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Babcock's Maple Leafs showed life in defeat

Graig Abel / National Hockey League / Getty

It was only one game, but it appears Mike Babcock is going to work hard to earn the $50 million he's due from the Toronto Maple Leafs over the next eight years.

The Maple Leafs didn't play poorly in their season-opening loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. On the contrary, Toronto controlled the play, finishing with more shot attempts (66 to 55) and shots on goal (37 to 30) than Montreal. If it weren't for all-world Canadiens goalie Carey Price, the Maple Leafs might be 1-0 instead of 0-1.

"Their goaltender was real solid," Babcock said after the game, "(and) ours was real solid after the first shot."

Captain Max Pacioretty scored on the Canadiens' first shot of the game, after the Maple Leafs took the play to the Canadiens early in the opening period. It was a shot Jonathan Bernier should have had, the puck rolling into the net after going off his shoulder and skate.

But Babcock praised his new team after the game, as the club appears to be buying into what he's been teaching, despite a difficult preseason.

"We did lots of good things structurally, won a lot of battles. In saying all that I would've liked us to score better."

That will likely be a theme this season in Toronto - they're not going to put a lot of pucks in the net. Their lone goal Wednesday went off James van Riemsdyk's skate and past Price. But, for the most part, that's out of their control. On the other hand, effort - and playing sound, structured hockey - isn't.

The head coach wants to see a more consistent, level game from his team.

"When the momentum swings happen in the games we seem to get carried away one way or the other," Babcock said. "(There's) no moral victories in the NHL. You either won or you lost. It's real simple that way. But, the process is there and we're trying."

That's what Maple Leafs fans hope will be the difference between a season ago: process and effort. Toronto skated Wednesday night, used set plays off faceoffs, and - for lack of a better way to put it - possessed the puck. The Maple Leafs pressured the Canadiens' defense, spending numerous shifts in the offensive zone - a rare sight at the Air Canada Centre. It's one game, but it was a marked difference from the Randy Carlyle era.

"If you're comparing us to last year's team, it's a huge improvement," said Daniel Winnik. "Everyone's working their bag off."

Another opposing goalie, a save Bernier should make, and things may have been different.

"Some of these quality chances we got you'd like to see go in," Babcock said. "Now, Carey (Price) isn't bad so you're not going to play versus him every night. They don't even know over there that he made huge saves, that's just another day's work for him."

It wasn't the result the Maple Leafs were looking for, but the road has to start somewhere, and it did Wednesday night.

- With h/t to TSN's Mark Masters, Jonas Siegel, and The Globe and Mail's James Mirtle

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