MONTREAL – Revenge is a dish best served cold, which makes Montreal the perfect venue for a Habs-Leafs rematch.
The last time Toronto came to town, they spoiled the Canadiens’ opening night festivities by walking away with a party favor to add to the win column. With five of their six wins to date coming on the road, the Leafs have proven to be unwelcome guests in almost every NHL arena they’ve played in so far this year.
They may have let their opponents leave with two points the first time they met, but the Habs are planning on being a lot less hospitable with their visitors this time around.
“We want to show tonight that we’re a different team since the first time they came in here and they’re going to feel that tonight,” vowed Lars Eller, whose team has gone 5-1 at the Bell Centre since the 2-1 loss to the Leafs in the home opener. “Last time they came in here they simply outworked us. We have to outwork them tonight like we’ve been doing [at home] for the last couple weeks.”
With nearly a quarter of the lockout-shortened season behind them, the Canadiens aren’t the same team they were when they hit the ice for the first time on Jan. 19. They’ve had time to learn new systems, time to bond with new teammates and time to learn from each of their first 10 games of the campaign.
“I think the difference now is it’s been a few weeks and both sides were finding their game and finding what makes each team work,” mentioned Josh Gorges, who has eight points in 28 career games against the Leafs. “It’s not going to be as sloppy, I wouldn’t expect. We know they’ve been playing good hockey and they’re a fast team; they like to throw pucks at the net and crash. We have to be ready for it and we have to make sure we’re at our best.
“I don’t expect much difference in the intensity; it’s still Toronto-Montreal,” added the eight-year NHL veteran. “You know there’s no love lost between these two teams.”
When it comes to high profile games, nothing tops a Saturday night, Hockey Day in Canada matchup between two Original 6 rivals. Unlike in the home opener, Gorges is expecting his teammates to use that excitement to their advantage.
“I think you can get yourself so amped up sometimes that you forget you’re playing a simple game,” he admitted. “You try to do so much and you start running around and it becomes chaos. I think that might have been the case for us in the first game.
“We’ve changed a lot of things since then. We’re a better group now,” stressed Gorges. “I think tonight is a great night for us to bounce back; not only because we lost to these guys the first time but [we also lost] our last two games. This is a great opportunity to get back on the winning side.”
With all five teams in the northeast division in action on Saturday, a win against the Leafs could be worth more to the Habs come Sunday morning than just the usual two points.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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