Canadiens at Maple Leafs: Five things you should know

Canadiens at Maple Leafs: Five things you should know

This is the first real game since Montreal shocked Toronto in the first round of the playoffs this year.

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Here are five things you should know about the Canadiens-Maple Leafs game at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m., SN, SN360, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM):

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The matchup:  The Leafs won two of the three pre-season games against the Canadiens with both wins in Toronto, but this is the first real game in the oldest rivalry in the NHL since Montreal shocked Toronto in the first round of the playoffs this year. Toronto took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, but the Canadiens roared back to win in seven games and went on to reach the Stanley Cup final. The Ontario government lifted pandemic restrictions last week and this is the first time both teams will play a regular-season game at full capacity in Canada since the pandemic halted play in March 2020.

The goaltenders:  Carey Price spearheaded the comeback in the playoffs, but he won’t be available to play until sometime next month after voluntarily entering the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program last week. Jake Allen will get the start for the Canadiens and he has to be better than he was in his last two pre-season appearances, when he gave up 10 goals over five periods. The Maple Leafs will go with a two-goaltender system after adding Petr Mrazek during the off-season, but late-bloomer Jack Campbell will play in the opener.

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Kulak joins Petry: Going into training camp, it appeared that Brett Kulak, who was in and out of the lineup during the playoffs last season, would be battling for one of the final spots on defence. But he has benefitted from an injury to Joel Edmundson and he will start the season as Jeff Petry’s partner on the No. 1 pair. The defence is a question mark because the Canadiens used their younger prospects with established players during the pre-season and team defence, as a whole, left a lot to be desired. The Canadiens can’t afford an injury on the blue line because they are starting the season with only six healthy defencemen.

Key pieces missing: It seems early to be talking about playoff hopes, but Montreal’s chances of returning to the post-season could depend on how they navigate the first quarter of the regular season without some key players. The absence of Price means the defence has to be sharper in front of Allen and newcomer Samuel Montembeault and the Canadiens will welcome the return of Edmundson in two weeks. The Canadiens are also missing forward Mike Hoffman, who was signed as a free agent to a three-year deal with an annual cap hit of US$4.5 million. That’s a lot of money for a guy who is pencilled in for a bottom-six role, but he’ll prove his worth if he gives the power play a boost.

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Matthews not ready:  Auston Matthews, the NHL’s leading scorer last season, is still recovering from wrist surgery and will not play. That’s good news because Matthews has feasted on the Canadiens throughout his career. He has 19 goals and 12 assists in 31 regular-season games against Montreal. His most impressive statistic against the Canadiens is his shooting percentage. He has scored on 20 per cent of his shots on goal. The Leafs are also missing forward Ilya Mikheyev, who is out eight weeks after breaking his thumb in Toronto’s final pre-season game, but the Canadiens still have to deal with Mitch Marner and John Tavares.

phickey@postmedia.com

twitter.com/zababes1

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