How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EDT / 4:00 PM PDT
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the United States: NHL Network
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / NHL Live
Sportingly, the Montreal Canadiens offered something for all of their fans in their 4-3 shootout defeat to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night. Optimists will be delighted that the team fought back courageously from a two-goal deficit. Pessimists will rejoice that the team was unable to either hold back the Hurricanes’ onslaught to start the third period or secure the extra point in the shootout.
Advocates of youth will point out strong performances by neophytes Cale Fleury and Nick Suzuki, as well as “old man” Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Proponents of veteran leadership will exalt solid games from Jeff Petry and Carey Price. Fans of Marc Bergevin can point at a solid overall performance from Ben Chiarot; detractors of the general manager will fixate on Chiarot’s missed assignment on Erik Haula’s game-tying power-play goal.
Truly, the Canadiens did something for all of us ... except win. On Saturday, the Habs will attempt to rectify that problem against a familiar foe.
Tale of the Tape
|1-1-2||H2H Record (18-19)||3-0-1|
|45.5% (20th)||Corsi-for pct.||55.1% (7th)|
|3.00 (13th)||Goals per game||4.50 (5th)|
|3.00 (16th)||Goals against per game||2.00 (6th)|
|33.3% (8th)||PP%||30.0% (13th)|
|66.7% (21st)||PK%||87.5% (10th)|
Reams have already been written about the Toronto Maple Leafs since their 2018-19 season ended. Not much more needs to be said regarding Mitch Marner’s contract, Auston Matthews’s legal issues, John Tavares’s (sure-to-be) triumphant captaincy, Mike Babcock’s tactical stubbornness, or a blue line that features Cody Ceci as a top-four defender.
To their credit, the Leafs themselves held true to the narrative that has been constructed for them in their home-opener. All the big guns came out blazing, with Matthews picking up a pair of goals, newcomer Tyson Barrie picking up two helpers, and Marner, Tavares, Morgan Rielly, and William Nylander all notching a single point apiece. Of course, in the process of blitzing an Ottawa Senators team not expected to accomplish particularly great things this year, they allowed three goals on 26 shots against, including Brady Tkachuk’s crowd-silencer a mere 25 seconds into their season. The stars in blue and white were also instrumental in handing the Leafs two points in Columbus despite being handily outchanced by the Blue Jackets at even strength.
No, not much more needs to be said about what the Canadiens need to do to defeat the Leafs. Given the glut of offensive weapons concentrated in the centre of the universe, it’s clear that time and space are the enemy of Les Habitants. If the visitors are to get in the win column at Scotiabank Arena, they’ll have to aggressively attack the Leafs, forcing their superstar forwards to play some defence.
A large part of that will rely on a better performance from the Habs’ top quintet. After a 2018-19 season where fans and pundits ran out of superlatives to describe them, Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, and Brendan Gallagher were simply outclassed on Thursday night, putting up a 31.8 Corsi-for percentage in 10:34 of five-on-five ice time together. The Canadiens’ top line, backed up by Shea Weber and Victor Mete, mostly faced off against the Hurricanes’ trio of Andrei Svechnikov, Jordan Staal, and Teuvo Teravainen, although they also endured a disastrous short stint against Sebastian Aho and Nino Niederreiter where they failed to generate a single shot attempt and allowed six in 2:15.
It will likely be these five players who will bear the brunt of the Toronto attack on Saturday night. It will likely be these five players who decide if the Canadiens emerge the victors, or serve as fuel for ever-burning parade talks in Ontario’s capital.