November 19 – Day 38 – The rivalry that predates the NHL

Saturdays aren’t just for college football. They also offer tons of hockey.

Tampa Bay at Philadelphia (SN) get things started at 1 p.m., followed three hours later by New Jersey at Los Angeles. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it five contests (Edmonton at Dallas [CITY], Winnipeg at Boston [SN], Pittsburgh at Buffalo, Toronto at Montréal [CBC/NHLN/TVAS] and Florida at Ottawa [SN1/TVAS2]), with three more dropping the puck an hour later (San Jose at Arizona, Nashville at St. Louis and Colorado at Minnesota). Chicago at Vancouver (CBC/SN) acts as this evening’s nightcap, getting underway at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Montréal: They might have faced each other more than any other teams in the NHL, but that never takes away from another game played.
  • Chicago at Vancouver: Another rivalry… well, kind of. When the Canucks were having a little more success, they had a knack for running into the Blackhawks for three straight postseasons. It created some very contested regular season games.

It’s been over a week since we’ve been to eastern Canada, so let’s head up to the Bell Centre.

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The rivalry between these sides predates any of us, hearkening back to tensions between the English and French immigrants to Canada. It has only evolved over the years, including the formation of the NHL and the Leafs, multiple expansions, Toronto departing for the Campbell Conference and finally rejoining the Canadiens in the same division.

This year’s Maple Leafs enter with an 8-6-3 record. The offense has been incredible for Toronto this year, but it has been absolutely horrendous defense and goaltending that has held them back from greatness by allowing 58 goals, the second-most in the league.

Frederik Andersen has started in net 15 times this season for a 8-4-3 record. To get there, he’s set a .907 save percentage for a 3.16 GAA, the 15th and sixth-worst effort in the NHL among goaltenders with at least eight appearances.

While those numbers leave much to be desired – especially after a 2.3 GAA a season ago – not all of the responsibility rests on Andersen’s shoulders. Even with Morgan Rielly‘s team-leading 35 blocks, the Leafs‘ defense has allowed 33.9 shots against per game, the worst rate in the league.

Interestingly, Toronto‘s penalty kill does not suffer the same fate of their even-strength defense. Only eight power play goals have been scored on the Maple Leafs for a 84.6% kill rate, the 10th-best in the NHL.

Last season, the Leafs‘ power play was second-worst in the league. A year later, they rank 10th-best, successful on 21.3% of attempts. 20-year-old William Nylander has been a big part of that turnaround, as he has seven extra-man points to his credit, including three power play goals to lead the club.

Hosting them this evening are the 13-3-2 Montréal Canadiens. Even though they’ve only earned one point in their last three games, the Habs are still the best team in the NHL, due in part to their strong offense.

The Canadiens‘ 58 goals are the third-most in the league, and much of that success has involved Alex Galchenyuk‘s stick. He has a team-leading 18 points to his credit to average a point-per-game.

Most of those points are assists though. Defenseman Shea Weber has been the man completing Galchenyuk’s plays, scoring seven goals already this season to lead his club.

As you’d expect, that offensive success has carried to the power play. Successful on 23.1% of attempts, the Habs rank sixth-best in the league with the man-advantage. Weber takes the charge on the power play too, with seven extra-man points to his credit.

These two have already met up once this season, with the Habs taking a 2-1 victory on this surface. It’s been a while since the Leafs have beaten Montréal, as the Habs are riding an 10-game winning streak against one of their biggest rivals.

That’s not to mention “recent” playoff results either. The Habs have swept the Leafs 8-0 in their last two postseason meetings, but those were in 1978 and ’79.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Montréal‘s Galchenyuk (18 points [tied for seventh-most in the NHL] for a +11 [tied for seventh-best in the league), Carey Price (10 wins [tied for most in the NHL] on a .948 save percentage [second-best in the league] and 1.63 GAA [third-best in the NHL], good for two shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Weber (+15 [tied for second-best in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Matt Martin (76 hits [leads the team]), Rielly (35 blocks and 10 assists [both lead the team]) and James van Riemsdyk (17 points on eight goals [both lead the team]).

Montréal enters with a -170 advantage, and they’ve deserved it with their play so far this season. Given the potency of their offense paired with Toronto‘s struggling defense, it should be the Canadiens‘ 11th-straight victory over the Leafs.

Hockey Birthday

  • Dennis Hull (1944-) – The Silver Jet was a left wing, playing 14 seasons. Most of those were with Chicago, where he scored 298 goals.
  • Reggie Lemelin (1954-) – Lemelin played 15 NHL seasons, most of which were with the Flames organization. The goaltender won the Jennings Trophy in the 1989-’90 season, allowing only 108 goals in 43 games.
  • Petr Sykora (1976-) – The 18th-overall selection in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft by New Jersey, the right wing played in six Stanley Cup Finals, winning one with the 2000 Devils and another with the 2009 Penguins.
  • Patrick Kane (1988-) – He was the first pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and I’d say he was worth it. Kane has won three Stanley Cups in his time with Chicago, not to mention a Calder, Hart, Lindsay, Ross and Smythe as well.

In our fourth overtime game in the last seven days, Pittsburgh bested the rival Islanders 3-2.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it belonged to the visiting Penguins. Sidney Crosby (First Star of the Game Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz) took advantage of a Brock Nelson charging penalty to bury a power play snapper with 4:41 remaining in the frame.

New York struck back only 1:51 after returning from intermission. With Evgeni Malkin getting caught for roughing, Nelson (Ryan Strome and John Tavares) capitalized on the man-advantage to score a wrister. Only 43 seconds later, Second Star Anthony Beauvillier won a one-on-one matchup with Matthew Murray with a wrister to give New York a 2-1 lead. That lead didn’t hold until the second intermission though, as Trevor Daley (Phil Kessel and Kunitz) scored a slap shot with 6:05 remaining to level the score at two-all. That tie held not only to the intermission, but to the end of regulation to force three-on-three overtime.

84 seconds was all it took for Letang (Crosby) to end overtime with a wrist shot and earn the victory.

Murray earned the victory after saving 20-of-22 shots faced (90.9%), forcing Jaroslav Halak to take the overtime loss, saving 32-of-35 (91.4%).

With that result, the DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 23-12-5, favoring the home teams by 11 points over the roadies.

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