Maple Leafs-Canadiens Preview
While the Toronto Maple Leafs are starting to display signs of progress under Mike Babcock, the Montreal Canadiens continue to set the bar during the early part of this season.
Still unbeaten during the best start in their storied history, the Canadiens aim to continue another impressive streak when they host the rebuilding Maple Leafs Saturday night.
Montreal moved to 8-0-0 with Friday’s 7-2 rout at Buffalo, getting two goals from Brendan Gallagher and Dale Weise and a career-high five points from Andrei Markov. The win streak is the Canadiens’ longest since 2006, and they’re two away from joining the 1993-94 Maple Leafs and 2006-07 Sabres for the league’s best season-opening run.
”It’s great to have eight wins, but (Saturday) is another challenge," said Markov, who finished with a goal and four assists while reaching 500 career points.
The Canadiens are receiving contributions throughout the roster during the surge. The top line of Max Pacioretty, Gallagher and Tomas Plekanec has accounted for 14 goals, Markov and defense partner P.K. Subban are a combined plus-27 with eight assists each and Carey Price has followed his MVP 2014-15 campaign with more stellar play in goal.
Price rested in favor of rookie Mike Condon on Friday, three days after posting a second shutout in three starts with 38 saves against St. Louis. The reigning Hart and Vezina Trophy winner has yielded six goals in his six outings.
”It’s tough to say anything about Carey because everybody knows how valuable he is and what he brings every game,” said Pacioretty, among the league leaders with six goals.
Price made 36 saves and Pacioretty scored twice in a 3-1 victory at Toronto in the Oct. 7 opener, Montreal’s seventh consecutive win in the series. Price has been in net for six of the games.
Toronto (1-3-2), which last defeated the Canadiens on Jan. 18, 2014, has won just once in Babcock’s debut season but has earned points in three of the last four games. The Maple Leafs are 1-1-1 on a four-game trip following Wednesday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Buffalo.
"I guess the way I look at it, the positive thing for me is we got points in three of our last four games," Babcock told the Leafs’ official website. "Your belief system to me is when you walk in the rink and know you’re going to win. That is the step we have to get to. We’ve got to get working on our compete level, got to work on our structure and got to work on being heavier on the puck in the offensive zone. The next thing you know we’ll be a much better hockey club and winning more often. We’re making steps."
Jonathan Bernier’s play the last two games has been a plus as well. He had 34 saves on Wednesday after stopping 31 shots in a 2-1 loss at Pittsburgh on Oct. 17.
Bernier is 1-6-3 in 10 career starts against Montreal, however, and was dealt a sixth straight loss opening night despite allowing two goals on 28 shots.
He’ll be hoping for better support from an offense that’s mustered one goal or less in four of its six games, though Leo Komarov has three in his last three.
Toronto remains without center Tyler Bozak (lower body) and defenseman Jake Gardiner (undisclosed), both of whom were placed on injured reserve Friday.