The wait is over. After yet another long off-season following a fifth consecutive year of missing out on the NHL post-season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are set to kick off the 2010-11 season against their oldest rival, the Montreal Canadiens.
Both teams have undergone an off-season where – despite the lack of a full-scale overhaul – crucial moves were made to bring in key players or (in Montreal’s case) provide a better opportunity for players already in the organization. Gone from the 2009-10 Toronto lineup are Viktor Stalberg, Rickard Wallin and Keith Primeau, replaced by Kris Versteeg, Colby Armstrong, and Brett Lebda. In Montreal, the most impactful move was the trade of playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to St Louis in exchange for Lars Eller, a move which paves the way for Carey Price to assert his standing among starting NHL netminders.
Yes, I'm 44 years old and have a Leafs lunchpail. What's your point?
It begins tonight – the 2010-2011 Toronto Maple Leafs season. New captain, new faces, new year, clean slate. Hope. The excitement of a new journey.
Whatever level of excitement we the fans have for it, tonight is not a measuring stick. The Habs are somewhat undermanned, with Andrei Markov out of the lineup and Carey Price reportedly feeling under the weather. Moreover, last season’s lengthy run in the postseason notwithstanding, I doubt whether anyone standing out of Pierre Gauthier’s earshot considers the Habs to be likely to repeat that sort of performance this time ’round. Tonight’s match is last year’s 29th place finishers vs. the fluky Conference finalists who lost their rabbit’s foot and are missing their star defenceman. Hardly a Clash of the Titans.
There is much to watch for technically in the Leafs’ play – is there improvement on the power play, have adjustments been made on the penalty kill and in defensive coverage generally?Â Blue and white hearts, long afflicted with Toskalaitis, will flutter when otherwise harmless pucks are directed at the Leaf net, and will skip a beat as anxious eyes hope innocuous shots are turned aside with a timely glove or some good positional play by J.S. Giguere.
One thing I’ll be watching for more than anything is signs that this team has bonded and is prepared to play as a cohesive unit.Â I’m looking to the Captain to set the tone, to play with a fire in his belly but showing discipline and commitment to team above all. (UPDATE: hope the Leafs come to the rink carrying their lunchpails, logo-emblazoned or not).
The Leafs should beat this Montreal team; they should be emotionally charged and, being relatively healthy, they ought to find that the support of the faithful will propel them to a momentum-inducing victory over a hated historical rival.Â Of course, there are no guarantees, and mid-week games at the ACC being what they are, the support of the faithful can often be mistaken aurally for the waiting room at a seniors’ home.
I’m excited.Â I love home openers.Â Love watching the 48th Highlanders march across the ice as the opening ceremonies come to a close, and the two starting centres drift toward the faceoff dot, preparing to lean in and start the battle.Â Hope you’re excited too.Â Looking forward to sharing this season with you all.
GO LEAFS GO!
p.s. To help get you in the mood, check out The Maple Leafs song: a video tribute.
UPDATE: I’ve posted a picture of my Toronto Maple Leafs lunchpail because (a) I can; and (b) the fact that I’m 44 years old and have a Toronto Maple Leafs lunchpail (for reasons I can’t explain), among dozens of other pieces of logo-emblazoned merchandise,Â tells you all about why I have the level of excitement I’m feeling right now.Â What’s the weirdest piece of Leafs merch you have squirreled away in your residence?
Tonight, the Buds and Habs are set to battle it out and put their win streaks on the line. The Leafs are 5-1-0 in their last 6 outings, while the Canadiens are riding an impressive 6 game string of victories. With Toronto now over 0.500 at home (15-14-5), they are looking to play the role of heartbreakers this season, and what better way to continue doing so then by throwing a big fat L at Montreal tonight?
Happy Boxing Day, hockey fans!
It’s a great day for hockey here in Leafland. Â The World Junior Championship Tournament, featuring the Leafs’ highly-touted Nazem Kadri, officially gets underway this afternoon as Canada takes on Latvia. Â Following the tournament opener, we are in for a treat Leafs take on their long-standing rival, the Montreal Canadiens. Â And for those who are able to remain awake after all the holiday parties of the past two days, the Edmonton Oilers will visit the Vancouver Canucks in what should be a typical Saturday night Western Conference barn-burner. Â Does it get any better?
Now, onto the Leafs-Habs preview:
It is their second meeting this year, and the first played a big part on blinding fans for both teams in the belief that each were elite competitors. Since that opening night, the Habs have on 5-7-0, while the Leafs have gone 1-7-2. But there are always upsides, and tonight marks to start to capitalize on those specifics.
It feels strange to have the similar attitude of Bill Watters on Leafs Lunch towards prized free agent acquisition, Mike Komisarekâ€™s regular season debut against his former club. But â€¦ here we are.
Any hopes of Toronto spoiling Montreal’s playoff run were officially put to bed on Saturday night, as the Canadiens, for one night at least, managed to resemble last season’s squad.
Leaf Nation had hoped their previous victory would be the final nail in the coffin for the Habs; instead, that loss seems to have been the catalyst that broke the Habs (who have gone 5-0-1 since) out of their slumber.Â Â Could this get any worse for Leaf fans?