Tonight, we welcome the return of Hockey Night in Canada as the Montreal Canadiens search for their first win of the season against the 2-0-0 Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena (7 p.m, CBC).
After minimal roster turnover this past offseason, the Montreal Canadiens of 2019-20 present a similar challenge to last season’s team that fell just shy of the playoffs despite a 94-point season: They’re deep at forward and one of the quicker, harder-working teams in the league, but they’re a little shallow on defense and have major question marks on their power play.
In 2018-19, Montreal finished fourth in the NHL in shot attempt percentage, fourth in expected goals, and had 12 players (10 forwards, two D) record 30 or more points. They were mainly let down by subpar backup goaltending and an anemic power play, which combined to torpedo a surprise season. Since then, GM Marc Bergevin traded Andrew Shaw, added Nick Suzuki (RW) and Cale Fleury (RD) into the mix from within their system, and recruited Ben Chariot (LD) and Keith Kinkaid (G) via free agency. It’s largely the same core returning from last year, led by Max Domi, Brendan Gallagher, Phil Danault, Jonathan Drouin, Shea Weber, and Jeff Petry.
The Habs’ balanced four-line attack wasn’t a huge problem for the Leafs last season, with Toronto finishing 3-0-1 in the season series. We’ll also see if the Habs catch as many teams off guard this year now that they’re not cruising under the radar quite as much.
In the marquee matchup, not much will change in the Toronto-Montreal rivalry this season: Phillip Danault’s line is the Habs’ most effective at both ends and will likely match up against Tavares’ line at evens. One of the most consistent trios in the NHL last year, Tatar-Danault-Gallagher played over 670 minutes together in 2018-19 and produced an impressive underlying stat line of 36 xGF and 22 xGA while exceeding that metric in actual goal production with 40 GF and 20 GA. The Danault line took it to the Tavares line in the first two games of the season series last year, out-possessing them 75/25 and 60/40, but Hyman – Tavares – Marner turned it around in the final two by winning the possession battle and outscoring them 3-1 at 5v5.
The pre-planned rotation at the bottom of the Leafs‘ lineup continues tonight, with Jason Spezza and Nic Petan sitting and Dmytro Timashov and Nick Shore drawing in. The Leafs will need the fresh legs in a back-to-back situation against a rested Montreal team. So far, the rotation has given the fourth line a nice shot in the arm, with two really good games from L4 in the possession game (Frederik Gauthier also scored vs. Ottawa).
Michael Hutchinson will make his first regular-season start for the team since last January. With a plan in place to play Frederik Andersen fewer than 60 games this season, and four back-to-backs coming up in the opening month alone (starting tonight), Hutchinson needs to confirm the Leafs have the right man for the job quickly here with some stellar October performances.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on Michael Hutchinson’s opportunity:
He’s a real good person. Freddy likes him. Steve [Briere] likes him. He’s got good work habits. People with good work habits continue to get better; doesn’t matter how old they are, they continued to get better. He has that. Now, it’s a process. If you just look at our first month, he’s got four big games. We need to be in a situation where we know he is a guy we can count on — a guy we know when he goes in there, we can help him win. That is a priority for him. Nothing like Saturday night at home against Montreal. Good for him.
Babcock on what stands out about the Habs from the prescout:
Just speed. They play right. They’ve got a good coach. They know how to play. They’ve got good leadership in that room in Weber and Carey Price. They’re going to play right. Both teams are going to be excited to be in here tonight. It’s Saturday night and it should be a lot of fun.
Babcock on the rotation at the bottom of the lineup:
I’ve done it lots before in the past. Just not in the NHL. What we’re trying to do is give everybody a fair opportunity. If we had the right answer, we wouldn’t be doing this. But we don’t know, so we are going to figure it out for ourselves. As soon as we do, it’s the NHL. In saying that, too, we still have guys playing on the Marlies… We are going to figure it all out, I guess, in the first ten games.
Babcock on Alex Kerfoot:
He has been impressive. At the start, I thought we had so much information in his head and he was processing so much information that his feet didn’t move. But he has got way more grease in him than I thought — way more grit. I think he can be a real good player for us. Farly is really working with him in the faceoff circle. That can be a big part of his game. The better that line plays, the more speed and tenacity they play with, the better we are going to be as a hockey club. That is a real important group for us and I like what he is doing. He and Miky are really going in the right direction and I think mooresy is doing the same thing. It is a pretty good group for us.
Babcock on the mentality that it’s “our time:”
Some of us have been here a long time. Some of us have just been here a short time. But we’ve been through enough now where we just think it is time. Why not us?
Now, I am not a big believer in a slogan and then you do nothing. To me, what is the action plan coming out of every meeting? Where are we going? It is like dreaming with your eyes opening. Dreaming at night is a totally different thing. Dreaming with your eyes open means you have a plan — an action plan of where you are going and what you are doing. That is what we are trying to do.
We worked hard at it this summer to really evaluate our team. We made a lot of changes in our lineup here. We are all going to watch and see what happens.
Head-to-Head Stats – 2018-19 Season
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#18 Andreas Johnsson – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#24 Kasperi Kapanen – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#65 Ilya Mikheyev – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #42 Trevor Moore
#41 Dmytro Timashov – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #26 Nick Shore
#8 Jake Muzzin – #94 Tyson Barrie
#44 Morgan Rielly – #83 Cody Ceci
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #52 Martin Marincin
#31 Frederik Andersen
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Scratched: Jason Spezza, Nic Petan, Justin Holl
Injured: Zach Hyman, Travis Dermott
Marner – Tavares – Matthews
Nylander – Moore – Kerfoot
Montreal Canadiens Projected Lines
#90 Thomas Tatar – #24 Phillip Danault – #11 Brendan Gallagher
#62 Artturi Lehkonen – #13 Max Domi – #14 Nick Suzuki
#92 Jonathan Drouin – #15 Jesperi Kotkaniemi – #40 Joel Armia
#41 Paul Byron – #44 Nate Thompson – #43 Jordan Weal
#53 Victor Mete – #6 Shea Weber
#8 Ben Chiarot – #26 Jeff Petry
#17 Brett Kulak – #20 Cale Fleury
#31 Carey Price
#37 Keith Kinkaid
Injured: Ryan Poehling, Noah Juulsen