This meeting of two age old rivals in Montreal sets up to be a goaltending duel if recent history and the stats column are any indication. The Maple Leafs and Canadiens reside in bottom five in the league in goals for and accordingly two or three goals have been enough for the two points in the four meetings so far this season. Unfortunately only Grabovski has been able to incite any boos out of the Ole-ing faithful in Montreal as the Blue and White have been shutout in both visits to the Bell Centre this season. James Reimer told reporters today this game had definite playoff vibes to it; it’d certainly be a huge two points in a building that’s been a fortress for the Habs, who boast a 19-7-6 record at home.
Carey Price was in net for both shutouts and it will be Alex Auld manning the posts for Montreal tonight, but don’t go adding two points to your mental standings just yet. Chemmy points out Auld has a .930 career save percentage in ten games against the Leafs. Plus, either the Leafs do a good job making back ups look good or they seem to save their best work for games against the Leafs… the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. The point is everytime we get a bit excited about facing a second string, unknown or some sort of question mark in net the Leafs usually have a tough time beating him.
While these two teams share a lack of goal scoring affliction, Montreal is more dangerous on the powerplay, with their 18.6% success rate seating them tenth in the league in the category. You’re probably asking why the Canadiens are still bottom five in the league in goal production despite a fairly effective powerplay; that’s because they don’t draw many penalties. Despite the fifteen team gulf between the two sides in the powerplay percentage rankings, the Habs have only three more powerplay goals on the season. The two sides are opposites in the category; the Leafs are top five in powerplay opportunity but are now bottom five in PP% as its already struggling unit tries to adjust to life after Kaberle. The conspiracy theorists among us will suggest it’s a difficult ask at the Bell Centre but the Leafs will be wise to stay out of the box because the Habs are dangerous when they do get the opportunity.
An early goal in this one could be monumental from the Leafs perspective. If the Leafs enter the second still goalless through 140 minutes in the Bell Centre this season, memories the goose eggs from visits past would surely start creeping into the minds of Leaf shooters. A low scoring affair seems to suit the Leafs lately – who have picked up five of six points with only four goals in their past three – but it doesn’t detract from the always important first goal on the road or the fact that it’s unrealistic to ask Reimer to limit the opposition as much as he has recently.
Phil Kessel has enjoyed some success against the Habs, with two of the Leafs’ five goals in the four games between the teams this season.
The Leafs will be playing their game in hand on Atlanta and Carolina as both are idle tonight. If they can pull off an unlikely two points in Montreal, not only will they be back to five hundred at 27-27-7 but they’ll leapfrog the Thrashers into tenth and sit four points back of the eighth placed Hurricanes. If that’s where the Leafs find themselves sitting around 11 p.m. tonight, even the most cynical of fans would have to admit the race is on.