The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs currently sit on opposite sides of the playoff race, with the Habs sitting in first and the Leafs hanging on to seventh place. While eight points separate the two teams, this will be the third meeting of the rivals eight total games to be played this season. While both teams are coming off loses, expect a great show tonight because every time these two teams meet, everything else is forgotten and anything can happen. In the two games already played between these teams this season, the result was split with each team winning one. However, Montreal was able to pick up 3 points in the process, as they took the Leafs to overtime in their loss.
Toronto has been struggling as of late, even with the return of captain Mats Sundin. However, Sundin has gotten off to a good start getting 7 points in his 5 games, including a game winning goal against the Washington Capitals. The Leafs have only won 2 of their last 5 games, and haven’t been able to string together 2 wins since October 20th. Whispers have been about on Bryan McCabe being a front runner for the Norris Trophy this year. With 20 points in 17 games, he’s currently tied for first with LA’s Lubomir Visnovsky in scoring by defensemen. However, McCabe is a -5 in plus/minus throughout those 17 games, which is nothing to brag about. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Alexander Steen seems to have picked up his game as of late collecting 6 points in his last 5 games, including 4 goals. As always, the Habs will have to be cautious of winger Jeff O’Neill who’s been on fire since Sundin’s return. He collected 7 points in 3 games before getting shut down by Buffalo in Toronto’s 5-2 loss last night. During that span, 3 of his 4 goals came with the man-advantage. Toronto boasts the second best power play unit in the NHL, so the Habs will have to do their best to stay out of the box.
The Habs saw their 5-game winning streak come to an end in a 3-2 shoot-out loss to the Pittsburg Penguins which saw Sidney Crosby score both the first and final goal of the game. Oddly enough, the Habs last 4 games have all come by the score of 3-2. The Habs have shown resiliency, both by coming from behind to win games, and by finding ways to win even admits injuries. The Habs have become known recently as the come-back-kids after several efforts to erase one goal deficits and win games in the dying minutes of the 3rd period. Also, the Habs are 10-3 in one-goal games, so be forewarned, if you’ve got a pacemaker do make sure it’s in good working order if you plan on watching the Habs play tonight. With nagging injuries to Yan Bulis (shoulder), Radek Bonk (groin), Pierre Dagenais(flu), Sheldon Souray(foot), and even rumors of Saku Koivu being a bit banged up, it’s going to be hard to say just who’s going to be in the line-up tonight.
Meanwhile, Claude Julien had a lot to say to his team during practice, and look for him to want a complete 60-minute effort from them tonight against the Leafs. All too often the Habs have decided to coast for whole periods of games, relying to heavily on the recent great play of Theodore, and their well known 3rd period magic. The Habs had to kill off a 5-minute penalty taken by Steve Begin when the ref made a controversial call on his legal-looking hit on C Maxime Talbot. Begin, who was forced out of the game due to the hit with nine minutes remaining, could not physically be part of the rest of the game, but it was his fighting spirit which seemed to remain. Quite appropriately, it was Begin-like player Chris Higgins who got the tying goal with less than 4 remaining in the 3rd period.
There are two departments the Habs will need to improve in if they wish to beat the Leafs tonight. Montreal will need to take fewer penalties and win more face-offs. The Canadiens have taken way too many useless penalties all season long, and I’m sure this is one aspect that Coach Julian will be looking for less of. Considering Toronto’s hot power play unit, this is one thing that could win or lose the game for the Habs. Meanwhile, The Habs are currently ranked 21st in the league with a 48.8 face-off win percentage. Winning the draw is key to puck possession, and even more important when deep in your own zone while killing a penalty. Not to mention that Toronto will most likely have Brian McCabe and Tomas Kaberle playing the point.
Richard Zednik – Saku Koivu – Alex Kovalev
Chris Higgins – Mike Ribeiro – Michael Ryder
Steve Begin – Radek Bonk – Niklas Sundstrom
Mathieu Dandenault / Pierre Dagenais – Tomas Plekanec – Alexander Perezhogin
Andrei Markov – Craig Rivet
Sheldon Souray – Mike Komisarek
Fancis Bouillon – Mark Streit / Mathieu Dandenault
Injuries & Scratches: Chrisobal Huet [G, scratch], Jan Bulis [LW, shoulder], Pierre Dagenais [LW, Scratch], Mark Streit [D, scratch]
Toronto Maple Leafs
Alexander Steen – Mats Sundin – Jeff O’Neill
Darcy Tucker – Eric Lindros – Nik Antropov
Alexei Ponikarovski – Jason Allison – Kyle Wellwood
Chad Kilger – Matt Stajan – Tie Domi
Bryan McCabe – Tomas Kaberle
Alexander Khavanov – Ken Klee
Aki Berg – Staffan Kronwall
Injuries & Scratches: Mikael Tellqvist [G, Scratch], Wade Belak [D/RW, Scratch], Mariusz Czerkawski [RW, shoulder], Clarke Wilm [C, Scratch]
Starting Goalies: Jose Theodore – Montreal, Ed Belfour – Toronto
Habs Notebook: Who’s Hot: Saku Koivu [10pts in last 7 games], Jose Theodore [2-0-1, 1.95 GAA, .931 SP in last 3 games], Craig Rivet [2pts in last 2 games], Andrei Markov [7pts in last 5 games], Mike Ribeiro [3pts in last 2 games], Alex Kovalev [4pts in last 3 games]. Expect a bit game from our top line tonight; they were shut out against the Penguins last game.
Leaf Notes: Who’s Hot: Jeff O’Neill [7pts in last 4 games], Mats Sundin [7pts in last 4 games], Alexander Steen [6pts in last 5 games], Kyle Wellwood [3pts in last 3 games], Bryan McCabe [20pts in 17 games]. Toronto’s first line has been hot as of late; Montreal will need to shut them down along with Bryan McCabe.
The Week Ahead
Nov. 15 vs Florida 7:30 PM (RDS)
Nov. 18th at New Jersey 7:30 PM (RDS)
It’s another edition of Hockey Night in Canada, and actually the 3rd time the Leafs and Habs put on this show. It’s a historic night tonight as The Montreal Canadiens will retire Both Y’van Cournoyer and Dickie Moore’s #12 will be retired at the Bell Center before the puck drops at around 7:00PM.