The NHL finally returns tonight with four games on the opening night slate. NBC likes to put marquee games on Wednesday nights, so this is typically a night that always has a light card with four or three games. Tomorrow night provides a full schedule of action, with everyone else opening up the year on Thursday. The NHL certainly can’t go wrong with the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs on the first day of the season. On the surface, these look like teams going in opposite directions, though.
The Canadiens have been on a slippery slope downwards really ever since the P.K. Subban trade with the Nashville Predators. The trade has worked out well for Subban and the Preds, but Canadiens’ fans feel like they got hoodwinked as they sent a fan favorite and a guy that did a lot for the community in Montreal to Tennessee.
There was a discord between head coach Claude Julien and Subban, and it was ultimately Subban that got the ax. If this team doesn’t show much fight this season, Julien is going to be put under a pretty big microscope. He does get as pass in the sense that this is a clear rebuilding year for the Canadiens. So, if some of the youngsters on the roster develop right now until the end of the year, that’s going to be a good season for the Canadiens. Carey Price is unfortunately stuck on a team that isn’t going to be going anywhere this season.
The Canadiens made it clear they were going in the rebuilding direction when they sent veteran and captain Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights. Shea Weber has taken over as the captain in Montreal. Conversely, we have a Maple Leafs team who went all-in with the signing of the most coveted free agent in the offseason, John Tavares. Tavares, a native of Toronto, had numerous routes he could have gone, but ultimately decided in going back home to a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. The offense is loaded with talent, but is the defense going to hold up? Head below for our free Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs pick in this Original 6 battle in Toronto.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs Pick
Carey Price surpassed Jacques Plante when he played in a record breaking 557 games as a goaltender for the Canadiens. However, Price also had the worst year of his career, as he was unable to gain much traction in a 29-40-13 season for the Canadiens. Price finished with a porous record of 16-26-7, 3.11 GAA, and .900 save percentage in 2017-18.
His next worst season came in 2008-09, when he finished with a 2.83 GAA in his second ever season. Is he the only one to blame for those numbers? Definitely not. Let’s not forget the lack of talent helping him out. Note that the Canadiens finished 25th in the NHL with 3.15 goals allowed per game. It was a total team failure in Montreal.
The Habs must find a way to counter one of the best offenses in the NHL tonight. Toronto finished 3rd with 3.29 goals per game last season and that was without one of the top forwards in the league, John Tavares. Now, with Tavares here, it’s realistic to say that this is the best offense in the NHL, not just one of the best. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner each are going into this season with another year of experience under their belt. Big things are expected out of the 21-year-old Matthews as he goes into his third-year. Matthews and Tavares will likely prove to be the most dangerous 1-2 punch in the league.
The Leafs deferred improving their defense this offseason and instead paid Tavares to lure him home. They allowed 2.8 goals per game for 12th in 2017-18. The Leafs were routinely getting pummeled in their own zone, but Frederik Andersen did a fine job bailing the defense out in net. At least in the second-half of the year. Andersen started out slowly and then had to repair his numbers as the season progressed.
And then the playoffs were a mess for him, as he finished with a 3.76 GAA and 0.896 save percentage in seven games. Andersen isn’t going to appreciate having to face 35-40 shots every night again, but it’s looking like it might be the case. The defense allowed 34 shots per game last season. The Canadiens should be able to generate scoring chances, which is going to be the only way to counter the Leafs’ high-powered offense. For Andersen, though, he is going to get plenty of goal support from the offense.
This is the most talented offense Mike Babcock has had since he won the Cup with the Red Wings in 2008 when he had Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in their prime. I expect us to see offensive output right away, but before I go laying -1.5 on the Leafs or an expensive number, I want to see how this defense works together. Babcock does not have anything close to a Nicklas Lidstrom like he did on that 2008 team. Totals in Leafs’ games are going to be routinely be 6.5, so even 6 here is a pretty good number on the OVER in my book.