GDT: Canadiens at Leafs (7 p.m., CBC)


Photo: CP

The Canadiens visit the Air Canada Centre tonight fresh off of blowing a two-goal third period lead to Evgeni Malkin the Pittsburgh Penguins.  It’s been a rocky season for the “big mess” (according to Jaroslav Spacek) that is the Montreal franchise.  Sitting nine points back of a playoff spot, the Habs will be desperate to pick up points in an effort to get back in the race.  They’re probably hoping that playing away from the raving pressure cooker that is the Bell Centre will allow Carey Price to focus on his game (0.925 SV% on the road vs. 0.899 SV% at home).  Price will be opposed by Jonas Gustavsson, who has settled comfortably into both his role on the ice and with his teammates outside of the rink.  The amused adoration that defines the Maple Leafs‘ attitude towards the Monster has undoubtedly contributed to their recent success as a cohesive unit on the ice.

Montreal’s franchise tender, crucial to their playoff hopes, has been extremely boom or bust this season.  In wins, Price sports a nasty 0.949 SV%, a stark contrast to his 0.889 SV% in losses.  As such, Toronto should look to harness the energy of a Habs-Leafs tilt at the ACC and bring it to the Montreal goaltender quickly.  The special teams matchup in this game will be an interesting one, as Toronto features one of the league’s (well-documented) worst penalty kills.  Of course, they’ve been perfect lately, and will be defending against the NHL’s worst powerplay (Montreal clicks at an abysmal 12.4% with the man advantage).  At the other end of the ice, Toronto’s fourth-best PP will need to be at its best to score against the league’s second best PK (89%).

Currently, Montreal’s lone consistent offensive presence is the line of Cole-Desharnais-Pacioretty.  Erik Cole has been Montreal’s best player this season, and serves as a big body alongside that of Max Pacioretty.  They battle hard behind the net and in the corner, with the work ethic of Desharnais acting as an effective complement to the two wingers.  This line will undoubtedly face the Phaneuf-Schenn pairing all night long in what should be a physical matchup.

Meanwhile, the Leafs will hope to build on their win over Minnesota.  Featuring three scoring lines, Toronto will look to use their speed and play a fast-paced, offensive game.  At the head of this charge will be Phil Kessel and (All-Star assistant captain) Joffrey Lupul, who are tied for the league lead in points at home.  As is often the case when these two teams meet, it should be an exciting one.