Canadiens-Maple Leafs Preview
With a talented roster led by star goaltender Carey Price, the Montreal Canadiens have high hopes of making a deeper playoff run in 2015-16.
Expectations are considerably more modest for a Toronto Maple Leafs club under new leadership as it embarks on a rebuilding project.
Mike Babcock makes his coaching debut for Toronto on Wednesday night when visiting Montreal goes for its longest regular-season winning streak in the series in 57 years.
Price racked up an impressive haul of awards after leading the NHL in save percentage (.933), goals-against average (1.96) and wins (44) last season. He won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender, the Hart Trophy as MVP and the Ted Lindsay Award for the most outstanding player.
”This is not a flash in the pan," general manager Marc Bergevin said. "Carey Price is among the best, if not the best.”
All eyes will be on what Price can do for an encore as the Canadiens go after their third division title in four years. He’ll look to get off to a strong start as he’s posted a 1.94 GAA while winning his last five starts against the Leafs.
Montreal (50-22-10) took all four meetings with Toronto last season, two via shootout, to extend its series winning streak to six. The club hasn’t won seven straight over the Leafs since a 10-game run Jan. 2-Nov. 12, 1958.
After scoring two or fewer goals five times in a six-game conference semifinal loss to Tampa Bay, the Canadiens brought in right wing Alex Semin from Carolina and forward Zack Kassian from Vancouver. They also signed forward Tomas Fleischmann for additional offensive support alongside captain Max Pacioretty, who had a team-high 37 goals.
Kassian, however, has entered a substance-abuse program after being involved in a motor vehicle accident Sunday and is suspended without pay.
"I think we’re a little deeper this year with the couple of new guys we added over the summer. I think we’re going to score some goals this year," forward Dale Weise told the team’s official website.
After missing out on the postseason for the ninth time in 10 seasons, Toronto has begun what’s expected to be a highly scrutinized – and lengthy – rebuild.
That job falls to Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello, brought in as general manager by team president Brendan Shanahan. Babcock agreed to an eight-year deal with the Leafs after failing to come to terms on a contract extension with Detroit. The Wings posted a .649 winning percentage and won a Stanley Cup in 10 seasons under him.
”It’s been great with Lou,” Babcock said. ”I’ve gotten to know him (well). The great thing work about working with (Red Wings general manager) Kenny Holland was we would be together on decisions even if we didn’t always agree.”
This year’s fourth overall pick Mitch Marner, 2014 eighth pick William Nylander, 21st pick in 2013 Frederik Gauthier and Toronto Marlies leading scorer Connor Brown aren’t expected to open the season with the Leafs.
For now, Toronto (30-44-8) will build around center Nazem Kadri and defensemen Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner. Kadri finished fourth on the team with 18 goals to go with 21 assists in 2014-15.
After trading Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh in the offseason, defenseman Dion Phaneuf is perhaps the biggest name left on the roster. Phaneuf, who averaged 23:43 of ice time in 70 games, will try to help No. 1 goaltender Jonathan Bernier and backup James Reimer rebound from rough seasons.
Bernier went 21-28-7 with a 2.87 GAA – his highest since his rookie season of 2007-08 – and Reimer was 9-16-1 with a .907 save percentage – his worst since ’11-’12.
Bernier has gone 1-5-3 with a 3.07 GAA in nine career starts against Montreal.