Toronto Maple Leafs at Montréal Canadiens: 7:00 p.m.
Watch on: HNIC, CBC, free streaming on GEM (in Canada), TVAS, SN1, City, some TV in a bar somewhere

Opponent’s site: Habs Eyes on the Past

Today is the day, 25 days into the regular season, that Travis Dermott and Zach Hyman can return to the lineup if they are healthy.

Both Dermott and Hyman have been regulars at practices lately, and Dermott drew in as a placeholder in the Thursday scrimmages for Morgan Rielly, who took the practice day off. That argues in favour of the switch for Dermott happening today.

Last night in the win over the Sharks, Kevin Gravel, playing the 3LD spot we assume Dermott will take over, played 9:09 of all-situations time, barely more than Nick Shore. It doesn’t seem sustainable to have one defender playing fourth line minutes. And it’s not just one. Justin Holl played 11:33 last night. They each had three shifts in the third period, if you count the one to end the game after the Leafs had scored their fourth goal.

Meanwhile, Morgan Rielly played more minutes in the third period than he had even in the first, and he basically just never came off the ice after the go-ahead goal. He played 26 minutes. The forwards were rotated in something closer to a sustainable way last night, given Jason Spezza’s success against the Sharks, so none of them topped 20 minutes, and it’s possible the top six might have some legs left over for tonight, but it’s time for Dermott to come in and take some much needed load off the top four defenders.

The trouble comes when the right-shooting defender on the third pair isn’t really trusted to do much. So, if we see Dermott, expect him to dance with a lot of different partners in a game. If we don’t, let’s hope the Habs depth isn’t more than Gravel or Marincin and Holl can handle.  It’s possible the Leafs will choose to wait for the next home game on Tuesday to make this change, but we’ll find out later today.

Maple Leafs Lines

From last night - Hutchinson to start

Andreas Johnsson - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev - Alexander Kerfoot - Mitch Marner
Trevor Moore - Jason Spezza - Kasperi Kapanen
Dmytro Timashov - Nick Shore - Frederik Gauthier
Nic Petan

Morgan Rielly - Cody Ceci
Jake Muzzin - Tyson Barrie
??? - Justin Holl

Frederik Andersen
Michael Hutchinson

Canadiens Lines

From Daily Faceoff

Tomas Tatar - Phillip Danault - Brendan Gallagher
Jonathan Drouin - Max Domi - Joel Armia
Artturi Lehkonen - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Paul Byron
Nick Cousins - Nate Thompson - Nick Suzuki
Victor Mete - Shea Weber
Brett Kulak - Jeff Petry
Ben Chiarot - Cale Fleury

Carey Price
Keith Kinkaid

I have not looked at the standings in well over a week, so I don’t know how the Habs have been doing. Let’s review the Leafs first: They are seventh in points with 14, 10th in ROW with 6. (The NHL changed the tie-breaker to run on RW instead of ROW, but now one publishes it; this is deeply annoying to me.) The Leafs are second only to Washington in Goals For and in this continuing thing where the Leafs and the Caps are twins so far this year, they are second only to Washington in Goals Against, but not in a good way. Both teams have had really sketchy goaltending. The Leafs goal differential is +4 and the Caps are at +7.

I didn’t see the Habs when I was looking up those numbers. So they’re either bad or dull. They are 20th in points, with 10. Their goal differential is +2, and they only have three ROW.  That could be unlucky or it could be bad, let’s check on that.

Natural Stat Trick says Montréal has a good Corsi percentage at five-on-five of 53%. (The Leafs are at 53 as well, but if you use decimal places to separate them they’re much higher up the list. I don’t.) Their goaltending has been average, not crappy like the Leafs, so that leaves one thing: they don’t score. The numbers say they don’t score enough. With only so-so goaltending, their shooting needs to lift them up and it hasn’t. Their percentage is almost identical to the Leafs and is only a titch above average. That should improve for the Leafs, but the Habs lack natural scoring talent.

Last year the Habs had a notoriously dreadful power play, and so far this year, their overall shot rate is mediocre, as is the Leafs (a rant for another day) and both teams are getting about the same scoring rate.

Does this make any sense to you? The Leafs and Habs have similar power plays, similar Corsi, similar shooting percentage, they have the better goaltending, and the Leafs have the better record? What’s going on here?

Two things. Points don’t reflect your quality of play perfectly, and the fewer the games, the less perfect it is. The second thing is pace. It’s all about pace, baby. Goal scoring is a rare event, but shooting is a volume business, and at five-on-five, the Leafs outshoot the Habs by just enough pace (not a lot) to generate a lot more goals for and to lift themselves over their crappy goaltending.

But boil this all back down, and you have two very similar teams (at the moment with the current rosters), both very good at fundamentals, both looking to move up in the same division, and if we’re going to learn anything from this game, it’s that the Atlantic is not a three horse race, it’s going to be the dirtiest, scrappiest fight in recent memory. If you want a boring march to a playoff spot and guaranteed home ice advantage, I think you need to move out west. Checks standings... uh, never mind, I think you need a time machine.

If we get word on who is in or out, we’ll update you, but until then Go Leafs Go!