Leafs-Habs: Parros injury dims rivalry game

MONTREAL -- A thrill-a-minute hockey game, fueled by early season mistakes and opening night jitters, had the folks at the Bell Centre on the edge of their seats.

The NHL’s most passionate theater to watch the sport had fans gasping for air, as the Original Six rival Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens exchanged chances like a game of shinny.

It was great stuff.

And then an unfortunate and scary scene absolutely sucked the life out of the building.

New Habs tough guy George Parros, in his second fight of the game with Leafs enforcer Colton Orr, fell awkwardly to the ice and smashed his face, immediately knocking himself out.

Out came the stretcher as fans held their breath, a riveting hockey game just not quite the same afterward, even with Montreal making things interesting with a late goal to make it 4-3 as Toronto still held on for the win.

The thoughts in both dressing rooms were channeled toward Parros, one of the game’s most likeable characters.

Toronto coach Randy Carlyle coached the tough guy in Anaheim for many years. "Great person, he was a great guy to coach," Carlyle said after his team’s season-opening victory. "Just real unfortunate."

But what you were not going to get from either Carlyle or his counterpart Michel Therrien of the Canadiens was an attempt to conjure up the fighting debate in this league. Both are old-school coaches who believe in the importance of fighting in the game, and Tuesday night’s incident certainly wasn’t going to change their views.

"Just bad luck in that situation," said Therrien, who was relieved to hear the concussed Parros was alert after he got to the dressing room. He later went to hospital. "You don’t see those situations a lot. He fell and hit his face on the ice."

The incident instantly spurred debate on social media, just as it always does.

I don’t need to sit on my soap box again on this night. I said my peace last season when Ottawa Senators forward Dave Dziurzynski was knocked out by Leafs tough guy Frazer McLaren.

Everyone who reads me understands that I believe the game could survive without fighting. My belief is simply based on my fear that one day a player will die in a fight on the ice. Pure and simple. I say that because Don Sanderson did die in a Senior A Ontario game fight in 2009.

Am I concerned how the game would look if the "rats" in our game weren’t policed? Yes, I am. And I don’t have a good answer for that other than I’d hope the refs would police it as well as they could.

And you cannot discount the emotional lift that some fights do provide in games. The Habs seemed buoyed by Parros’ first fight with Orr, as well as Travis Moen taking on Mark Fraser.

I totally understand that and do not argue that fights in games have an impact. No question, they do.

But I come back to my one and only concern, the only one I’ve ever held on the sensitive subject: I’m worried we’ll have a tragic incident one day, because today’s players are just stronger and bigger than ever.

When Parros does recover and speaks his first words with local Montreal media, I can guarantee he’ll say it’s part of the job and he understands the risks involved. He’s a thoughtful and intelligent person who long ago accepted what went along with his trade.

But the debate will rage on every time we see something like Tuesday night’s incident.

Other observations from Toronto’s opening night win over the Habs:

  • The Leafs took two points despite a horrendous defensive effort.

    "We have to be better defensively for sure," Carlyle said.

    Lars Eller was left all alone in front of the net on the opening Montreal goal; Paul Ranger taking the wrong man, while Carl Gunnarsson's fall to the ice gave the Habs an easy 2-on-1, which produced Brendan Gallacher's 2-1 goal.

    Blame early season rust, perhaps, but the Leafs need to tighten up.

  • On the flip side, James Reimer was there to clean up the mess, stopping 34-of-37 shots and justifying Carlyle’s decision to start him over Jonathan Bernier on this night.

    "Just a hunch, he’s played well in this building since I’ve been here," Carlyle said in explaining his decision to start Reimer.

    Bernier will start Wednesday night in Philadelphia, but the goalie questioning from Toronto media will go on all year long. It’s the story of the season for sure with both young men battling for the No. 1 job.

    "When I’m in during games, I’m not competing against my own teammate, I’m competing against the other team," Reimer said after a performance that netted him the game’s first star.

    This is going to be a fascinating tale. I’m a huge believer in Bernier and he’ll have his moments this season, which will show Leaf fans why he was brought on board.

  • Lars Eller’s kid line between Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk was easily Montreal’s most effective unit, a thought that Therrien concurred with. Eller scored twice and the line in general was constantly a threat in the Leafs’ zone, moving their feet and giving Toronto’s defense fits with their speed. Eller led the Habs with six shots on goal as well.

    The performance of that line will be significant in Montreal’s chances to repeat its surprising team success of a year ago. Eller had a breakout performance last season, Gallagher was Calder Trophy runner-up and Galchenyuk was dazzling in his first year, too. The concern with any young player is the possibility of regressing the following season. Montreal can’t afford that from these three. If opening night is any indication, the Habs have nothing to worry about.

  • Veteran Habs blueliner Andrei Markov really struggled on this night, producing four of the team’s 10 giveaways and watching Leafs winger Phil Kessel undress him during a first-period rush. Markov stayed healthy last season, which was terrific, but he also looked beaten down late in the season. It’s only one game and I suspect, given his track record, we’ll see some much better games from him. But I can’t remember him having too many nights like this.

  • Carey Price gave up four goals, but he was terrific, stopping 34 shots. Pretty good opening night effort, I’d say.

    "He deserved better," Therrien said. "I thought he made some key saves. But the execution of our team wasn’t there."