The Montreal Canadiens
continue their 7-game road swing tonight, landing in Toronto to face the Maple Leafs.
The Habs have been perfect on their trip away from the Bell Centre, going 3-0-0
in victories over the Islanders, Thrashers and Hurricanes. This will be the
fourth time these two Northeast rivals play this year; Toronto took the last
game, blanking the Habs 3-0, but Montreal won the first two games 4-3 (OT) and
5-4 (shootout). Despite their identical 5-4-1 records over the last 10 games,
the two clubs appear to be heading in different directions; the Canadiens have
won their last 3 games and the Maple Leafs have lost 4 of their last 5.
However, the positions in the standings or current streaks rarely seem to affect
games between these two rivals, and one can expect a tightly-contested tilt.
Jaroslav Halak (9-5-0, 2.57
GAA, .923 SV%) has been on fire in his last 3 games, going 3-0-0 with a 1.30
GAA, .971 SV% and stopping a whopping 133 of 137 shots. He will get the
nod for the Habs once more tonight. Both Toronto goalies have struggled
through inconsistency and injuries, but Jonas Gustavsson (7-6-6, 2.85 GAA,
.906 SV%) seems to have taken the starting job away from the veteran Vesa
Toskala (5-7-2, 3.80 GAA, .869 SV%) and is reported to get the start tonight.
Gustavsson blanked the Habs for one period last game before having to leave to
tend to his racing heart.
Tomas Plekanec now ranks 6th
among the NHL’s scoring leaders, and his 43 points (7G, 36A) in 39 games is best
on the Canadiens. He has 9 points (1G, 8A) over the past 3 road games and his
assist total is second only to San Jose’s Joe Thornton (41). He is followed in scoring
by his linemates Mike Cammalleri (18G, 15A) and Andrei Kostitsyn (11G, 12A), and
Scott Gomez has 5 points in his last 4 games. Tomas Kaberle (3G, 31A) leads the
Leafs in points, while Matt Stajan (11G, 17A) and Niklas Hagman (16G, 10A) round
out the scoring leaders. Phil Kessel has been effective since returning from
shoulder surgery with 21 points (13G, 8A) in 26 games, but hasn’t registered a
point in his last 4 games.
Despite the recent spike in
goals scored, the Canadiens are still one of the lowest scoring teams (2.51
goals per game, 26th in the NHL) and are significantly inferior to
the Maple Leafs (2.79, 12th) in this department. The roles are
reversed in the Goals Against category, as the Canadiens (2.72 GAA, 13th)
are much more efficient in their defensive roles than the Leafs (3.45 GAA, 29th).
Montreal’s powerplay has vaulted to the number one position and are converting
man advantage situations at a rate of 24.6%. Andrei Markov’s return seems to
have aided in overcoming earlier struggles, and the Habs have gone a ridiculous
8 for 13 with him in the lineup. The Leafs fall in mid-pack with a 19.0%
conversion rate (13th). Montreal boasts an effective penalty-kill as
well, owning a success rate of 83.9% (tied for 7th) while Toronto’s truculence
has lost them a few games with a dismal rate of 72.3% penalties killed
Montreal will likely be
missing Brian Gionta (foot), Roman Hamrlik (knee) and Paul Mara (hand). Gionta
had been skating last week, but suffered a set-back in his recovery and has been
ordered to rest. Toronto will be missing Mike Van Ryn (knee surgery), John
Mitchell (knee) and Carl Gunnarsson (elbow). Victor Stalberg (upper body) is
questionable for the game. 3/4 of the NHL representatives for the
Belarusian Olympic team will be on hand, with Montreal Kostitsyn brothers
squaring off against Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski. Andrei Markov was
recently named to Russia’s Olympic roster, and surely will be looking for a
healthier visit to the Air Canada Centre, having been seriously injured in both
of his prior visits.
The game gets underway at
7:00pm EST and can been seen on CBC and RDS.