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Leafs vs. Habs Preview: CLASH OF THE ICE TITANS

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Toronto and Montreal have a two-game set for Northern supremacy.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Game 14: Toronto Maple Leafs at Montreal Canadiens

Date: Wednesday, February 10, 2021
Time: 7:30 PM
Place: Bell Centre
Channel: Sportsnet

Game 15: Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs

Date: Saturday, February 13, 2021
Time: 7:00 PM
Place: Scotiabank Arena
Channel: CBC

Update: it looks like Victor Mete will draw in on defence for the Habs in the place of Brett Kulak for the Saturday night game. Carey Price starts in net.

So far, Toronto and Montreal have proven to be the best teams in the Scotia North (tm) division, and now we have a two-game set to sort out the top of the standings. The Leafs sit first with 21 points in 13 games, while the Canadiens are right behind them with 18 in 12. Oddly, the Canadiens will make up their game in hand between the two Leafs games; they play the Oilers in Montreal on Thursday.

So in honour of our opponents, here’s some Quebec rock up in the chat.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards

Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
William Nylander - John Tavares - Ilya Mikheyev
Jimmy Vesey - Alexander Kerfoot - Pierre Engvall
Nic Petan - Travis Boyd - Jason Spezza

Defence

Morgan Rielly - T.J. Brodie
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Zach Bogosian

Goalies

Frederik Andersen
Michael Hutchinson

With Wayne Simmonds recently out and Joe Thornton and Nick Robertson not yet back, the forward lineup continues to be in flux. Mikheyev is back at 2RW for want of better alternatives, while Pierre Engvall hopes to add some defensive solidity to a third line that hasn’t really worked in any combination yet. Petan-Boyd-Spezza is a very fun fourth line.

As for the defence, it’s the same except Travis Dermott looks to be rotating back in after a minor injury. Sheldon Keefe expressed regret over running 11F/7D last game, so we might expect Lehtonen to rotate back in on Saturday in an otherwise unchanged top six.

Freddie Andersen had better start both games or I’m going to be distressed over it.

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards

Tomas Tatar - Philip Danault - Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Drouin - Nick Suzuki - Josh Anderson
Tyler Toffoli - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Corey Perry
Artturi Lekhonen - Jake Evans - Paul Byron

Defence

Ben Chiarot - Shea Weber
Joel Edmundson - Jeff Petry
Victor Mete - Alexander Romanov

Goalies

Carey Price
Jake Allen

(Lines are care of Daily Faceoff.)

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but pretty much everyone on the Habs except the fourth line has good to excellent advanced stats. The top nine has thus far been the best-case scenario for Montreal: three lines that all clobber their competition in shots, chances, and goals. They cooled off a little lately, but the Canadiens were shooting the lights out for a while there, led by Tyler Toffoli’s relentless goal-scoring vendetta against the Vancouver Canucks. Hell hath no fury like a good Corsi winger scorned.

The defence has also held up as likely the best in Canada, at least in their own zone, and that’s a more expected strength, given the team has a strong right side to cover a passable left behind a ton of defensive forwards. Carey Price has actually not been very good thus far, but the team has owned the puck enough for it not to be too noticeable. As per Renaud Lavoie, Price is starting tonight, presumably setting up Jake Allen to take the SEGABABA against Edmonton tomorrow and leaving Toronto to face Price again on Saturday.

The real question with the Habs is whether the additions of Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson, plus the growing emergence of Nick Suzuki, are enough that they can expect to be a good finishing team. That used to be their greatest flaw, and if the Habs have patched it, they’re a serious contender.

If not, and they go cold as in previous years, they’ll be stopped short of greatness. I like that outcome. Let’s go with that. Auston and friends, remind everybody why teams pay so much for scorers.

Go Leafs Go!