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Maple Leafs Preseason Preview: Montréal is Back

Well, some of them are, anyway.

The Toronto Maple Leafs open their training camp
We have no pictures of Maple Leafs vs Canadiens, so have Kurtis Gabriel at practice.
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Montréal Canadiens
7:00 PM on Sportsnet 1 and NHLN at the Scotiabank Arena
In front of thousands of fans.

Opponent’s site: Eyes on the Prize

Them

The Montréal Canadiens have undergone a lot of changes since we last met in a game they enjoyed more than us. One of those changes was just yesterday when they signed defender Sami Niku to a one-year deal. They need defencemen, and that’s the first thing about the Canadiens — a lot of them are hurt. The second thing is that they have a huge crowd at training camp, totalling over 70 players.

One group is their minor leaguers, but the other main group has 30 forwards, 17 defencemen and five goalies. So the lineup we’ll see tonight is not the real team. Out for sure are the injured Carey Price, Mike Hoffman and Shea Weber. Back and ready to play is Jonathan Drouin. New players include Christian Dvorak, David Savard and the injured Hoffman.

The team is very, very thin on defence, even allowing for some young players moving up and getting more ice time, so Niku has a wide-open field to take the job he couldn’t get in Winnipeg.

The Canadiens have chosen to bring one legit top line, an assortment of their depth and one serious defence pair. The goalies are young and green.

Montréal Canadiens Lines

LW C RW
LW C RW
73 - Tyler Toffoli 14 - Nick Suzuki 22 - Cole Caufield
62 - Artturi Lehkonen 25 - Ryan Poehling 45 - Laurent Dauphin
85 - Mathieu Perreault 13 - Cédric Paquette 60 - Alex Belzile
81 - Brandon Baddock 86 - Jean-Christophe Beaudin 42 - Lukas Vejdemo
LD RD G
27 - Alexander Romanov 26 - Jeff Petry 30 - Cayden Primeau
77 - Brett Kulak 36 - Gianni Fairbrother 70 - Michael McNiven
61 - Xavier Ouellet 63 - Arber Xhekaj

Us

The Leafs have also added a host of new players, most crucially Petr Mrazek in net and Ondřej Kaše and Nick Ritchie at forward. Ritchie has been lining up in camp in a way that clearly telegraphs he’s going to be the LW with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, but we won’t see that tonight. It’s not expected that Matthews will play at all in preseason.

The rest of the lines have been mixtures of plausible and implausible pairs and trios, and much like the players we’ll see tonight, aren’t to be taken too seriously.

Tonight’s roster:

This group has featured a line of Bunting - Tavares - Ho-Sang and one of Mikheyev - Kerfoot - Nylander, so that’s likely to be tonight’s offering. We’ll update you at game time on the actual Leafs lines, but scroll down for my fearless prediction on the opening night lineup.

The Game

I’m pumped for this game, particularly because there will be fans in the arena. But I usually run out of enthusiasm for preseason about halfway through game one. Michael Hutchinson and Ian Scott might help that along tonight. Preseason is often very tedious, the games are dull, the only point is the prospects, and a team like the Leafs shouldn’t have open jobs.

Kyle Dubas hired on a bunch of reclamation projects and young, unproven players to fill the holes in the forward corps. The Leafs, therefore, are holding open auditions in training camp at a time when the team should be maturing into their contender form.

The past can’t be avoided. The Habs, damn them, are going to be right there on the ice at SBA again, and we have to come to grips that that playoff series wasn’t what anyone wanted (other than them) and neither is this Leafs team right now, exactly what anyone wants. It’s the team we’ve got though, and the process of finding out who stays and who goes begins tonight.

Part of that process will involve everyone getting wildly attached to whichever young and eager prospect tries hard and gets lucky on the scoresheet. Meanwhile there will be at least one veteran player who dogs it like OEL, and panic will set in.

Just remember though, given the weird state of the Leafs right now, it isn’t the fourth line jobs that are up for grabs. Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds have two of those locked up, and the only question mark is the centre. The competition is for two top six jobs, and while it seems like Nick Ritchie is already a winner, the other job isn’t quite as nailed down yet. So don’t get too attached to some prospect you think could play the fourth line — he’s going off to the Marlies to play a lot more than 10 minutes a night.

My prediction for the lines when it matters:

Ritchie - Matthews - Marner
Bunting - Tavares - Nylander
Mikheyev - Kerfoot - Kaše
Simmonds - Kämpf - Spezza
Brooks

Rielly - Brodie
Muzzin - Holl
Sandin - Dermott

Mrazek
Campbell

See you at game time, everyone!