How to watch
Start time: 7:00 PM EST / 4:00 PM PST
In Canada: CBC, Sportsnet One, CityTV (English), TVA Sports (French)
Elsewhere: NHL.tv / Rogers NHL Live
The 2018-19 NHL season began with a meeting between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, offering one up on the league’s top matchups on Opening Night.
The Leafs had made headlines in the off-season by landing top free agent John Tavares, and were the talk of the pre-season when he and his new teammates were scoring at will on their power-play opportunities. For those reasons, it was expected that the first game of the year would be just one of many dominant victories for the team in blue and white.
But that’s not how the proceedings unfolded. The Canadiens, with their own off-season additions in the mix, put their new relentless forechecking game to work and frustrated the Stanley Cup favourite. Montreal outshot Toronto 36-26 on the night, and while they did end up falling 3-2 in overtime, they had forced many to rethink their chances of making the post-season.
Four months later, the two teams are separated by that same one-point margin in the battle for the Atlantic Division’s second seed. Tonight is one of three four-point matches between the teams before the end of the season as they each attempt to claim that spot.
Tale of the Tape
|54.3% (4th)||Corsi-for pct.||51.3% (9th)|
|3.04 (14th)||Goals per game||3.58 (4th)|
|2.87 (10th)||Goals against per game||2.83 (7th)|
|13.3% (30th)||PP%||21.1% (14th)|
|79.0% (21st)||PK%||80.7% (13th)|
The Canadiens are not just hanging on, but gaining ground in their post-season push by increasing their separation from the teams behind them. A quick turnaround in Carey Price’s game allowed Montreal to string together some wins from games they were outplayed, but they’ve since gotten their legs back underneath them to be able to play their effective style once again. Thursday’s game versus the Winnipeg Jets was one of the most effective, suffocating matches they’ve played all year, and a 5-1 win over one of the NHL’s top teams is a testament to just how good the team can be when it plays at its best.
Jonathan Drouin has been the most impressive player since the 10-day break, leading the team with nine points so far in the month of February. Versus the Jets he had career highs in shots (9) and points (4) in what was his best performance with his new team.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi has also been an important piece of the Canadiens’ recent success, scoring goals in each of the last four games and giving the power play an important shooting option on the right side. It was there that he netted his goal versus the Jets as his strong play has finally been getting rewarded with points.
It could very well be a bit of a shootout at the Bell Centre tonight despite the two teams ranking in the top 10 for goals against this season. The Leafs have had balanced scoring throughout the lineup since their break, seeing nine players notch three points or more in the last four games, and that’s helped them match the Canadiens’ three-game winning streak over the past week.
Jake Muzzin is one of those players, using the Anaheim Ducks’ disastrous tour through Canada to record his first points with his new team. The Leafs’ newest defenceman has been playing about 18 minutes a night in Toronto, providing them with the type of game needed for their post-season run.
Auston Matthews continues to be a big offensive force with consistent offence despite missing time with injury. His point-per-game production is actually outdone by Mitch Marner however, who leads the team in points for the second year in a row, and is just four points off last year’s total thanks in large part to his partnership with Tavares.
On paper, the Leafs are the better team in most statistical areas, with more prolific scorers, better special teams, and more realistic post-season aspirations. But as we saw in the season’s first meeting, the Canadiens are no stranger to turning a narrative on its head.