Ninth place, one position out of the playoffs and a mediocre draft position is what the team that finishes in ninth place is awarded with, it doesn’t sound to appetizing but that will be the position of the loser of tonight’s game in Montreal as the Canadiens host the Maple Leafs. The winner will vault temporarily into a playoff spot.
The Canadiens and Leafs have met 5 times this season each of those meetings saw the Leafs walk away with a least one point. Montreal’s only two victories have come via the shootout. Toronto has dominated the season series in absolutely every aspect of the game, out shooting the Canadiens 199 to 131. The Leafs have also had much better special teams in the season series scoring 9 goals on their 29 power play opportunities. The Canadiens second ranked power play has struggled against the Leafs this season scoring just three power play goals on their 23 chances.
After winning his first three NHL starts Jaroslav Halak lost his first game Saturday afternoon to the now 8th place Islanders. David Aebischer who has lost his last three starts is expected to get the start in goal. Aebischer is 1-1-1 this season against the Leafs. Starting for the Leafs should be Andrew Raycroft who has a 1-0-2 record against the Canadiens this year. After a shaky start to the season Raycroft has not lost consecutive games in regulation since January 9th, posting an 11- 4- 3 record since then.
Montreal and Toronto will both be without their 2nd unit PP quarterbacks. Both Craig Rivet and Pavel Kubina ranked third on their teams in time on ice per game but both will miss this contest. Kubina is out until early March with a broken finger and Craig Rivet was sent to the San Jose Sharks Sunday evening with a 5th round draft choice in exchange for Josh Gorges and a first round draft pick. The Leafs will also still be without Darcy Tucker, Kyle Wellwood and Mike Peca.
On a more positive note Alex Kovalev will return to the Canadiens line-up after missing 7 games with an elbow injury. Kovalev has played in all five games against the Leafs this season recording just 5 assists. Conversely Saku Koivu has three goals this season against the Leafs but is yet to pick up an assist.
1. The Canadiens won just 3 of their last 16 meeting with the Maple Leafs in February.
2. The last time the Canadiens played the Leafs on a Monday was December 9th 1991 at that time the Canadiens were ranked 1st in the Adams Division and the Leafs were last in the Norris. The game ended 4-1 Canadiens.
3. The Canadiens rank 28th in the NHL for power play opportunities but 4thin power play goals. The Habs are also the third most penalized team in terms of times a man down.
4. With 10 and 9 divisional games left for the Canadiens and Leafs respectively, their aspirations for a playoff spot may come down to those crucial battles. The Habs and Leafs meet twice more after tonight, while the Canadiens have 4 battles left with the Bruins and Leafs still 4 with the Sabres.