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Canadiens vs Maple Leafs game preview

Can the Habs earn a third straight win over the rebuilding Maple Leafs?

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

All season long, the Canadiens have relied on the Vezina Hart-calibre play of their goaltender, Carey Price. He has been the team's best player, and month after month, his numbers get stronger. Like any other team, the Habs have a number of flaws, but with Price as their insurance policy, they find themselves only four points back (with a game in hand) in the Presidents' Trophy race. Carey Price has been more than the great equalizer - he's been an unstoppable force, pushing the Habs to top of the league.

Lately, however, he's begun to falter. Well, by ridiculous Price standards at least.

This week, Price has allowed a total of three goals on 56 shots, earning a save percentage of .931 against the St. Louis Blues, and .926 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. While lesser goaltenders may be satisfied with these marks, these merely elite numbers are a departure from the superhuman .935 standard that Price has upheld this season.

With a tougher stretch of schedule looming and the playoffs on the horizon, the Canadiens need Carey Price to be in top form. Matched up against a team firmly in sell mode, this evening's affair should be a perfect opportunity for the Habs star to reclaim his game.

How to Watch

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
In Canada (French): TVA
In Canada (English): CBC
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Maple Leafs
40-16-5 Record 25-31-5
7-1-2 L10 Record 3-6-1
49.4 Score-Adjusted Fenwick % 45.6
167 Goals For 170
Goals Against 185
1.21 5v5 Goal Ratio 0.89
16.8 PP% 18.8
85.8 PK% 81.6

Know Your Enemy

It's been only two weeks since the Habs last saw the Maple Leafs, but the team already looks different. The players we anticipated would be traded last game, Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson, are now gone. Both were packaged up and flipped to Nashville, a team gearing up for a run deep into the postseason.

The same fate has befallen Daniel Winnik, as the Leafs cashed in their rental winger for futures. Then, in another future-orientated deal, the Buds shipped out salary cap burden David Clarkson, taking back Nathan Horton's pay cheque, but not his cap hit.

In the short-term, these moves make the Leafs a weaker team. The club is forced to substitute AHLers Korbinian Holzer, Zach Sill, and Brandon Kozun for the useful NHLers they just traded away. Price, meanwhile, is forced to find a new victim in front of his net.

Looking further ahead, though, these moves belie a change in philosophy in Toronto. They're executing the creative financial tactics that good teams use to keep their budget balanced. They're cashing out players that have more value on the market than on the team. And they seem to recognize the value of the good players already playing for the franchise, as Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner are no longer the subjects of frequent trade rumours.

It would behoove the Habs to enjoy their game tonight, and earn two readily available points. If the Leafs' administration keeps working the way it has for the last few months, games against Toronto are about to get more difficult.

Last Time Out

It was the play of several now absent players that characterized last game. Winnik got the Leafs only goal in regulation, while Santorelli registered their only shootout marker. Clarkson may be gone, but his influence on the Habs has extended well past James van Riemsdyk's game-closing shootout attempt of a fortnight ago.

The former #71 left last game early, sent to the showers after boarding Sergei Gonchar, and earning a game misconduct. Gonchar hasn't seen another shift since the hit, but fortunately he looks ready to return. Even better, the play of the speedy and skilled Kozun doesn't exactly fit into the Clarkson dirt bag mold, so the veteran rearguard should be safe to make his return. Coincidental to Clarkson's departure, and for the first time in what feels like forever, it looks like the Leafs likely won't dress a player prone to dropping the gloves this evening.

That game-ending shot sent wide by JVR was preceded by an unbelievable deke by Alex Galchenyuk, and a deft display of puck control by David Desharnais, both of which ended up behind Jonathan Bernier.  Tonight's Toronto squad may be buoyed by the talents of Joffrey Lupul, who was nursing an injury last time out, but on paper, this should be great opportunity to take home two points.

Many young Canadiens talents banded together to terrorize Toronto last time out, but two of them, Jarred Tinordi and Christian Thomas, will not be available this evening. Instead,  with his first two NHL goals under his belt, it looks like the Habs will have to rely on Jacob de la Rose for some secondary scoring.