The Maple Leafs open the 99th regular season in team history against their eternal rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, with the two teams seemingly going in opposite directions.

Montréal, in a “win now” era and odds-on favorites for tonight on Iron Bet, has a number of the ingredients required for a contending team: elite goaltender, elite number one defenseman and – perhaps – a number one centerman of the future in Alex Galchenyuk. Like many young players, Galchenyuk’s adjustment to the NHL has taken some time; he’s played primarily on the wing, but he will be debuting this season at center.

A pretty good team at 5v5 and the beneficiaries of the League’s best goaltender in Carey Price, the Canadiens had a lot of difficulty scoring on the powerplay (ranked 23rd) last season, and their overall goals for was ranked 20th league wide. Craig Ramsey was brought in as a coaching consultant to help them re-work the power play and provide a second pair of eyes for head coach Michel Therrien—not unlike Jacques Lemaire’s role for the Maple Leafs. They’ve also added Alex Semin on the cheap, hoping their low risk-high reward move pays off by helping the team in the scoring department.

The Maple Leafs are obviously a team that is in a re-build/build/tool—pick your term—but they will have a lot of eyes on them as they try and build up their credibility around the League after the offseason additions of some big-name brass in Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock.

The Leafs are coming off their worst season in reason memory—perhaps ever—and there are a number of players on the team who the Leafs are hoping will rebound from subpar individual seasons. Management would seem to prefer to move players such as Dion Phaneuf and Joffrey Lupul, as their age and salary aren’t in line with where the team is going and they’re arguably overpaid for what they are providing, but they need better seasons from them first.

Then, there are the younger pieces that could be a part of the long-term picture in Toronto but need to prove to be definitive parts of the solution first. James van Reimsdyk’s goal production last year masked a dubious effort level overall. Nazem Kadri is on a one-year show-me deal that will determine whether the Leafs lock him up or ship him out of town.

Morgan Rielly will look to continue his upward trajectory as he took big steps forward as the team faltered down the stretch. Jake Gardiner has had his tires pumped since the arrival of Mike Babcock, but will need to improve the small details of his game that belie his great skating and passing abilities. Speaking of which…

All eyes will be on the Maple Leafs’ prized free agent acquisition, head coach Mike Babcock, to see if he can work magic with a team perceived to be maligned by a poor work ethic, confidence issues, and a lack of talent throughout. Let the fun begin.

Here’s the quick and dirty breakdown of tonight’s (projected) lineup, assuming nothing changes between now and puck drop:

  • Michael Grabner, Roman Polak and new addition Frank Corrado are the scratches.
  • This is the first time in a long time that Bozak and JvR have been split up for a regular season game. Bozak, Matthias and Lupul finished up the preseason together and will remain a line in addition to Kadri, JvR and Boyes. JvR and Bozak seem to bring the worst out of each other in terms of being one-and-done and rush-dependent offensively, while also being inattentive defensively, so the goal will be improved balance.
  • Mark Arcobello has shifted to the right wing beside Holland and Komarov on line three, meaning the Leafs are running Kadri-Bozak-Holland-Spaling down the middle, which is about what we expected in the summer.
  • Matt Hunwick and Dion Phaneuf is your top pairing defensively; jury is out still, obviously, but the pair were the top two at winning the neutral zone battle in the preseason, with Hunwick posting the lowest percentage of controlled entries against.
  • Morgan Rielly starts on the right—his offside—with Martin Marincin on the left. Rielly made a seamless job of transitioning back and forth last season. Scott Harrington will play his off side with Jake Gardiner to his left.

These look like four reasonably balanced lines Babcock is going to roll tonight, so the difference between the most played forward and the least played forward might not be much of a gap, unlike most games in the Randy Carlyle era (not just the Carlyle era, but also the Phil Kessel era, as the Leafs used to have an elite player and subsequently an obvious first line).

The Leafs showed some (very) early-days signs of progress in terms of their possession game in the preseason, but were unable to score with regularity. Their task will not be made any easier tonight with the best goalie in the world manning the pipes opposite Jonathan Bernier.

Enough talk. Let’s do this.


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Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lineup

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montreal Canadiens Projected Lineup - Oct. 7th, 2015
Left WingCenterRight Wing
van RiemsdykKadriBoyes
MathiasBozakLupul
KomarovHollandArcobello
WinnikSpalingParenteau
Left DefenceRight Defence
HunwickPhaneuf
MarincinRielly
GardinerHarrington
Goal: Bernier

Montreal Canadiens Projected Lineup

Left WingCenterRight Wing
PaciorettyPlekanecGallagher
EllerGalchenyukSemin
FleischmannDesharnaisWeise
FlynnMitchellSmith-Pelly
Left DefenceRight Defence
MarkovSubban
EmelinPetry
BeaulieuGilbert
Goal: Price

 

Mike Babcock Pre-Game

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