I dunno about the rest of you, but I feel like a kid on Christmas with the season’s first real NHL action finally upon us. As has become the tradition of late, the Leafs will open their season with the latest edition in one of the oldest and most storied rivalries in all of sports as they host the Montreal Canadiens. The two clubs split their series last year, and if there’s one thing that’s certain in the Northeast Division, it’s that it will be a closely fought race this year – every matchup with Buffalo, Boston and Montreal should be looked at as one of those 4-point games we don’t often hear about until late in the season when teams are pushing for the playoffs. If there’s one thing the Leafs need to do to avoid missing the playoffs for yet another season (and God knows, there’s a whole lot more than just one thing), they need to avoid the slow starts that have plagued them in the past two seasons. Yes, they came out of the gate at 4-0 last year, but then they went in the tank and didn’t come back out until James Reimer fished them out when it was already too late.
The storyline for the Leafs tonight centers on the injuries they’ve already sustained, and the unlucky souls who’ve been relegated to the pressbox. Nazem Kadri, celebrating his 21st birthday today, is out with a knee injury; Tim Connolly, who’s about one more stint on the DL from being nicknamed “Glass-man,” is still out with an upper body injury, while Clarke MacArthur still has 2 games left on his suspension from the preseason. Colton Orr and Cody Franson will sit out the season opener, while Jake Gardiner, Dave Steckel, Matthew Lombardi, John-Michael Liles and Philippe Dupuis will all make their Leaf debuts. Make the jump for the starting lineups and more.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Matt Frattin – Mikhail Grabovski – Nikolai Kulemin
Joffrey Lupul – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
David Steckel – Philippe Dupuis – Colby Armstrong
Jay Rosehill – Matthew Lombardi – Mike Brown
Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
John-Michael Liles – Luke Schenn
Jake Gardiner – Mike Komisarek
Mike Cammalleri – Tomas Plekanec – Andrei Kostitsyn
Max Pacioretty – Scott Gomez – Brian Gionta
Mathieu Darche – David Desharnais – Erik Cole
Travis Moen – Andreas Engqvist – Yannick Weber
Chris Campoli – Josh Gorges
Hal Gill – P.K. Subban
Jaroslav Spacek – Raphael Diaz
The Habs will be without star defenseman Andrei Markov, as he’s been placed on IR yet again. The big story for me will be the play of Matt Frattin. The kid has a bonafide opportunity to prove his mettle at the NHL level with MacArthur out, and the next two games are more important for him than any of the preseason performances. Also keep an eye on Carl Gunnarsson. With a solid NHL defenseman in the press box in Cody Franson, he’ll have to keep his game at a top level to avoid being moved down the depth chart. Same goes for Mike Komisarek and Gardiner. From everything I heard today, expect Steckel to be taking faceoffs and utilized heavily on the penalty kill, despite playing on the 3rd line left wing.
Something else to keep a close eye on. With Tyler Bozak back between Lupul and Kessel, don’t be surprised to see some line-juggling if that unit struggles early. I doubt Wilson truly wants to throw Matthew Lombardi into a top-line role at this point, but we all know he’s not afraid to mix it up a little if he feels it’s necessary. All told, there’s a lot of questions that will be answered over the next six or seven months, and all of those answers will start to get just a little bit clearer tonight.
Puck drops at 7. Go Leafs!