THE BOYS ARE BACK (PRE-GAME OPINIONS)
It's finally time! After such a long offseason, the puck drops in nearly 24 hours from when I am writing this. And that means it's time to get back to business! Not just the Leafs, but myself included.
Like many seasons before, the first game of the regular season will be the Leafs and the Habs. The excitement surrounding this game is understandable, as Montreal recently had a successful playoff run and the Leafs have some new faces and hope for a better result.
Let's get started!
Prior to this game, the Leafs have 8 new faces in the lineup, with some coming as a surprise. Amoung the newest members in the lineup include:
* Returning member from previous season(s)
In addition to those players mentioned, Peter Holland and Carter Ashton will be in the opening night lineup for the first time. David Booth would have been playing as well, but an injury will delay his Leaf debut for about four weeks.
As for the rest of the team, the same core from last year is back with questions surrounding them: Will Phaneuf have a better season? Does Kessel reach 40 goals? Who is the number one centre/goalie? Is Gardiner ready to make the jump? These just some of the many questions that are looming around the group of players that went 2-14-0 to end the season last year.
Everyone in the lineup is out to prove that the Leafs are a competitive team, and this game will be step 1 in gaining back some respectability.
The Leafs will be without Cody Franson (day-to-day) and Booth (four weeks). Their replacements are most likely Kozun and Percy. Clarkson's status is up in the air, but it seems like he will play.
3 Keys to Victory
1) Shut down top offensive players, especially Pacioretty and Subban. As team defense has been an issue for the last few seasons, a better defensive game is a good way to start the year. Because Montreal has some big name players that do well offensively, the Leafs need to be ready to defend and counter attack.
2) Less dump-and-chase, more puck control. While most fans would classify the Leafs as a rush team, it is obvious that they are more of a dump and chase team. That alone may explain why the Leafs take so few shots and give up so many. It seems as of the Leafs are afraid to handle the puck, as if they fear of creating a giveaway chance for the opposition. Confidence with the puck can go a long way if the Leafs just hang on to the puck longer than 2 seconds.
3) Bernier is ready to face the long grind. As this will be his first season since 2007 where he gets to start the first game, Bernier has a lot to prove this season. After a successful campaign where he became the established number one goalie, he is looking for a better result then the last one. Knowing that their will be a heavy work load all year, Bernier needs to establish early on that he is truly the Leafs top goalie and that he is on the verge of becoming an elite net-minder. It all starts with this one.
Considering that this is the first game, don't expect spectacular plays to occur, as the overall play may be sloppy. The final score will be the same as last year (4-3) and a rookie will get a point. The shots-on-goal will be fairly even for both sides.