CANADIENS (24-9-6) at MAPLE LEAFS (18-12-8)
7:00 pm (CBC)
First a thank you to DH for covering my absence yesterday. Much appreciated.
Back in November, more than one LeafsHub author put it out there, that the Leafs were a month away from being a winning team and would be challenging for a playoff spot. Now a week into January, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a hold on third place in the Atlantic Division with games in hand over the Boston Bruins.
To say the Leafs control their own destiny from now until the end of the season is an understatement.
So tonight is another one of those must win games when the Montreal Canadiens gear up to battle Toronto at the ACC.
These two teams have met twice during this campaign. Montreal skated away with 2-1 victories both times. That was also early in the season. The hockey landscape has changed dramatically since then. The last time the Leafs were able to skate away with a victory against the Habs was January 19, 2014. A much different time for recent Leafs history.
To date the Canadiens are proving to be battle tested warriors showing off their depth in the face of a long injury list. Montreal did falter in late December but have manged to win three of their last four games and have gained eight of a possible ten points over their past five games.
Tonight will be Montreal’s first game without point producing wingers Gallagher and Byron as both were hurt during their January 4th contest in Dallas.
Other notables that will not be in tonight’s lineup are Markov, Shaw, Pateryn, Desharnais and Galchenyuk. For the Montreal Canadiens, tonight will be a real test of depth for the organization’s farm system.
The Leafs are in pretty good shape injury wise with Smith and Marincin both having missed significant time. Lupul has been out the entire season and is taking up space on Robidas Island. Neither of the latter two are expected to suit of for the Leafs this season or in any other future games.
Mike Babcock continues to mold his lineup. There are days of high praise and other days where his comments are aimed at planting a seed in the Leafs dressing room.
After today’s morning skate, the Leafs bench boss talked about the leadership and intensity of Shea Weber. A good part of the interview below has Babcock talking up the Montreal blue liner and one can’t help but see that it is a message to the Leaf rookies. Babcock has set the bar pretty high with those comments and for good reason.
While the Leafs are winning and playing an exciting brand of hockey, Babcock see’s that future long term success will not only be dependent on skill. He see’s that determination and professionalism away from the ice will be just as important to become an elite team and used Weber as an example.
Tonight is the second half of back to back games. Babcock had quipped a while back that the NHL was kind to give the Leafs the most back to back games this season so the team might want to enjoy the honour. So it was surprising to hear that Andersen is expected to get the start tonight having played in last nights 4-2, 30 save win. However, after tonight’s game the Leafs will hit their by-week and will not play again until next Friday against the New York Rangers. There will be plenty of time to rest up and nurse any bumps, bruises and fatigue.
Statistically these two teams match up “fairly” well but with the two newest Montreal injuries, perhaps this is now a Montreal team the could be ripe for a loss and Toronto’s first win against Montreal in three years.
What do you think Leafs Nation?
Discuss among yourselves.
Projected Line Combinations
Toronto Maple Leafs
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Hyman — Matthews — Brown
Komarov — Kadri — Nylander
Martin — Gauthier — Soshnikov
Rielly — Zaitsev
Gardiner — Carrick
Hunwick — Polak
Pacioretti — Danault — Radulov
Lehkonen — Plekanec — Andrighetto
Carr — Mitchell — Flynn
Farnham — McCarron– Scherbak
Emelin — Weber
Beaulieu — Petry
Barberio — Johnston
Mike Babcock — Morning Skate — 01/07/2017