Toronto lost 4-0 against Montreal— the team's 15th consecutive road loss— but the lopsided score line didn't tell the whole story.
The Maple Leafs outshot the Habs in the first and second periods, forcing Carey Price to make several impressive saves throughout the encounter, and 30-23 overall.
"We did a lot of things right that we wanted to do early, but they kept coming and we weren't able to beat their goalie," said captain Dion Phaneuf. "We started the way we wanted to play."
Looking for their first win away from the Air Canada Centre in 2015, the Maple Leafs (25-32-5) came out firing. Toronto dominated the first few minutes of the match, with Olli Jokinen and Phaneuf testing Price early on.
But a bad giveaway by Joffrey Lupul in Toronto's zone put the puck right on Dale Weise's stick, and the right-winger fed Manny Malhotra for his first goal in a Canadiens uniform.
Later in the period, Montreal (41-16-5) capitalized on a delayed penalty to the Leafs to go up 2-0. The shots were 7-6 in favour of Toronto at the time.
Morgan Reilly came closest to beating Price late in the frame, but the Canadiens netminder got enough of Reilly's shot to keep it from trickling in.
"We came back in after the first 20 minutes and were down two goals, but we did a lot of good things too," said Phaneuf. "If I were to guess, I would say we outchanced them in the first period. But they're a good team. They're at the top of the East for a reason."
The Leafs conceded a contentious goal to David Desharnais one minute into the third period before giving up an empty-netter with 2:32 on the clock.
The match was the first of four on the road for Peter Horachek's men. The Maple Leafs came into Saturday's contest winners of their last two— both at home.
But Toronto couldn't build on that momentum against the Canadiens. The Leafs are 0-13-2 away from home in the new year. The team's last road win was Dec. 31 versus the Boston Bruins. And Toronto's 60 road goals is the second-lowest total in the NHL.
Despite conceding four to Montreal, Horachek was pleased with the team's overall performance.
"We turned over that first goal, and they had an empty-net goal," said Horachek. "And that third goal was clearly goalie interference. So, we did it to ourselves on the turnover, but there was some good compete there. We had some good opportunities."
Down 3-0 in the third, the Leafs kept pressing but never found an answer for Price. Montreal's goalie made 30 saves for his sixth shutout of the season. Price has now allowed two or fewer goals for the 10th consecutive game.
"He's probably the top goalie in the league," said Phaneuf of Price. "He's very well positioned and he fights through traffic very well. But the biggest thing for us is that we didn't get enough traffic on him. When you let him see the puck he's going to stop the puck."
Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier stopped 19-of-22 shots in defeat.
Notes: Montreal has now won the last five meetings between the two clubs. … Sergei Gonchar was back in uniform after missing the last two weeks with an upper-body injury. Mike Weaver sat for a sixth consecutive game. Trevor Smith was scratched for Toronto. … Desharnais recorded his 200th career regular-season point.