Game 1: Leafs vs Canadiens preview

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It’s been a long time coming, but we are getting our 1st round rematch for the season opener. The Toronto Maple Leafs are set to battle the Montreal Canadiens in the first game of the 2021-22 season. The Canadiens got the last laugh during the playoffs, taking the Leafs down in their 1st round match-up. The Canadiens want to show that, even without some key players, their playoff run was not a fluke. While the Boys in Blue want to start this season off right, putting their playoff failure behind them.

Leafs’ lineup

Just like Montreal, the Leafs are also down two key players to start the season. Austin Matthews is still recovering from wrist surgery and is expected to miss the next 3 games.  If this wasn’t enough of a blow, Ilya Mikheyev is also injured and is predicted to be out for the next 6-8 weeks.

Looking at the Leafs roster however, this team is still very deep. Toronto is now built to be a team that has 4 working lines that can score. The Leafs use their speed and skill to create opportunities right off the rush. They like to control puck possession, looking to find high end scoring chances. Players like Marner, Tavares & Nylander will be key for the Leafs in terms of putting the puck in the net.  These players will all also be significant for the team’s Power Play, a huge issue from last year that needed to be addressed if their overall outcome is to change.

The team’s toughness has also been in question over the past few years. The Maple Leafs hope that by adding Nick Ritchie it will make the top line harder to contend with offensively. He has big shoes to fill in Zack Hyman, who is now with the Oilers.  While Ritchie looked sharp in the pre-season, let’s hope for the Leafs’ sake, he can keep growing and become the top 6 forward they need.

Michael Bunting, David Kampf, and Ondrej Kase are also 3 new players the Leafs are hoping will help with depth scoring.  Bunting is the one player who, for the Leafs, really stood out to me. He is fast and tough, the type of player Toronto really needs.  Having said this, the Maple Leafs will need all 4 lines to play strong on both ends of the ice to get the wins.

The Leafs’ defense is very similar to last season.  Zach Bogosian is the only top 6 defender who is no longer with the team. This gives Rasmus Sandin a chance to prove he is NHL ready.  In this moment, the Leafs’ top 4 pairings are very solid.  Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie, Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl have proven they can be depended on.

Finally, the 3rd pairing is, once again, the one that makes Leafs fans nervous.  Travis Dermott has never been able to take the next step that the Leafs were hoping he would and Sandin simply hasn’t much NHL experience so he is a wild card. The defense will need to be strong tonight if Toronto wants to get this 1st win of the season.

 

Canadiens’ lineup

The Canadiens shocked the hockey world last year when they went all the way to the cup finals, ultimately losing to Tampa Bay.  Montreal wants to show that this team is still the real deal, even without some key players. The Habs will be without Shea Weber and Carey Price. As both of these players are leaders on and off the ice, they leave some big shoes to fill.  The team will also be without Paul Byron, Mike Hoffman, and Joel Edmundson.  Even with all these injuries you can’t count Montreal out in this game.

When I look at Montreal’s Forward group, they are scary. Like Toronto, the Habs have 4 lines that can score. The Canadiens will use their speed and strong play on both ends of the ice to create scoring chances. They will also use their size and try to take over the game down behind the net.

The Forward group is led by players like Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki, and Josh Anderson. Suzuki has become one of the best 2-way centres in the game. He plays hard on both ends of ice battling for every puck. Toffoli was in the hunt for the Rocket Richard trophy, awarded to the player with the most goals in the season. Last but certainly not least, Anderson, he uses his speed, size and physicality to dominate any game. These 3 forwards led the Habs to the cup finals and will be looking to start off red hot once again.

The Habs have many more weapons besides those 3 players.  Cole Caufield, Christian Dvorak, Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin are all great players who know how to score. Drouin is looking to have a bounce back year this season. He looked good in the pre-season and wants to keep that momentum going into the regular season.

The Habs’ defense is where questions really start to fly in. Without Mr. Weber, all 3 pairings will really need to step up. The Canadiens hope that Jeff Petry can pick right up where he left off last season. Adding David Savard was also a big move in the off-season.  Savard will need to play big minutes for the Canadiens.

Even without Weber I feel the back end for the Habs is pretty strong. The 3rd pairing, much like Toronto’s, could cause some issues for Montreal as Alexander Romanov is very young and Chris Wideman is known for not being the best in his own end.

The Goaltending

Although both teams’ goaltenders had great seasons last year, Jack Campbell & Jake Allen have something to prove. Campbell took over the net last year when Anderson got injured. Jack played some outstanding hockey, breaking a Leafs’ record for most wins in a row to start a season. The question around Campbell, however, will be whether or not he can handle being the starter for an 82 game season. The most games Campbell has ever played in his career is 31. Campbell has also had issues shaking off a bad goal at times. He will need to be sharp tonight and all year for the Leafs to have a good season.

Allen is in a similar spot to Campbell. Allen has been a good veteran backup for most of his NHL career.  Allen did take over the starting job for a short time last year when Price was injured and he is going to have to do the same once again. Price will be out for at least the first month of the season. For the Habs to succeed, Allen will need to play a lot of games and stay strong between the pipes.

Final thoughts before puck drop

Both of the teams are evenly matched, whether either side’s fan base wants to admit it.  I expect to see this game tightly checked. The Leafs and the Habs both have some deadly weapons who are capable of breaking a game wide open.

If the Leafs can use their speed in controlling the puck early, and drawing some penalties they will have a good chance of scoring early which has often helped them games in the past. On the flip side, if Montreal plays Toronto hard, hitting them every chance they get, while still staying out of the box, the Habs can capitalize on their own scoring chances leading them to a big first win.

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