(Sports Network) - The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens may have
fallen on hard times recently, but that doesn't mean the teams hate each other
The Habs and Leafs are set to resume one of the fiercest rivalries in
professional sports when they Original Six clubs kick off their seasons
Saturday evening at Montreal's Bell Centre.
Toronto and Montreal, finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the
Northeast Division, in 2011-12 and both clubs missed the playoffs. Montreal,
which also finished last in the Eastern Conference, had its streak of playoff
appearances halted at four while the Maple Leafs extended their franchise-
record playoff drought to seven seasons.
The Maple Leafs were in playoff contention last February before finishing the
season on a 7-18-4 slump. Although they waited until after the lockout to make
a change, GM Brian Burke was relieved of his duties with the club earlier this
month and was replaced by Dave Nonis, who takes over the unenviable task of
getting the Leafs back on track.
However, before being sacrificed, Burke made a move for size and scoring over
the summer, acquiring forward James van Riemsdyk from Philadelphia in exchange
for defenseman Luke Schenn. Van Riemsdyk, who was better known in Philly as
"JVR," was selected by the Flyers with the second overall pick in the 2007
draft and the 23-year-old has showed glimpses of brilliance while posting 99
points (47 goals, 52 assists) over 196 career games.
JVR only had 11 goals and 13 assists in an injury-plagued 2011-12 for the
Flyers, but the Leafs will be counting on a bounce-back season from the New
Jersey native as he tries to provide secondary scoring for the team's top
forwards, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul.
Lupul skated on the opposite wing from Kessel last season and turned in the
best offensive season of his career. The 29-year-old Lupul had his highest
point total with 67 points and his 25 goals were just three shy of the
personal best he set with Anaheim in 2005-06. Even more impressive is the fact
that Lupul did all that despite missing 16 games due to injury.
While van Riemsdyk could help improve the offense the Maple Leafs are still
expected to have problems in goal. Since the Roberto Luongo trade rumors have
yet to materialize, the club enters the season with the unproven tandem of
James Reimer and Ben Scrivens in the crease.
The Canadiens also enter this season with a new general manager as Marc
Bergevin took over that role last spring from the fired Pierre Gauthier.
Bergevin tabbed Michel Therrien as the team's new head coach and together the
duo is tasked with regaining some of the respect the Habs lost last season.
Bergevin didn't make a splash in his first offseason as Montreal's GM and
maybe that's a sign he'll be patient with a team that has question marks
everywhere except in net, where Carey Price is entrenched as the team's No. 1
goaltender. The Habs did sign physical forwards Colby Armstrong and Brandon
Prust to add some much-needed toughness, but neither player will help much in
improving an offense that averaged only 2.52 goals per game last season.
Noticeably absent from Saturday's contest will be Montreal defenseman P.K.
Subban, who is locked in a contract dispute with the Habs. The 23-year-old led
Montreal in ice time last season, but the restricted free agent has been
unable to agree on a new deal with the team that drafted him 43rd overall in
the 2007 draft.
The rabid fans in Montreal let their feelings on the contract dispute known
earlier this week, chanting "We want P.K.!" at an intrasquad scrimmage.
There's a good chance that chant will be brought out again Saturday at the
While they won't have Subban on Saturday, Montreal hopes Tomas Plekanec is
able to go in the opener. Plekanec, who had 52 points in 2011-12, was able to
join the team for the first practice of training camp, but is questionable for
Toronto and the Canadiens split six encounters in 2011-12 and the Leafs have
won eight of the last 14 meetings in the series. Toronto has won five of the
last eight contests staged in Montreal.
The Sports Network