There’s no need to build up any more excitement for tonight’s clash between storied rivals than has already been done, but isn’t that what sports rivalries are for? Kris Versteeg said it best during an interview, speaking about the media frenzy with reporters from both Montreal and Toronto crowding the press quarters this week: “It feels like the Stanley Cup finals. Hundreds of media showed up then. It was pretty hectic, and this is for the first game of the season. This is crazy. This is something every hockey player should look forward to and dream about. You want to be in the hockey centre of the universe.”
Forget for a second that these are two clubs that literally cannot stand the sight of each other. Forget that the Leafs missed a chance in the last game of the year to knock the Habs out, and then had to watch them make a magical run to the Conference Finals – that one’s easy to forget because the geniuses in Montreal sent Halak packing. Forget that in a very similar situation last year, the Leafs came out strong against the Canadiens but blew the game in overtime, then lost the next seven games and never climbed out of the league basement.
This is a new year, this is a new team, and for the first time in a long time, there is truly some reason for hope in Toronto. There’s a lot of question marks, but those will be answered as the season goes on. For tonight, there’s only one thought across southern Ontario and the rest of Leaf Nation around the globe: Beat Montreal.
Enough ranting and on to some pertinent information:
- Mike Zigomanis has apparently beaten out John Mitchell for the job as 4th line center, thank Wendel. Ziggy, as he shall henceforth be referred to because I’m not typing that name all season, is a great faceoff guy and brings a much better defensive element to the team than whatever it is Mitchell does. He’ll probably see some PK time as well.
- Mike Cammalleri is out tonight, suspended for the full nutty he pulled on Nino Niederreiter the other night.
- Carey Price will most likely sit out tonight’s game with an upset tummy, so the legendary Alex Auld will be the first to test the new-look Leafs’ offense. Update: Jacques Martin has indicated Price will get the start tonight.
- Andrei Markov will also miss the tilt tonight as he recovers from offseason knee surgery.
The Leafs split the season series last year, and went 1-0-2 against the Habs at home. Five of the six games went to overtime, with the Leafs’ 3-0 win at the start of December the lone exception. Here’s the projected starting lineup for the Leafs, as of now, will post Montreal’s if I can get ahold of it:
Puck drops at 7:00 pm, I’m predicting a 4-3 Leafs win, probably in overtime. Go Leafs!