Thursday, February 24, 2011
11:37 AM Kamal Panesar No comments
Alex Auld is getting the start for tonight. In his one previous match against the Leafs, he was on the losing end of a 3-1 decision in Toronto.
Auld has a 4-2-1 record this season with a 2.26 GAA and a .926 save percentage.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens square off tonight at the Bell Centre in their fifth of six head-to-head matches this season.
The teams have split four contests so far with each team winning two home games and losing two on the road.
Strangely, Toronto has scored exactly three goals in each of their wins while the Habs have shut out the Leafs in both of their victories.
So does that mean that we're in for another Habs shutout win at the Bell Centre tonight?
The Leafs, who not so long ago seemed destined to again miss the playoffs, have been on fire of late going 7-2-2 over their last 11 games to collect 16 points in the standings.
Their recent push give them 59 points in 60 games leaving them only six points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for eighth overall in the East, with one game in hand.
At the other end of the rink, Montreal is coming off of a massive, confidence building win over the first overall in the league Vancouver Cauncks. Despite the victory, the Habs are at the tail end of a terrible stretch that saw them pick up only two regulation victories over eight games (2-4-2).
Yet somehow the Habs have managed to maintain their sixth overall place in the Eastern conference.
If you look at the standings in the conference that no one seemingly wants to win, no team is on anything more than a one-game winning streak. As such, the Habs up and down play has been mirrored by the same from the other teams and has left their position unchanged.
With 21 games left in their season, Montreal is 32-22-7 with 71 points, three behind the Caps, four behind the Bruins who have one game in hand and seven behind the Pens with one more game played. The Habs have a three-point buffer on the seventh place Rangers, six points on the suddenly struggling Canes and nine on the ninth place Sabres.
Montreal versus Toronto hasn't seen a real goaltending battle since the days of Felix Potvin and Patrick Roy. And with both Leafs starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere and backup Jonas Gustavsson out due to injury and surgery, respectively, you wouldn't expect that to change much tonight.
But a youngster by the name of James Reimer has flipped that theory on its head in recent weeks.
Over 16 games played, Reimer has a 9-4-2 record and is the main reason for the Leafs' recent resurgence. Reimer, who has yet to face the Canadiens, has a brilliant 2.12 GAA and a sparkling .934 save percentage.
It will be interesting to see how the youngster responds to the raucous environment at the Bell Centre.
In Montreal's net, Carey Price continues to play like the MVP of this hockey team. Price will be making his league-leading 55th start of the year while shooting for his second overall 29th win.
Price has a 2.40 GAA and a .920 save percentage to go along with his second overall 28 wins this season.
Special Teams and Scoring
While both teams suffer from scoring anemia—the Leafs are 28th with 2.57 goals-for and the Habs are 25th with 2.53—the rest of the scoring and special teams stats look like a mismatch in Montreal's favour.
Toronto has the 22nd overall goals-against with 2.9 per game, 25th power play at 16 percent and the 26th penalty kill at 28.3 percent. Montreal, on the other hand, has the ninth best goals-against with 2.5 per game, 10th overall power play at 18.6 percent and 10th penalty kill at 83.8 percent.
Considering the Leafs weak PK, tonight might be a prime opportunity for Montreal to get their power play—which has been blanked over the last three games and is 2-for-20 (10 percent) over the last six games—back on track.
Roster Changes and Injuries
The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to be without their first and second string goaltenders: Giguere and Gustavsson. Goaltending and Colton Orr (injury reserve) aside, the Leafs are healthy.
Montreal continues to have a bevy of players on the IR including long-termers Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov. In addition, Jaroslav Spacek and Mathieu Darche continue to be sidelined with no real word on the extent of their injuries.
Expect the Canadiens to go with the same lineup that defeated the Canucks on Tuesday.
Game time is at 7:30 PM.
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 - 9 AM. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)