Leafs Host Rivals Canadiens
CANADIENS (12-4-3) at MAPLE LEAFS (12-8-0)
TV: CBC, TSN
Last 10: Montreal 6-1-3, Toronto 7-3-0
Season series: This is the third of five meetings between the clubs. The Maple Leafs have beaten the Canadiens twice in Montreal, 2-1 in the season opener and 6-0 on Feb. 9.
Big story: The Canadiens have lost in regulation only four times this season, but two of those have come at the hands of the Maple Leafs, including their most lopsided loss of the season the last time the two teams met. That 6-0 Toronto win also got nasty towards the end, so this Original Six rivalry could be heating up.
Canadiens: That 6-0 loss to the Leafs appeared to have a positive effect on the Canadiens, as the club has not lost in regulation since then, going 6-0-2. The most striking change in the Canadiens since that game has been their defensive play -- they've allowed only 10 goals in those eight games despite the fact starting goaltender Carey Price had to miss two of those games with a severe case of the flu.
"Sometimes those nights happen," defenseman Josh Gorges told reporters after practice Tuesday. "We have to realize that was one of those games, we put it behind us and we've been playing our best hockey since then. I think sometimes you go through those lumps to learn what it takes to win consistently."
The Canadiens took another lump Tuesday when it was disclosed that top-line left wing Rene Bourque will be out indefinitely with a concussion. Brandon Prust has been doing well replacing Bourque on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta, but he does not have the same offensive abilities.
In Bourque's absence, the lines of David Desharnais between Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, and the trio of Lars Eller centering Alex Galchenyuk and Erik Cole have picked up the offensive slack.
Maple Leafs: Toronto is one of the top road teams in the NHL - its eight wins on opposing ice are tied with Pittsburgh and Chicago for tops in the League - but the Maple Leafs still need to figure things out at Air Canada Centre, where they enter this game with a 4-4-0 record.
Coach Randy Carlyle hopes the physical style of play his team has shown in being so successful on the road will begin to bear fruit at home.
"I wouldn't say we're an extremely big team size-wise," Carlyle said after practice Tuesday. "But I think the competitiveness that we've demonstrated in certain areas of the ice is the one thing we've stated right from, the end of last season, and there hasn't been any wavering in our expectations…We feel we can go into any building and compete. Playing a certain style allows you to do that."
There are some who feel the bad blood from the last game between the two teams may carry over to this one - most notably an alleged biting incident involving Mikhail Grabovski and Max Pacioretty - but Carlyle is not among them.
"I think two teams are competing for two points, that's got to be the focus of our group," he said. "I know for sure that's what we've talked about. [The Canadiens] have played extremely well, they're winning a lot of hockey games and they're getting a lot of points. So we have to be prepared for out A game. All the other stuff is a sidebar."
Who's hot: For the Canadiens, Pacioretty has four goals and four assists in his last six games and Lars Eller has a goal and three assists in his last five…For the Maple Leafs, Phil Kessel has two goals and three assists in five games, Grabovski has three goals in four games and Nikolai Kulemin has a goal and two assists in his last two games.
Injury report: The Canadiens will be without Bourque indefinitely. He joins Petteri Nokelainen (lower body) as the lone injuries for Montreal…For the Maple Leafs, goaltender James Reimer (knee) and forward Matt Frattin (knee) remain sidelined, but both could potentially play Thursday against the Islanders, Carlyle said. Colton Orr (lower body) is expected back in the Maple Leafs lineup against Montreal. Mike Brown sustained a lower-body injury in Monday's game at Philadelphia and was pulled out of practice on Tuesday, so his presence is unlikely. Joffrey Lupul (broken forearm) remains on injured reserve.