Leafs struggle to produce offence against Habs

Goalie Condon sharp as Toronto suffers first shutout loss of pre-season

Mike Condon put together another solid outing Saturday night.
Mike Condon put together another solid outing Saturday night. (Courtesy of the Montreal Canadiens)

Mike Condon uncomfortably shifted from side to side at his locker room following another shutout performance.

He appeared tentative, reserved, and reluctant in front of a heavy dose of Montreal and Toronto media members – the opposite of everything that he had just displayed on the ice moments earlier.

Although you may not be able to tell from Condon’s behaviour, right now the goalie finds himself in the midst of a heated battle to earn the job of his dreams.

Dale Weis scored an early second period goal and Condon stopped all 17 shots as the Montreal Canadiens blanked the Toronto Maple Leafs 1-0, handing the blue and white its second consecutive loss in preseason play at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.

Condon was steady – when needed – against a sluggish Maple Leafs (3-2) roster that saw Dion Phaneuf and Mitch Marner given the night off. The 25-year-old hasn’t allowed a goal on 38 shots so far, shutting out the Washington Capitals on Sept. 24 before the Maple Leafs (3-2) Saturday.

The netminder is trying to snatch the Montreal Canadiens’ (1-2-2) backup goalie position from Dustin Tokarski who currently occupies it. And though Condon may be in an uphill battle to replace Tokarski, who filled in for former MVP – Carey Price – late in the 2014 playoffs, the Canadiens’ coaching staff has certainly taken notice.

“It’s not going to be an easy decision to make, obviously,” said head coach Michel Therrien. “We’re going to let the camp keep going and dictate, and at some time we’re going to have to make a decision.”

Condon was helped by a solid overall defensive effort by the Canadiens who came out of the first period intermission with a renewed focus after being outshot and outplayed in the latter part of the opening frame.

“They were unbelievable bringing the puck out and they got some really good blocked shots,” said Condon, whose team limited Toronto to just 17 shots.  “So there were a low number of shots.”

Although the Canadiens only managed to muster up 21 shots itself, Weis’ first pre-season goal only 44 seconds into the second period was all that was needed.

Mark Barberio made a terrific back-tap pass that found David Desharnais on the right side of the net, who then lifted the puck over to Weis to finish off the clinical play.

“(Barberio) made a good heads up play on the goal,” said Therrien. “He made a great pass to David and David showed a lot of poise with the puck … it was a nice goal.”

While Montreal found its success early, Toronto struggled to recapture its late first period momentum. The home side failed to register a shot on goal for the first 9 minutes of the second and were ultimately outshot 6-4 in the frame.

Toronto’s lone golden opportunity came as time expired when T.J Brennan nailed the crossbar to end the disappointing sequence.

A spirited first period fight between Mark Fraser and Zack Kassian at the 15:15 mark helped to liven up the intensity for the 17,992 in attendance in what had been a sluggish game up to that point.

Toronto especially was ignited following the scrap with the club cranking off five shots on goal in the final minute of the first, many times accompanied by the fans’ “Go Leafs Go!” chants.

While Condon was tested late, Reimer had his work cut out for him early. The 27-year-old stopped a number of dangerous shots in front of the net, stacking the pads most noticeably on Tomas Fleischmann and Darren Dietz among others.

He finished with 20 saves but was given little support.

“It looked like the coaching staff has skated these guys right into the ground, and it looked like we didn’t have a whole lot of jump,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “Though we tried, we didn’t have any juice.”

Prior to the game it was determined the teams would play a five minute three-on-three overtime scenario regardless of the score line. The practice was implemented in order for teams to get more acquainted to the league’s new overtime rule change that allows fewer players on the ice than years prior.

The Maple Leafs have three games left on their preseason slate before opening up the regular season on Oct. 7 against the Canadiens.