Game Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs @ Montreal Canadiens
We're trying out a new thing here at SBN, taking advantage of all our opponents having their own awesome websites in the network. Every game, we'll be asking the other site three questions.
So now we'll turn our blog over to co-managing editor and former blogger PPP (Julian) over at SB Nation's Toronto Maple Leafs site Pension Plan Puppets to answer our questions:
1. With the addition of JVR and the jettisoning of Luke Schenn, do you think Randy Carlyle can make Toronto a positive possession team?
The Leafs have moved out their two worst possession players in Luke Schenn and Matthew Lombardi so that in itself should have a positive impact. Going off of the line from the last practice in training camp I'd say that the top line of Lupul-Bozak-Kessel will probably continue to be a possession wasteland but MacArthur-Grabovski-Kulemin will be able to go toe-to-toe with the top lines and come out on top. The JVR-Kadri-Komarov line will probably see easy minutes which means they will hopefully chew them up. Kadri has been a good possession player in his short stint in the NHL as has JVR so against easy minutes...be still my heart. The fourth line of Brown-McClement-Steckel (it may be Orr tonight but hopefully that's just to smoke Gionta) will be matched up against the opposition's best so they'll be negative possession players but hopefully effective.
2. What is the maximum value contract would you offer P.K. Subban if you were a GM?
So I couldn't understand why, if both sides were even on dollars, the Habs wouldn't match their term. After all, they get a fantastic player locked down at a good figure for a good period of time. Then someone pointed out that the Habs were trying to get this deal to end with PK still an RFA so that they would once again have leverage so that changed my thinking.
I'm not really worried about dollars on this deal since I'm pretty confident that unless something drastic happens that he will be worth it. I would focus on term and get PK either signed in that scenario (contract ends as RFA) or get him signed for 8 years and buy up as many UFA years as possible. The problem in both cases is that it's not really palatable to PK. The first for obvious reasons but the season because PK would be hitting UFA at 31 and that's not ideal in terms of signing a long-term deal at his peak. Five years makes sense for him. The truth is as a fan, I'd want him at $4M/5 because I think that's a good compromise. Anyway, hopefully Bergevin follows my thinking and is militant about it so PK doesn't sign at all.
3. Who is the player to watch on the Leafs tonight?
Well, it's always Phil Kessel but that's a boring answer so I'll say your old favourite Mikhail Grabovski and his running mate Nikolai Kulemin. Both are strong possession players that can face the opposition's best forwards which won't be much of a problem against Montreal. They're also, theoretically, in mid-season form as they were both playing in the KHL. Actually, 'tearing up' is probably a more accurate description but they'll be key to Kessel and Lupul matching last year's efforts because they'll take some heat off of them.
Toronto was one of only three teams in the NHL last year to finish with a worse Fenwick percentage at even strength while the score was both close and tied, but their top possession players like Grabovski and Dion Phaneuf are in the lineup tonight.
Like you haven't heard by now, but P.K. Subban won't be in the lineup tonight due to not having signed a contract with the Canadiens. This takes the Habs' best player out of the lineup, which could be a killer.
Last year the Canadiens won the season series by a hair, going 3-2-1 and outscoring the Maple Leafs 17-12 over 6 games.
Unlike usual, the season is opening on home ice for the Habs. What this means is that thankfully we will be spared the utterly painful, embarrassing attempt by the Leafs to host an opening ceremony. Remember this?:
Remember that the reason the Leafs went with water? Because the Habs used fire in their game openers in the playoffs the year before. Seriously. Have you ever seen something so cringe-worthy that wasn't in the Leafs' net?
Speaking of in net, that's one area where the Canadiens should have a serious advantage over the Leafs with Carey Price in goal. If he's healthy anyway, a tender groin hobbled him a little in training camp. On the Leafs side of things, whether it's James Reimer or Ben Scrivens tonight, Price should be the best goaltender on the ice.
Perhaps what fans are looking forward to most tonight however, is the debut of 18 year old Alex Galchenyuk. While it looks like he's here to stay, the next five games are still the x-factor for him. If he looks like he belongs, he'll stay.
Galchenyuk isn't the only Hab making his debut tonight though, as Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong will lace them up for the very first time in the CH. The tough veterans add a gritty dimension to the Canadiens' 4th line, and skating with Ryan White they may end up being one of the hardest hitting lines in the NHL.
Healthy scratches tonight are Brendan Gallagher, Michael Blunden, and Yannick Weber.
Game time is at 7:00 EST on Hockey Night in Canada and RDS, but puck drop will be around 7:21 according to reports. The Habs are obviously planning an opening ceremony of sorts.
Go Habs Go!