The Maple Leafs are looking to avenge their season-opening loss in Montreal as they take on an injury-depleted 26th-placed Canadiens team on HNIC (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
The huge loss of Cole Caufield for the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery is a major blow to a Habs’ forward group already dealing with the long-term absences of Brendan Gallagher and Sean Monahan. Starting goaltender Jake Allen and forward Joel Armia are week-to-week, while forward Jake Evans and defenseman Kaiden Guhle are not expected back until late in the regular season. 2022 first-overall selection Juraj Slafkovsky is likely out for the rest of the year.
As the injuries pile up, the loss of Caufield, in particular, will be a big test for a Habs team that has been more competitive than expected for most of their rebuilding season (with 19 wins and points in 22 of 46 games, they’re just two points back of a Senators team that many in Ottawa expected to take a big step forward this season). Caufield was pacing for a 45-goal season prior to the injury on a team with just two other skaters currently on track to break 20 goals (Nick Suzuki and Josh Anderson).
The Leafs enter the game looking to snap a run of four straight losses at the Bell Centre, including the season-opening defeat back in October. In recent history in the building, the Habs bring their best against the Leafs regardless of where the two teams sit in the standings or who is in the lineup.
That said, with the Canadiens icing a heavily-depleted forward group, this is a game that the Leafs should be able to take care of so long as they manage the game properly and don’t give the Habs opportunities for easy offense, which was the story back on Oct. 12.
Head to Head: Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs
In the season-to-date statistics, the Leafs hold the advantage over the Canadiens in five out of five offensive categories and five out of five defensive categories.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on what can be learned from the season-opening loss to Montreal back in October:
It is a long time ago. It is the opening game of the season. It is more just where we are at as a team now. We have found a lot of success as a group. What has given us success is a good, sound team game, playing good defense, being good situationally, managing the puck, and all of those kinds of things. That is what I expect to see from our team.
Keefe on the kind of challenge he is expecting from the Habs:
They play with lots of energy and lots of emotion. The building and the rivalry — it’s Saturday night — will bring a lot more urgency and intensity to the game.
I’d expect to see their best. The played with lots of emotion against us. Even without Cole Caufield, they have a lot of guys who are dangerous in transition and can get in behind you and take advantage.
There are lots of reasons for us to be dialed in. Again, we are going to focus on our game here and getting that established. If we do that, we feel like we can take control of the game. It is going to be on us to do that and then maintain that throughout.
Keefe on the decision to rotate Wayne Simmonds into the lineup:
We are utilizing our depth, but also, if you go back to the Boston game, I thought Wayne did a real good job for us. We haven’t gotten him in since then and have been discussing it daily. Whether it was the Florida or Winnipeg game, we had those discussions and ultimately decided to go with different guys. We thought this was a good chance to give Hunt a day off and get Simmonds in.
Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis on the difficulty of motivating his team in a losing season:
The players are proud. If a coach has to constantly keep motivating the players, you’re in trouble. To me, it is about discipline, having standards for how we do things, and holding them accountable to that. That is my job.
You are not going to win every game. If we are a team that is just going to be result-driven, that is when you lose yourself a little bit. The result is part of it. I show up, and I am trying to win the game tonight. The same thing on Tuesday.
Are we going to do that? I don’t know, but my job as a coach is to hold them accountable to the standards that we have as we build a culture to become a team that can win way more than we can lose.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#19 Calle Järnkrok – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#74 Bobby McMann – #64 David Kämpf – #47 Pierre Engvall
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#44 Morgan Rielly – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #25 Conor Timmins
Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#30 Matt Murray
Extras: Jordie Benn, Dryden Hunt
Injured/Out: TJ Brodie, Nick Robertson, Jake Muzzin, Victor Mete
Montreal Canadiens Projected Lines
#17 Josh Anderson – #14 Nick Suzuki – #32 Rem Pitlick
#68 Mike Hoffman – #77 Kirby Dach – #63 Evgenii Dadonov
#49 Rafel Harvey-Pinard – #28 Christian Dvorak – #55 Michael Pezzetta
#72 Arber Xhekaj – #56 Jesse Ylonen – #60 Alex Belzile
#8 Michael Matheson – #58 David Savard
#44 Joel Edmundson – #52 Justin Barron
#54 Jordan Harris – #26 Johnathan Kovacevic
Starter: #55 Samuel Montembeault
#30 Cayden Primeau
Injured/Out: Jake Allen, Carey Price, Paul Byron, Brendan Gallagher, Sean Monahan, Kaiden Guhle, Jake Evans, Joel Armia