In our first featured Game of the Week of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Montreal Canadiens at the Centre Bell on Saturday, October 14 at 7 pm.
The teams might be on different trajectories but that doesn’t make the storied rivalry any less fierce since these teams have always brought the best and worst out of each other and the standings are secondary.
Here’s everything you need to know about the first Leafs vs. Habs matchup of the 2017-18 NHL Season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
With a 3-1 record through the first four games, the Leafs are sitting in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference and their 22 goals for are ranked first. It’s still early, but the team is playing up to expectations and, better, they’re fun to watch.
As with any growing team, the Leafs aren’t perfect. With 16 goals against, the team ranks at the bottom of the Conference and their poor defensive play will catch up to them if their stars struggle, namely Austen Matthews who has 3 goals and 3 assists for six points.
The Leafs are enjoying a two-day break after getting thumped 6-3 by the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night, their first loss of the season. They head to Montreal for Saturday’s contest before visiting red-hot Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, October 17 in the first of back-to-back contests next week. The Detroit Red Wings visit on Wednesday, October 18.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are the Canadiens who rank 14th in the Eastern Conference after a 1-3 start. Only the Buffalo Sabres, who are winless through four games have a worse record.
The Habs’ main problem, as it’s been for many, many years, is scoring. The team has 5 goals through four games, the worst in the conference – even the Sabres have 9 goals for. Not one player on the Canadiens roster has more than a goal and only Brendan Gallagher has two points.
Things aren’t much better on the defensive end, with 13 goals allowed. While it’s not horrible, ranking 10th in the conference, it’s not great either. If the team can’t score goals then they will need their defense and goaltender Carey Price to shut the opposition down; though wins will be few and far between if the team can’t score. For his part, Price has been trying to help but the team’s weak defense has left him with a 3.30 goals-against average and a brutal .899 save percentage.
Many will chalk up the Habs’ weak start to a drastically different lineup and a new system under head coach Claude Julien – one that relies on team chemistry. They aren’t wrong, but it’s hard to ignore the holes left by Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov and their offensive production, even this early in the season.
There’s plenty of time for the Habs to gel but they know better than any team that early success is crucial to solidifying a playoff spot in April and it doesn’t get any easier from here. The team hits the west coast next week with games against the San Jose Sharks on October 17, the LA Kings on October 18 and the Anaheim Ducks on October 20.
This is going to be a great match. Both teams have a lot to prove: the Leafs, that they are as good as the scoresheet implies; and the Habs, that they aren’t nearly as bad as their record. Leave it to a historic rivalry to bring out the best in these two and you can expect a lot of speedy rushes to the net from Matthews and some breathtaking saves from Price.
This could be the game that ignites the Habs’s season.