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Preview: Maple Leafs @ Canadiens

Healthy Optimism? Okay fine, just optimism.

Boston Bruins v Toronto Maple Leafs
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 29: William Nylander #88 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on against the Boston Bruins during the first period at the Scotiabank Arena on April 29, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs @ Montréal Canadiens
07:00 PM at Centre Bell
Watch on: TVAS, SN

Opponent’s Site: Eyes On The Prize

Is this the year? A phrase that used to be rallying cry every October through to April took a significant step back the last couple years as apathy set in among Leafs Nation. But is it back for 2022-23? Echos of this team is the deepest it’s ever been, Auston Matthews can score 60, the young defenders are here. This team is too good to fail, even with Matt Murray in net!

Optimism is good to have, and no one should try and take that away from a fan, unless they cheer for the Flyers. The Leafs have a very good team, great even. The team that won the Presidents’ trophy last year had only 4 tenths of a percent (.004) better goaltending than the Leafs did, and the Leafs improved their skater group.

Goaltending is going to be the main focus this year, some models say it’s probably catastrophic, others say the Leafs are too good to fail even with bad goaltending. We’ll see what the results are, but that’s always why we have error bars.

Them

The Habs, quite obviously are a terrible team that costs $11 million over the cap. They’ve pushed their top pick into the NHL when many before the draft considered it premature. Their defense has a rookie on each of the top two pairs with fringe vets beside them. I wondered who could have a worse defense than Chicago and Ottawa, but I think we found it. If you can tell me another team Jordan Harris has played on you win a prize. Same for where Johnathan Kovacevic came from.

Habs Lines

Forwards
Cole Caufield - Nick Suzuki - Josh Anderson
Sean Monahan - Kirby Dach - Mike Hoffman
Juraj Slafkovský - Christian Dvorak - Brendan Gallagher
Rem Pitlick - Jake Evans - Evgenii Dadonov

Defenders
Kaiden Guhle - David Savard
Arber Xhekaj - Chris Wideman
Jordan Harris - Johnathan Kovacevic

Goalies
Jake Allen - confirmed starter
Samuel Montembeault

Us

The Leafs are good. The best line in the league is intact. The second line has a healthy John Tavares up the middle, with a Steady Willy and Denis Malgin coming off a strong camp where he clearly earned the job. The third line is a new collection of guys I’m very curious to see looks like together. They could land anywhere from good to awful. And our shutdown third line has now become our shutdown fourth line, with DZ whisperer David Kämpf centering black hole creator Zach Aston-Reese and nuisance Nicolas Aubé-Kubel. Boy, it would suck if Kämpf and Kerfoot fell flat after anomalous years. Kämpf being bad defensively is my biggest minor fear.

The defense returns mostly the same from last year. Rielly and Brodie are back as a two-way pair made up of a top offensive defender and a top defensive defender. Together they make it work. Muzzin-Holl returns in likely their last crack at redemption. They’ll never earn the love of the fans nor not get hate even when they play well. All that matters is a positive xGF% and GF%. I almost want to call them the Dark Knight pairing — the defenders Toronto deserves but not the heroes it needs right now. And on the third pair, Giordano, Sandin, and eventually Liljegren. Don’t ask Gio to do too much, like anchor a second pair, he’ll find success on the third pair. The X Factor for the first quarter season is how many jobs can Sandin push his fellow defenders out of. What does second pair Sandin look like?

And in net, two goalies. Not both at the same time, though that would solve a lot of problems. I’ve learned some lessons from goalies in my time. The first is never trust a goalie who seemingly always has greasy hair. The second is if a franchise goalie lands at your feet, hold on and never let go. Third, don’t commit, play the game of variance. Expecting a goalie to be the same as they were last year is more foolish than betting against Bergeron to win the Selke. At least with Murray and Samsonov they’re short term bets. I can’t expect them to be good, and I can’t trust them to not crater like Mrazek. For me, a Jennings campaign of .900 hockey is all I’m hoping for.

Oh, and Mitch is going to play defense sometimes late in games. That’s going to be fun!

Leafs Lines

Forwards
Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
William Nylander - John Tavares - Denis Malgin
Pierre Engvall - Alex Kerfoot - Calle Järnkrok
Zach Aston-Reese - David Kämpf - Nicolas Aubé-Kubel

Defenders
Morgan Rielly - TJ Brodie
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Mark Giordano - Rasmus Sandin

Goalies
Matt Murray - confirmed starter
Ilya Samsonov

The Game

There’s only one way to start the season and it’s with an 8-1 smashing of the Habs. The 9-8 comeback win will come when the Leafs play Detroit, aka the league’s hot mess hockey team.

Poll

Pick a storyline you really want to see come true this season?

This poll is closed

  • 26%
    Leafs get .920 goaltending, contend for an 82-0 season
    (103 votes)
  • 26%
    Tavares returns to 40-goal plateau, he and Nylander combine for 75
    (103 votes)
  • 3%
    Muzzin-Holl get 110 PDO and a Holl-4-Norris campaign reignites
    (13 votes)
  • 18%
    Matthews scores 50 in 39 to start the season, races for 67 in 82
    (72 votes)
  • 9%
    Denis Malgin scores 30
    (36 votes)
  • 9%
    Whatever happens, I just want to see the Giant Red Blob of Death
    (35 votes)
  • 5%
    Adminbot 3000 returns, cameos in the new Terminator movie
    (22 votes)
384 votes total Vote Now