Tradition returns to the spotlight tonight as the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens meet-up for the third time this season. The good guys won the first two contests and have an early opportunity to win the season series on home ice. Puck drops at 7:30 pm EST.
Here are four factors that could stand in the Leafs’ path to victory:
1) The Leafs’ strong start to the season is mostly the result of an impressive road record (8-4-0). Unfortunately, the Air Canada Centre has been less kind to the Leafs where they currently stand at .500 (4-4-0). Working in their favour, however, the Leafs are riding a three game winning streak at home. A strong home record is key if the Leafs hope to make the playoffs. Can they keep the streak alive?
A lackluster effort from the Leafs saw their home winning streak end. There’s always the chance of creating a new home winning streak, but they’ll have to wait until Monday when their next home game occurs.
2) Speaking of numbers, here are two additional figures to consider: 1) the Leafs had the same number of points 20 games into the 2011-2012 season (they were 12-7-2) and briefly sat in first overall for the Eastern Conference before letting it all slide away; and 2) only three points (but five spots in the standings) separate the Leafs and the Habs right now. In a reversal of fortunes, Montreal is currently first overall for the Eastern Conference while the Leafs sit in seventh place near the cusp of the playoff bubble. Thus, it’s imperative for the Leafs to win if they hope to continue climbing the Eastern Conference standings. Are up to the challenge?
The Leafs were unable to make up any distance between them and the Canadiens, and the loss combined with a win by the Philadelphia Flyers against the Washington Capitals has made Toronto’s current hold on a playoff spot even more precarious.
3) The Leafs will see some familiar faces in Montreal’s lineup tonight. Yesterday’s unexpected trade between Montreal and Dallas made headlines, seeing Erik Cole and Michael Ryder swap places. Ryder has enjoyed success in the past with Montreal and looks to rekindle the magic. Meanwhile, long-time Leaf Tomas Kaberle will play in place of the injured Raphael Diaz. How do these familiar faces factor into the game?
Neither player appeared on the scorecard and both played less than 15 minutes each, but Ryder made a decent impression in his return. These aren’t the type of players who will win you games every night. Having said that, they add a nice touch of depth.
4) The last contest between these two teams saw over 100 penalty minutes dished out by the officials. There were accusations of deliberate biting by Mikhail Grabovski and Colton Orr was accused of trying to take out the knees of Habs captain Brian Gionta. Does the animosity carry over into tonight’s game?
The game started rough with the Leafs pushing around the much smaller Habs. Things changed, however, after Mike Brown was given a five minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind. The call was questionable, but it effectively sapped the Leafs’ energy.
Bonus Question: James Reimer returns to the lineup tonight, but Ben Scrivens will get the start. Is there any hint of tension between the two young goalies?
There was no hint of tension as Scrivens played the entire game. Reimer will likely get the start tonight. The intrigue continues.
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