There’s nothing more Canadian than watching Hockey Night in Canada on a Saturday Night, on CBC. This is as much a requirement for the standard Canadian as drinking coffee and eating donuts are. Combine Hockey Night in Canada with the ultimate rivalry in hockey, that being the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Montreal Canadians, and you’ve just suddenly entered Hoser-Mania.
Much of Ontario and Quebec will be glued to their television sets tonight as the Toronto Maple Leafs (7-8-1-2), coming in on a two game winning streak (consecutive wins against Nashville and New Jersey), travel to the Bell Center in Montreal to take on the Montreal Canadians (12-6-1-0), a team which currently sits third overall in the Eastern Conference, and first in the Northeast Division. One can be assured of the fact that this game will feature energetic squads on both benches, as well as a roaring (and possibly drunk and profanity filled) crowd. Whenever I try to convince friends of mine who have never watched hockey before (those born in other countries, who are forever in love with soccer), I would ensure that they watch a Leafs and Habs game as the inauguration into hockey. There’s nothing quite like it in the NHL. Maybe not surprising, but both squads always seem to bring their best game into match-ups against each other, and that ensures high quality entertainment.
The Leafs come into tonight’s game as a team that is building back the confidence they once had at the beginning of the season, when they went 4-0. After their horrible 8 game winless streak that followed, the Leafs have managed to build two solid victories against the Nashville Predators and New Jersey Devils. Kris Versteeg and Phil Kessel have really turned it on as of late. Versteeg has three power play goals in the last two games, and Kessel, having scored against New Jersey, was buzzing all around the opponent’s net on Thursday.
Nazem Kadri, having been called up from the Marlies to aid in boosting the Leafs Scoring, has fared very well in his first three NHL starts this year, having amassed three assists in three games, and a +2 rating. He has improved every game since coming to the Leafs, and seems to be getting increasingly comfortable on a line with Bozak and Kessel. One can feel that he will get his first goal anytime now, and how fitting would it be for him to score his first NHL goal against the Montreal Canadiens? Tonight could very well be that night.
As of this post, there doesn’t appear to be any line-up changes with regards to the Leafs — they will likely stick with the same line-up that has gotten them two straight wins so far. Jonas Gustavsson will remain in net, and will be looking to continue to build his case that he belongs in the #1 goaltending slot for Toronto. He has looked great in his past two games, and one can only assume it will continue, provided the Leafs continue to maintain solid defensive zone coverage.
In terms of the match-up itself, these teams have already met once before already this season (October 7th – opening game), when the Leafs beat the Habs at the Air Canada Center by a score of 3-2. In the past ten meetings between these two teams, the Leafs are 6-1-2-1, and in the past five meetups, the Leafs are 4-0-1-0. These are two teams that almost always match each other in skill and intensity, as five of the past ten games have ended in either overtime or shootout decisions! If you’re a Leafs fan, you better hope the Leafs avoid a shootout at all costs — after all, our team is horrendous on shootouts, and our goalies are sieves on breakaways. The majority of games are also almost always high scoring (six of the past ten games resulted in at least 6 goals scored per game).
With regards to how each team matches up against each other, as always I have provided a breakdown of the scoring distribution for each team, per period. This is provided below.
As always, the Leafs need to ensure they are tight in the first period, avoiding at all costs giving up the opening goal to the Habs. In the Bell Center, you need to ensure (as the visitor) to put the first goal in, otherwise the crowd will drown you. The Leafs give up the majority of their goals in the first period, and they need to continue to build on having strong starts to avoid falling behind too early, especially against a team like Montreal. The Habs, in comparison, give up the majority of their goals third period, where the Leafs (usually when they are already down and out), tend to score quite well. The Habs also score the majority of their goals in the third period, so we could be in for a high scoring third period.
In terms of proportion of games by which each team has scored first, or was scored on first, the following graphics are provided.
The Habs have scored the first goal the majority of the games, whereas the Leafs have given up the first goal the majority of their games. Again, it is absolutely critical that the Leafs reverse this trend. Given below is a graphic describing each teams winning percentages when scoring first, or trailing first.
What’s particularly frightening here is the fact that Montreal has won approximately 92% of the games in which they score first, and the Leafs, when trailing first, win close to 20% of their games. Putting a lot of pressure on Price early in the game, driving the net, and getting that first goal will be imperative for the Leafs tonight.
In terms of scoring proportion, as always I have provided a breakdown of each team’s top scorers.
In terms of the Habs scoring threats, Plekanec has been red hot as of late, and the Leafs will need to pay special attention to him. In contrast, Kessel, Grabovski, and Versteeg (not shown in graph) have all been hot for the Leafs, and they will be depended on tonight to continue their great performances.
In terms of the “Leaf Killers”, the top scorers on the Habs are shown below, along with their total points in total career games against the Leafs.
All of these players will need to be watched closely. Scott Gomez, while not having a tremendous scoring presence thus far this year, has always been good against the Leafs. Gionta and Plekanec are also traditionally very good against the Leafs.
In terms of tonight’s goalies, Gustavsson will take on Price. Price has been sensational this year, and has shut out many a team on several occasions this year. Look for a strong showing by both goalies.
Both goalies’ goals against average and save percentages are provided below.
Gustavsson’s goals against average on the road this year has not been so great, hovering just above 3 goals per game, however his career goals against average against the Habs tends to be pretty good, with a goals against average hovering around 2 goals per game. Correspondingly, his save percentage is also greater against the Habs then his current season away save percentage. In contrast, Carey Price has a respectable goals against average of just under 2.5 goals per game this season, but against the Leafs his career goals against average is higher (around 3 goals per game). Correspondingly, his save percentage against the Leafs is lower than his current season home save percentage. Perhaps this would indicate that Carey Price tends to have a tougher night against the Leafs than in most games. Could this be attributed to pressure in these sorts of games?
Finally, in terms of specialty teams, the Leafs road power play is atrocious, however they have been very hot as of late on the power play, so hopefully they can improve upon their road power play starting tonight. It will be quite tough, as the Montreal Canadiens have a very strong home penalty kill.
Overall, expect to see a competitive and entertaining game tonight. Everyone on each team gets excited when they get to play against each other, and that translates into high entertainment value. Combined with the fact that Montreal was shut out in their last game, expect to see a lot of energy from the home side to really come out strong. The Leafs will need to respond accordingly, and push back equally. All in all, expect a lot of emotion, tension, and excitement.