The Toronto Maple Leafs rightfully retake their position at the center of the hockey universe tonight as part of Hockey Day in Canada’s showcase match-up. They face their historical rival, les Canadiens, at 7:00 pm EST in the hockey mad city of Montreal. Expect nothing short of pure excitement.
Here are four factors that could stand in the Leafs path to victory:
1) Phil Kessel finally scored his first goal of the season on Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets. The drought, however, wasn’t for lack of effort. Kessel currently sits second in the league with 46 shots on net (the Ottawa Senators’ Erik Karlsson is slightly ahead of him with 50 shots). Moreover, Kessel has enjoyed a bevy of scoring chances, but Lady Luck hasn’t been kind to the young sniper. As a result, he has seven points (1 goal, 6 assists) in 11 games to start the season. Having now thrown the monkey off his back, can we expect even more output from Kessel, especially in the goals department? Keep in mind that Kessel is known for scoring goals in bunches.
As history suggested, Kessel scored his second goal in two games and collected two assists as well. Now the question turns from “When will Kessel finally score?” to “When will his current scoring streak end?” Alas, the joy of being a Leafs fan.
2) James Reimer has undoubtedly reclaimed the starter’s job in Toronto, but it was Ben Scrivens who started the season in net for the Leafs against the Montreal Canadiens. He put up solid numbers in that game, allowing only one goal on 22 shots and easily earning the win. (In fairness to Montreal, it wasn’t their best game and the team has since rocketed up the Eastern Conference standings.) At the same time, Montreal hasn’t been the easiest place for Reimer to play. This is, after all, the same place where a cheap shot from the Habs’ diminutive captain Brian Gionta essentially ruined Reimer’s 2011-2012 season. Is it safe to assume that Scrivens will get the start?
In the end, the start went to Reimer and it was a brilliant decision. Reimer stopped 37 shots for his first shutout of the season and seventh of his young career.
3) Dramatic role reversals have been a key part of the Leafs’ successes and failures so far this season. For example, captain Dion Phaneuf (1 assist) hasn’t been able to find the back of the net yet, which has undoubtedly hurt the power play, while Matt Frattin (6 goals, 2 assists) is currently tied with James van Riemsdyk (6 goals, 1 assist) for the team lead in goals. All of Frattin points have been scored at even strength, adding a level of depth and competitiveness that the team has certainly lacked in recent years. Another surprise candidate leads the team in overall points: Nazem Kadri (3 goals, 6 assists). He is followed by Frattin, then Kessel. Will things slowly return to normal or will the Bizarro Leafs continue to hit the ice?
The outcome of this game was more “traditional” in the sense that Kessel provided much of the offense and Phaneuf finally scored (on the power play). However, the Leafs still benefited from some strong secondary scoring as evidenced in the final score. If the team’s primary and secondary scoring continues at this pace, we can expect a parade in late June/early July.
4) Andrei Markov has been one of the best defencemen in the league since the season’s start. He has an impressive 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in 10 games, which includes 3 game winning goals. He is currently tied for second in most points overall for a defenceman (the Winnipeg Jets’ Tobias Enstrom ranks first with 13 points (2 goals, 11 assists) in 10 games). Markov’s stats are all the more impressive when you consider his lengthy absence from hockey due to reoccurring health issues. His strong return has helped to reignite a dreadful Habs power play that stood as the best in the league only a few season ago. Having said all this, the Leafs were able to keep Markov off the scorecard in their first match-up this season and it’s absolutely essential that they do the same again tonight. Are they up to the challenge?
Why settle for just Markov when you can shutdown an entire team?
Bonus Question: How well represented is Leafs Nation tonight?
Fan support was fairly strong on the night, but the team did a fantastic representing itself and silencing the doubters in Montreal.
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