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Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs: Exhibition game preview, start time, Tale of the Tape, and how to watch

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After four-and-a-half months away, hockey returns tonight.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

How to watch

Start time: 8:00 PM EDT / 5:00 PM PDT
In Canada: Sportsnet One (English), TVA Sports (French)
In the US: NHL Network
Streaming: Sportsnet Now

To drum up interest for the Return To Play, the NHL decided to leverage its rivalries for a few days of exhibition matches. Having all post-season teams from one conference in the same bubble presented the perfect opportunity to re-engage fans who’ve been left with no competitive game action since March 11. Sandwiched in between the Battles of Pennsylvania and Alberta on Tuesday night is a game between the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs.

The intensity these rivalries are known for may not be present (that will be the goal of the majority of players and personnel involved anyway), but sometimes things come to a quick boil versus familiar opponents, so don’t rule out any on-ice shenanigans. Most players will just be concerned with getting up to game speed before getting dropped right into a spirited best-of-five series at the end of the week.

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Maple Leafs
Canadiens Statistic Maple Leafs
3-0-0 H2H Record 0-1-2
54.4% (2nd) Corsi-for pct. 52.0% (6th)
2.93 (19th) Goals per game 3.39 (3rd)
3.10 (19th) Goals against per game 3.17 (26th)
17.7% (22nd) PP% 23.1% (6th)
78.7% (19th) PK% 77.7% (21st)

This was one of the matchups Montreal actually enjoyed during the regular season. They couldn’t get out of their own way versus the last-place Detroit Red Wings, but the Habs claimed all six points available to them versus Toronto. They replicated the performance of the final game of 2018-19 by defeating the Leafs 6-5 in a shootout in the second game of the season, then shut down Toronto’s offence in the final two matches, outscoring them 7-3.

Jonathan Drouin played a big part in a 5-2 win on October 26 with two goals, while Ilya Kovalchuk was the hero on February 8 with an overtime winner. Montreal traded away Kovalchuk soon afterward as a spot in a 16-team post-season was no longer attainable, but Drouin is back in the lineup after recovering from a knee injury, and currently slotted into a major role to boot.

He’ll get the start alongside Nick Suzuki, who became Claude Julien’s number-two centreman as the season went on, with a more-than-capable Joel Armia on the opposite side. It looks like that is the coach’s answer to a team with one of the league’s more enviable top sixes — which both Toronto and qualifying-opponent Pittsburgh possess — and they’ll give us an indication of their synergy tonight.

Toronto brought a new face to the bubble to bolster their potent offence (when it wasn’t playing Montreal at least). Nick Robertson, picked in the second round as one of the youngest players in last year’s draft, has been practising with the team on the third line, and could be in that spot tonight. The Leafs are hoping he can bring some of the game that earned him 55 goals in the OHL this year.

Of course they also have a COVID-free Auston Matthews joining Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander. It should be a good test for Montreal before they start their series with Pittsburgh on Saturday night.