Finalement, it’s on, folks.
The Montreal Canadiens open the jam-packed 2021 season tonight against their Canadian Division foes, the Toronto Maple Leafs, at 7:00 in Scotiabank Arena.
Y’all have no idea how fun it is to type these words.
I thought about doing a season preview, but if there’s one thing 2020 taught me, it’s that the sole purpose of season previews is to give us a laugh when we re-read them six months later.
So I’ll stick with a preview of tonight’s game against the Laffs.
High-Flying Affair Expected
Both the Leafs and the Canadiens bulked up during the offseason. The Leafs brought in Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton and TJ Brodie, while the Canadiens brought in Joel Edmundson, Josh Anderson and Corey Perry. However, both these teams play primarily a speed game, and are only going to play a grinder if forced to. That is not the case here. Like we saw last year, we can expect these Leafs-Habs games (of which there are ten this season) to be fast-paced, with scores kept low only by the quality of both teams’ goaltenders. The Canadiens are more defensively sound this season (fine, maybe the Leafs are too), but that doesn’t mean they’re any less mobile. I think against the Leafs, the Canadiens would be wise to embrace the defensive game, and give the Leafs’ stars hell the way the Blue Jackets did in the bubble. And don’t lose that speed, because speed is the Canadiens’ biggest strength. One thing about this team is that they are so versatile, I can assign them any style of game and they can play it well. That will serve them well against a diverse division.
Allow me to list the height and weight of each top-4 defenseman on the Montreal Canadiens. Shea Weber: 6’4”, 229 lbs. Jeff Petry: 6’3”, 207 lbs. Ben Chiarot: 6’3” 218 lbs. Joel Edmundson: 6’4”, 216 lbs.
Before it was just Man Mountain, now it’s Man Mountain Range. Watch out, Matthews.
Not only is this defence big, it can skate. With a much-improved Brett Kulak and a mobile, physical Alexander Romanov rounding out the third pairing, this is a surprisingly well-rounded defence. This defence could surprise this season, and specifically against Toronto, I look forward to seeing Weber or Petry flatten one of their 10-million-dollar men.
Who Will Match Up Against the Big Guns?
The Canadiens have four very balanced lines, and one thing that Head Coach Claude Julien has to figure out is who will manage the unenviable task of shutting down the Auston Matthews and John Tavares lines. Tatar-Danault-Gallagher is a lock to play against one of the two, but who plays against the other? I think Toffoli-Kotkaniemi-Armia. While Nick Suzuki is a future Selke candidate, he has Jonathan Drouin and Josh Anderson as his wingers – Anderson is just okay defensively and Drouin has always struggled with that aspect. I would want that line to face a weaker Leafs bottom six and dominate their matchup offensively. Tyler Toffoli, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia are all great defensive players, and Kotkaniemi is used to playing against stars from his time in the bubble. The kid is ready for it. As well, all three of these guys can play physical, and if they can force their (softer) matchup to play a more hard-hitting game that works to their advantage.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Mesdames et messieurs…
Après cent quarante-cinq jours…
Maintenant dans une division canadienne…
Veuillez accueillir votre…
Canadien de Montréal!
Go Habs Go.
Signed, Le Bo