There are few Saturday night match-ups more thrilling than the Leafs vs. Habs, teams with a longstanding rivalry that always play their best when the other is in the building. Even better, they’re good teams. The Habs rank first in the Atlantic Division while the Leafs are only five points behind (with a game in hand) in third. The Ottawa Senators are between them (with 70 points) for a Canadian sweep of the top three division standings.
Heading toward the NHL Trade Deadling on March 1st, the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs are trending in different directions. The Habs are struggling to find wins while the Leafs are letting their young stars shine. Saturday night’s contest at the Air Canada Centre is going to be the game to watch.
Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s showdown.
The Habs have a new head coach and a healthy lineup but that doesn’t mean they’re winning. In Claude Julien’s second turn behind the bench, the Canadiens are 1-1-0. Julien won his first game against the New York Rangers on Tuesday night after Carey Price made a spectacular save to give the Habs a chance at two points in a shootout.
It’s a miracle that the Habs are still ranked first in the Atlantic Division though they may not be there for long with the Sens and Leafs on the rise. Montreal is 3-6-1 in their last ten games, and have allowed Ottawa to pull within two points with two games in hand.
The Canadiens host the New York Islanders on Thursday night before they head to Toronto to face the Leafs on Saturday.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Everyone knew that the Leafs, with Mike Babcock in charge of a plethora of uber-talented young stars, would be a force. Few expected them to be in playoff contention this early. With Auston Matthews, Mitch Mariner and William Nylander providing the bulk of the offense, alongside Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk, the Leafs are 5-3-2 in their last ten and have won two in a row heading into tonight’s game against the New York Rangers.
Still, there are no guarantees with 23 games left. The Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins are one point back of the Leafs with 66 each. The Panthers, have played the same number of games and are 8-2-0 in their last ten games. The Bruins have struggled, and have lost their coach to the Canadiens, but under new bench boss, Bruce Cassidy, they are 7-3-0 in their last ten. The Leafs have a game in hand on the Bruins but the Bs are coming off a dominant 5-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night and will visit the woeful LA Kings tonight and could grab that third playoff spot with a win (and a Leafs loss).
The Match Up
This is the fourth contest between the bitter rivals this season, with the Habs going for a season sweep on Saturday night. The Leafs have lost the three previous games and have been outscored 9-5. The last time the team’s met on January 7th, when the Habs took the Leafs down, 5-3, at ACC.
Toronto will be gunning for a victory against their foes and have a respectable home record of 15-10-4. The Habs, meanwhile, will be looking for some breathing room in the standings and will want to improve on their 14-12-4 road record in the process.
Here’s hoping for a barn burner.