Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens on opening night — a tradition unlike any other (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet/TVA Sports).

The last two seasons for the Maple Leafs started nearly identically disappointing through the month of October at 4-4-2 and 4-4-1, respectively. The tone for those mediocre Octobers was set by an uninspiring performance on opening night against the Habs — one a fairly underwhelming 2-1 win, another a 4-3 regulation loss in which they conceded the losing goal in the last minute.

There will be lots of time for the line combinations and defense pairings to sort themselves out in the days, weeks, and months ahead. The big question for tonight is the one Anthony wrote about this morning in his season-opening notebook:

One thing I’ll be looking out for more this season: Does the team show a sense of occasion?

Ultimately, no matter what they do in the regular season, many fans will roll their eyes. That doesn’t mean it’s a useless exercise with no value, though. Over the past few seasons, I have often found the team to be lackluster in games that had a bit more meaning to them.

In the first game of the season last year, they lost in the final minute of regulation and Sheldon Keefe was clearly frustrated by the puzzling performance.

In a big game against the Oilers in Edmonton – hyped as two of the world’s top players facing off – the team came out completely empty and was entirely outclassed in a 5-2 loss (they beat them a few weeks after that, in fairness, which was a great response).

After trading for Luke Schenn, he almost instantly played in a homecoming game in Vancouver, a matchup that is usually a noteworthy game anyway as the Leafs play the Saturday night game in BC on Toronto time almost every season. They were surprisingly bad in a 4-1 loss.

Similarly, they lost 6-3 in Auston Matthews’ annual Arizona homecoming. We all know what happened with John Tavares‘ return to the Island way back when.

They have often seemed aloof or unbothered by these types of games of note in terms of elevating their game. I would like to see that change this season starting with game one.

With Max Domi returning home for his Leafs debut, the young blood of Matthew Knies and Fraser Minten injected into the lineup, the spunk of a Tyler Bertuzzi added at the top of the lineup, and the brawn of Ryan Reaves on the fourth line now supplementing the Maple Leafs‘ one-year-more-experienced core group, do the Leafs come out with real jump from puck drop and assert their superiority over a hard-working but inferior Habs team over the 60 minutes?

Game Day Quotes

Sheldon Keefe on the challenge the Canadiens present: 

They come at you offensively. They make a lot of plays. They have a lot of pace. If they turn the puck over, they have guys that are dangerous in transition. Their defense is very active and involved.

If we don’t take care of the puck and don’t have great structure, they are going to make you look back. They have a tremendous amount of speed and skill. They have played us really hard. There is nothing that will catch us by surprise there.

Keefe on the differences he sees in this year’s team versus last year’s team:

It is a little early for that. We will see now that we are playing for real. We have played games with close to our group, but it hasn’t been the entire group. It certainly hasn’t been for real.

We have been talking throughout camp that some of our older guys — as we have become an experienced team and gotten older — kind of feel like it’s, “Okay, let’s get through this stuff and get to playing for real.” Now we will get to see it. I think we will learn a lot about our group.

I do like how we have come together, and how our new guys have come in. Whether it is the younger guys or the experienced guys we have added, I think they have all fit in really well. The personality of our team is in a good place.

Keefe on the importance of getting off to a better start to this regular season than the past few:

We have looked at how we have handled preseason and training camp. We have reduced some of the workload. We added an extra day off. Through preseason, we feel there are some fatigue factors that have contributed to that.

I have gotten lots of feedback from our players in terms of how they have felt coming into the season. They felt that as the season started, rather than ramping up and feeling good, they actually felt that the camp and preseason had been daunting and took a toll on them.

We have been mindful of that coming into it. At the same time, there is knowing that it is the NHL, we have to put in work, and we have to be ready. For me, it is less about any of that stuff and more about our mindset as we come into the game.

It took us too long last year to really find our game — playing with purpose and all of those kinds of things. That is really what I am looking for and what we have been talking about for the last week or so specifically.

Keefe on the buzz around Fraser Minten making the opening-night lineup:

It has added a little something to camp. It sends a good message that those who earn their place here get an opportunity. We did have other options. There are a bunch of guys we have sent to the Marlies that have played for us, can play for us, and surely will play for us at different times.

For us, it wasn’t just that it’s a young kid, so let’s just give him an opportunity. We felt he was ahead of the pack. To be able to reward that is important. Don’t take anything for granted.

If you are developing a real team and a real organization, you have guys who come up from behind through the draft that will push you. It is not just free agency that you are looking at but the draft picks. If they are coming through and pushing, it is healthy for the team.

Just to see the way our experienced guys have rallied around Minten and Knies, taking care of them and all of that stuff… We were pretty excited to hear when Brad called Fraser and said he was staying here. He was at Morgan Rielly’s house celebrating Thanksgiving. Those are the kinds of things you love to hear, and it brings the group together.

Max Domi on Fraser Minten’s NHL debut at age 19:

I am so happy for him. I think we all are. He is such a good kid. He’s very humble. He’s had a heck of a camp, obviously. He wouldn’t be here if he didn’t. He deserves everything he is going to get.

He knows what is at stake. He knows it is the best league in the world. I am sure there are some nerves there, but he is a pretty calm, humble, and in-control kid. He is going to have a great night tonight.

Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens (2022-23)

Leafs vs. Canadiens, Oct 11

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#11 Max Domi – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#23 Matthew Knies – #39 Fraser Minten – #19 Calle Jarnkrok
#18 Noah Gregor – #64 David Kampf – #75 Ryan Reaves

#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#22 Jake McCabe – #3 John Klingberg
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren

Starter: #35 Ilya Samsonov
#60 Joseph Woll

Scratched: Simon Benoit
Injured: Conor Timmins

Montreal Canadiens Projected Lines

#22 Cole Caufield – #14 Nick Suzuki – #17 Josh Anderson
Alex Newhook – #77 Kirby Dach – #20 Juaj Slafkovsky
Tanner Pearson – #91 Sean Monahan – #11 Brendan Gallagher
#49 Rafael Harvey-Pinard – #71 Jake Evans – #56 Jesse Ylonen

#8 Michael Matheson – #58 David Savard
#21 Kaden Guhle – #26 Jonathan Kovacevic
#54 Jordan Harris – #72 Arber Xhekaj

Starter: #34 Jake Allen
#35 Samuel Montembeault

Injured: Christian Dvorak