Game preview: MTL vs. TOR
CANADIENS (33-21-7) vs. MAPLE LEAFS (32-22-7)
On Saturday, the Canadiens revisit a classic rivalry by welcoming the Maple Leafs to the Bell Centre.
Adding fuel to the fire is the position of the two teams in the Atlantic Division standings. Montreal is second with 73 points, while Toronto is fourth with just two fewer points.
On Thursday, Montreal defeated the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in a wild 6-5 shootout game. Daniel Briere had four shots, two goals and one assist in only 9:06 played while David Desharnais gave his team the win with a shootout goal. After making 27 regulation time saves, Peter Budaj turned aside James Neal, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on consecutive attempts in the shootout.
On the same night, Toronto was on the wrong end of a 5-4 overtime loss to the New York Islanders. Michael Grabner scored two short-handed goals less than a minute apart in the first period, Anders Lee added two more markers, and Lubomir Visnovsky completed the scoring for the Isles with an unassisted goal in overtime. Phil Kessel had two points in the loss, while Jonathan Bernier made 30 saves on 35 shots faced.
Though the Leafs have plenty of offensive options and rank fifth in the NHL in goals scored (182) the team has allowed more goals against (187) than all but four other National Hockey league teams. Meanwhile, Montreal is ranked 20th in goals for (155) and 11th in goals against (149). The simple explanation for both teams’ struggles is shot differential. The Maple Leafs, who routinely give up 35 shots or more in a game, ranks last in the NHL with a 43.6% Corsi rating, while Montreal is 26th with 46.7%.
Absent for Toronto are Carter Ashton and Dave Bolland. Both are on injured reserve.
Saturday’s tilt will be the fourth of five season meetings between the teams. On January 18, the Leafs won 5-3 at the Air Canada Centre thanks to two-point nights from Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul. Montreal did beat Toronto at home on November 30, 2013, when Max Pacioretty had three points in a 4-2 win.