To say the Maple Leafs have struggled this season would be an understatement.
They can’t score, they can’t defend, and their goalies have more holes in them
than the net they’re protecting. Despite this, the Canadiens usually have a
great deal of difficulty disposing of their Toronto rivals. The Leafs always
seem to play the Habs tough, and we should expect no different on Saturday night
at the Air Canada Centre.
Up front, the Leafs are thin in a number of areas. Down the middle, only Mikhail Grabovski
is averaging over a half point per game while he is the only plus player, at + 1. On the wings however, the Leafs do have some weapons that the Canadiens need to be aware of. Clarke MacArthur has been somewhat of a revelation this year, leading the team with 22 points and throwing in 45 hits (second on the team behind Beauchemin). Phil Kessel is always a threat to score, and likely to break out of his slump very soon. Kris Versteeg has been decent (with 8 goals and 8 assists), and Nikolai Kulemin looks to finely be developing into a top-six forward, with 18 points on the season. The key for the Habs to keep the puck of the stick of the
Toronto’s top scorers will definitely be in the face-off circle. As it currently stands, none of the Leafs’
regular centres are averaging over 50%. The Habs meanwhile, have Jeff Halpern
averaging a spectacular 56.6%. Furthermore, Toronto lacks a true checking line
centre, and will have difficulty matching up against the speed of the Habs’ forwards. Look for Jacques Martin to try and match Tomas Plekanec or Jeff Halpern with Mikhail Grabovski`s line. On the other side of the coin, expect Ron Wilson to try and take advantage of the Gomez injury, by matching his best forwards against Dustin Boyd or the young Lars Eller.
On the back end, Toronto should have a definite advantage over the Habs. With the Likes of Phaneuf, Schenn and Beauchemin, the Leafs should have a blue line that strikes fear into the eyes of opposing forwards. This hasn`t been the case
this season. Of the names mentioned above, none are plus players. All of them have more giveaways than takeaways. Toronto`s defence has also been horrible in terms of supporting the offence. None of their d-men have more than 1 goal, and other than Kaberle, nobody has more than 7 points. Look for the Habs to take advantage of a slow-footed defence, by rushing the puck into the zone and charging the net. The dump and chase likely won’t be effective due to the size advantage they hold against our forwards.
The Habs also need to take advantage of weak Toronto special teams. The Leafs currently rank second last in PP% and are in the bottom 10 in penalty killing. Between the pipes, I would be shocked if Martin goes Alex Auld, especially on a Saturday night division game. With this in mind, the Habs should have the advantage, as both of Toronto’s goalies have been average at best.
Despite their perceived advantages in all areas of the game, the Canadiens will, as mentioned, be in tough Saturday. The Habs will be playing their second game in as many nights, while the Leafs will likely benefit from having Friday night off. Also, if Wilson decides to go with Giguere, Habs fans will have to hope that he isn’t overcome with the “French Canadian goalie playing the Habs syndrome”.
Game time is 7:00 PM EST and is available on RDS and in 3D on CBC.