Related Topic: http://www.hockeyforum.com/toronto-maple-leafs/7477-leafs-miss-tuckers-grit-more-than.html

Andrew Raycroft allowed 5 goals on 21 shots and was pulled for back-up Goaltender Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who allowed 3 goals on 9.

Mats Sundin is now at a Point Per Game pace on the season with 42 points in 42 games played, and continues to lead the Leafs thus far (18G, 24A).

The Captain now says he has to step up his production if the team is going to have a chance at a playoff spot down the final stretch.

Related Topic: http://www.hockeyforum.com/toronto-maple-leafs/7509-sundin-my-game-has-go-up.html

Toronto is currently 2 points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the last playoff spot in the East, with a 22-21-6 record after 49 games. The team is yet again at risk of falling below .500.

Raycroft is currently 20-16-4 after games played, and has a high Goals Against Average of 3.10 and Save Percentage of .892 for Toronto, who are 4th in the Northeast Division.

Long-time rival Montreal has had more of a solid season overall, going 27-17-5 after 49 games. The team is currently 1 point up on their Northeast Division rival Ottawa Senators, who also play today, for possession of the last home-ice advantage spot in the East.

The team was struggling slightly going into the break when they lost 3 in a row, but have somewhat gotten back on track by wining 2 straight and hoping to add on a 3rd when they face the Leafs tonight.

Canadiens All-Star goaltender Cristobal Huet's stellar play for the team has put behind all word of a possible controversy in net for the the Habs. Huet is 19-10-3 after 35 Games, and has a 2.63 Goals Against Average and a solid .923 Save Percentage. His play has been a huge part in helping the team keep pace with the Northeast Division Buffalo Sabres, who they trail by 11 Points for 1st in the Eastern Conference heading into the homestretch.

All-Star defenceman Sheldon Souray's Montreal record of 13 Powerplay goals has also been a huge boost to the team, along with his 40 points in total after 48 games (16G, 24A).

Meanwhile, Habs Captain Saku Koivu continues to lead his club with 42 Points in 48 Games played (16G, 26A). His goal in a 4-3 victory over Buffalo last Saturday was his 1st in 11 Games.

The Habs also good news on the injury front. With forward Steve Begin now ready to return tonight and face Toronto tonight, the team should get a bit of a boost with the return of the energetic forward.

Steve Begin said:
''I've made some real strides the last two weeks, but I'm still day-to-day''.
Related Topic: http://www.hockeyforum.com/montreal-canadiens/7476-begin-practises-but-return-doubtful.html

This is the 4th of 8 meetings between the 2 clubs this year, with Toronto winning 1 and Montreal winning the other 2.
 

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I really hope this one doesn't get ugly. Maybe the healthy Leafs will come out with something to prove and a desire to get into the playoffs.

I won't be able to watch the game but hopefully my boss lets us listen to the game on the radio.
 

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This is their only game at home until they play the Hurricanes on Tuesday to begin a 5-game roadtrip. (Carolina, NY Rangers, Ottawa, St. Louis, Nashville)

So they better make the most of tonight's game (as in win), because they'll be on a trip that has them play teams that are either in the playoffs, or that still have a close chance of making it in (Blues have won 8 of their last 10).
 

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CANOE -- SLAM! Sports - Hockey NHL - Toronto - Leafs' power play a work in progress

Leafs' power play a work in progress

By LANCE HORNBY, TORONTO SUN

The Maple Leafs have rolled out a welcome mat for visiting power plays, complete with a big No. 30 to mark their last-place standing among home team penalty killing in the National Hockey League.

With the express intent of yanking it from under the skates of the Montreal Canadiens tonight, the Leafs turned over much of yesterday's practice to try and fix the problem.
 

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Home ice disadvantage

January 27, 2007

TORONTO (CP) -- Winning on home ice has been a problem for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, and it might prove to be their downfall.

Only one team in the NHL's Eastern Conference, last-place Philadelphia, has fewer home points than Toronto. The Leafs have 23 points in 25 home games, while they have 27 points in 24 road games.

If the Bay Street blahs don't disappear, the Leafs will finish below .500 at home for the first time since moving into Air Canada Centre in 1999. They were last below .500 at home in 1997-1998 in Maple Leaf Gardens.
It's now or never. If they can't turn things around on home ice during the home stretch, then it's doubtful that they will make the playoffs IMO.
 

