Expectations were always high for the Montreal Canadiens heading into this 2015-16 season. With many of the core players in the prime of their careers, the addition of several useful players, and the anticipation of youngsters stepping up, the fans and team alike are well aware of what these Habs are capable of. Still, a perfect record through 8 games might have been wishful thinking.
Yet here we are.
Tonight, the Habs will face another test as they attempt to improve upon their historic start to the season. While they have overcome stronger teams than Toronto so far, the Maple Leafs always play the Habs hard. You need only look back to the season's opening game to see evidence of that.
The Canadiens will be dealing with a short turnaround, having played the Buffalo Sabres just last night. Momentum is on their side, especially after the 7-2 trumping of the Sabres, but the Leafs will be a well-rested group when the puck drops at the Bell Centre tonight, as they've been off since Wednesday.
Putting away the Leafs will be no easy task, but the Canadiens have proven a lot over the course of the season thus far, and expectations will remain high as ever as they take to the ice in search of win number nine.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Canada (French): TVA Sports
In Canada (English): CBC
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|55.0||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||50.6|
|3.80||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.00|
Know Your Enemy
By all accounts, this was always going to be a rough season for the Leafs, but a 1-3-2 start is never easy to deal with - even when it's somewhat expected.
Despite their dismal record, the Maple Leafs have shown flashes of a team playing a much better brand of hockey than in years past.
This is, largely, the result of opening up the checkbook for Mike Babcock, who has clearly emphasized a very different style than did Randy Carlyle. While that may not be translating to the scoreboard night in and night out - at least not yet - it's clear that the Leafs have been following the system, resulting in a CF% that ranks in the top half of the league.
The challenge for the Leafs has been finding production from their best players, but it's certainly not from a lack of trying. Nazem Kadri is among the league leaders in shots on goal with 29, but has a shooting percentage of just 3.4%, considerably lower than his career average of 12.1%.
Kadri will undoubtedly regress towards the mean at some point, and when he does the Leafs will be much better off offensively. Surprisingly, Toronto's leading scorer is Daniel Winnik, who has registered 4 points despite heavy defensive minutes.
The biggest concern for the Maple Leafs at this point might be in goal, as neither Jonathan Bernier nor James Reimer have been particularly consistent. Bernier has actually had some solid games, including a 34-save performance against the Sabres this past Wednesday.
The only blip on his record is a very poor game against the Red Wings in which he allowed 3 goals on 9 shots, bringing his overall SV% down, which has otherwise been quite good.
Still, Bernier does let in the weak goal from time to time as evidenced in the Habs first meeting with the Leafs this season, and that will have to stop for the Leafs to have success. Reimer, meanwhile, has the team's only win of the season thus far, but also comes with a very poor .890 SV% in the three games he has played.
Last Time Out
The Canadiens last encounter with the Maple Leafs came on the opening night of the season, a game that by no means foreshadowed the state these two teams would be in by their next meeting. While the Habs are standing undefeated at the top of the standings and the Leafs are, well, not - their match-up on October 7th was at times a bit too close for comfort.
The Habs jumped out to a quick start on that night, with Max Pacioretty narrowly beating Jonathan Bernier to score on the first shot of the season. The lead held up for the rest of the first, but no longer, as James van Riesmdyk potted a goal just six seconds into a power play opportunity, tying the game.Alex Galchenyuk would break the deadlock in the third period before Pacioretty added the empty-netter to seal the deal on the Habs first win of the season.
Things did not look altogether bright for the Habs in their last meeting with the Leafs, despite the 3-1 scoreline. To the Canadiens credit, they have not relied on Carey Price nearly as much this season, but they definitely did in this game. Out-shooting the Habs 37-29, Toronto controlled possession for most of the evening, something the Canadiens will want to avoid tonight as they attempt to keep their undefeated run going in front of a hometown crowd.