There’s 21 games left in Canadiens’ and Maple Leafs‘ respective seasons and the original six rivals are neck and neck in the Atlantic Division standings.
With Ottawa beginning to fall off (trail the Leafs by eight points), this is a tightly-contested division between 2nd and 5th in the Atlantic. The Habs (73) hold second place over the Lightning and Leafs by two points, with the Red Wings five points back and surging of late (6-2-2 in L10). The Leafs could pull even for 2nd in the Atlantic with a win over Montreal tonight, which is a pretty good place to be with 20 games to go.
The concerning signs are also present, between the team’s subpar road record (11-12-6) and failure to show any signs of shoring up the defensive end of the rink as the season has gone along. The Leafs are 10-2-2 in their last fourteen thanks to an offensive resurgence to the tune of 55 goals in 14 games (a 3.8 goals-per-game clip), but after conceding five to the Islanders have also conceded 44 over that span for a 3.1 goals-against-per-game average. That’s no better from a defensive standpoint than the 30-plus game stretch in which they only won five games in regulation or overtime.
With Dave Bolland remaining on LTIR and still not ready to return, Peter Holland has been recalled this morning. He’ll likely line up between Mason Raymond and Nikolai Kulemin on line three tonight while Kulemin returns to the wing. The top six will remain in tact, while Carlyle will have options on the fourth line. He could either play McClement, Smith and Bodie on line 4, or sit one of Smith or Bodie and dress seven defencemen. Paul Ranger scored last game, was a plus-1 despite five goals against and played 1:50 on the penalty kill, so the 7D scenario seems more likely.
Leafs fans have good memories of Reimer bringing it against Montreal, winning three of four against the Habs since the Gionta incident. But with the stakes high in these final 20 games, Carlyle is hesitant to risk Reimer coming in cold and will likely be rolling with his number one save for back to back sets. Bernier is 1-3 lifetime against the Habs, but did pick up the victory in the teams’ last meeting, a 5-3 back in mid January.
Carey Price, still riding his shutout streak from the Olympics, will not play tonight after picking up a lower-body injury. Peter Budaj will start for the Canadiens. He stopped 16 of 17 in his last meeting with the Leafs in the final regular season game of the 2012-13 season (the loss that led to the Leafs meeting the Bruins in the first round).
The Habs are a bottom 10 offence in both goals and shots for, with their leading points scorers (tied between Pacioretty and Subban) at only 39 points on the season. They have, however, scored 10 goals over 3 games against the Leafs. The Leafs have scored 11 versus Montreal and lead the season series 2-1-0. The rivals will meet once more on March 22 in Toronto.