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It's 4-1 Leafs in the middle of the 3rd.

Pavel Kubina has scored his 2nd of the game for the Leafs, while Mats Sundin and Jeff O'Neill have the other 2 goals, both on the Powerplay.

Tomas Plekanec has the only goal for Montreal so far.

Shots are 25-19 in favour of the Leafs.
 

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Leafs use power play to beat Canadiens

Canadian Press
1/27/2007 11:11:09 PM


TORONTO (CP) - Pavel Kubina is a favourite target of radio callers because of his US$5-million paycheque and inconsistent play.

Games like Saturday night will go a long way to silence his critics. Kubina had two goals and an assist and played a sound defensive game in leading the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 4-1 win over the rival Montreal Canadiens.

"There's always a lot of pressure," said Kubina. "And somehow you have to control that pressure. I don't mind that pressure. I think it's good for me and it pushes me."

Kubina's scored his third and fourth, bookending goals from Jeff O'Neill and captain Mats Sundin, as the Leafs (23-21-6) saw the kind of hockey they expected from their Czech blue-liner when the signed him to a $20-million, four-year deal last July.

With Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe on the first power-play unit, it hasn't been easy for Kubina to get points.

"He hasn't got a lot of power-play opportunities so we know the numbers aren't going to be what he's to," said Leafs head Paul Maurice. "But it's the other parts of his game that we're hopeful will continue to get better, as they have. He's a big part of this team playing a better defensive game."

Maurice feels Kubina has some of his best hockey in recent games.

"It kind of goes hand in hand," added Maurice. "When a guy who wants points and needs them starts putting pucks in the net, he's relaxes defensively. He's now getting his numbers and not forcing other parts of his game. Next thing you know he's playing well at both ends of the rink. It seems to coming easier to him now."

Kubina and his teammates played a tight defensive game in front of goalie Andrew Raycroft, limiting the Canadiens' scoring chances.

"We played a great defensive game, even offensively we played well," said Kubina. "We had a lot of chances 5-on-5. I thought the special teams, especially the power play, was unbelievable. We deserved the victory, we dominated them for the whole game pretty much."

Tomas Plekanec had the lone goal for the Canadiens (27-18-5), who fell to fifth in the Eastern Conference after Ottawa's afternoon win over Boston pushed the Senators one point ahead of the Habs. The two clubs play Monday at Montreal.

Montreal's fourth-ranked penalty killing unit didn't look terribly impressive on this night as the Leafs went 3-for-4 with the man advantage. The Habs went 1-for-7 on the power play.

"We took some penalties you can't take against that team," said Canadiens captain Saku Koivu. "We had a few chances on our power play, but obviously we didn't score enough. That was the difference."

On Saturday the Leafs were first on the puck and simply outworked and outskated the Canadiens, who looked flat in their first game after the all-star break.

"We just didn't have enough emotion in the room, even before we started the game," said Montreal defenceman Sheldon Souray. "All the things we wanted to do, we didn't do any of them. Really, I think it's just a lack of commitment and desire."

It's the kind of desperate hockey the Leafs will have to play as they try to stay in the playoff hunt in the second half. Montreal was one of nine teams ahead of Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings when play began Saturday and the win cut the gap between the two clubs to seven points. A Leafs loss would have made it 11 points.

"(The Leafs are) in the same position we were last year," said Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau. "They're chasing the (teams) that are ahead of them, and they only have 30-some games to do it. They worked, and we just didn't match their effort tonight."

The Canadiens seem to bring out the best in the Leafs, who improved to 3-0-2 on the season against their Original Six foes and have played some of their finest hockey of the season in those games.

"There just fun games to play in," said Sundin. "The atmosphere for those games, both here and in Montreal, is tremendous and we seem to feed of that. But we need to play like that against other teams as well."

Toronto outshot Montreal 29-28 before 19,508 at Air Canada Centre, many of them wearing Montreal jerseys.

The killer was Sundin's 19th goal of the season with 2:42 to go in the second period, giving Toronto a 3-1 lead, a power-play blast from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Cristobal Huet top corner on the stick side and took the wind out of Montreal's sails.

FULL STORY
 

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They did good, especially Kubina.

Not their best (still have to work on discipline), but a win is the best way to start a roadtrip.

Hopefully they'll pick up most of the 10 points on the way.
 
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