From the moment that the 2014-15 season expired for the Montreal Canadiens, a common but important question rose to the surface of the Habs' affairs.
How could the team, with all of its talent, overcome its fatal flaws? While the team we'll see tonight is likely not Marc Bergevin's complete solution, Montreal's opening-night roster contains a lot of clues about the Habs' perception of last year's problems.
Management has clearly upgraded on skill, adding Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann to last year's forward mix. Combined with an expanded role for newly-minted centre Alex Galchenyuk, the Canadiens now have two top lines that can go toe-to-toe with anyone, and a third line capable of producing in its own right.
The strength of the top nine should allow Michel Therrien to be very choosy about how he deploys a fourth line that, on the surface, does not appear to lend itself to any particular area of specialty. Until it can be properly evaluated in the field, Therrien's best bet is almost certainly to keep that trio out of danger, away from high-calibre offensive talent.
If that's the game plan, the Canadiens' first opponent of 2015-16 should be happy to oblige.
How to Watch
Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Canada (French): TVA Sport
In Canada (English): Sportsnet
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice
Tale of the Tape
|48.6||Score-Adjusted Corsi For %||45.3|
|1.19||5v5 Goal Ratio||0.79|
*All stats are from the 2014-15 regular season.
Know Your Enemy
The Toronto Maple Leafs made a lot of smart additions this summer - they'll get good value out of Shawn Matthias, Brad Boyes, P.A. Parenteau, and Michael Grabner, all of whom were acquired for what amounts to virtually nothing. Matt Hunwick and Martin Marincin embody the same buy-low concept on defence, as their presence helps to rid the Leafs of the anchors that held back previous iterations of the franchise.
At the very least, these new players are all candidates to be a part of Toronto's thinly-veiled scheme to control all the draft picks in 2016, but until then, they give Mike Babcock a decent base of talent with which to work. Even the abysmal Leafs of 2014-15 managed to keep themselves in the middle-third of the NHL when it came to allowing shot attempts. With the architect of one of the stingiest defences of the last five years now running the show in Toronto, opponents should not expect the Buds to give shots, nor scoring chances, away for free.
All of those carefully calculated maneuvers do not resolve what might be Toronto's most pressing problem this year, however. Who's going to score?
Last Time Out
The Habs and Leafs played twice in the preseason, with the latter contest won by Montreal on a Dale Weise tally, the only one of the game. The rosters, systems, and effort level are liable to look considerably different than they did in exhibition play, but it wouldn't be entirely surprising to see a similar outcome.
When the Leafs pledged to start to clear the rot from the core of their roster, they decided that their sole superstar must go as well. On the whole, this summer has pointed in the Toronto organization to an infinitely more positive path than the one they were headed down previously. In the short term, though, the Leafs absolutely lack the type of offensive talent to scare even Montreal's pedestrian fourth line.
Whether it's the Canadiens all-world goalie, or the Leafs much-hyped defensive structure, both teams are likely to be focused on keeping the puck out of their net. But Marc Bergevin has spent his offseason putting together the type of squad that should be able to score in even the bleakest of circumstances. If he's played his cards right, the Habs should have enough firepower to do just that tonight.