Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs: 3 things to watch
The Montreal Canadiens are in the midst of a legendary slump as they head to Toronto for a game against the last-place Leafs.
Could a date with Toronto be what Montreal needs to get its season back on track or will the Leafs find a way to knock their rivals farther away from a playoff spot?
Here are three things to watch as the Habs take on the Maple Leafs at 7 p.m. Saturday:
1. Effort vs. execution
Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien passionately defended his players following the loss to Boston Tuesday. He said no one should be criticizing the effort of his players and added that they were giving 100 per cent on the ice.
What has been lacking during the Habs slump is execution. Over the last 21 games, where the Habs record comes to 4-16-1, Montreal has outshot the opponent 15 times. Since shots are a decent indicator of what team is controlling the play, it is fair to say the Habs aren't playing as poorly as their record would suggest.
The Habs are getting the puck to the net with effort but failing to score. Is it that the Habs are just not getting any puck luck around the net or are they lacking the skill to finish off their chances? Watch tonight to see if Montreal can combine their steady effort with some execution.
2. Life beyond Price
Habs fans who were expecting goaltender Carey Price to make his return after the all-star break got some unwelcome news this week. General manager Marc Bergevin announced there isn't a timetable for when his star goalie will return. Bergevin said at best it'll be three to four weeks before Price is back.
The open ended nature of Bergevin's comments have many wondering if they'll see Price in the lineup this season at all. If the team slips further away from a playoff spot, will management decide not to risk bringing Price back until next season?
Mike Condon is getting the start tonight in Toronto and while he has been playing decently, it's clear the Habs don't play with the same level of confidence in front of him as they do in front of Price. With the possibility of Price being out much longer than expected, what does Condon have to do to build confidence in his teammates? He has yet to post a shutout — is that what it will take?
3. Is anyone going to score?
As much as the Habs have struggled to score recently, the Toronto Maple Leafs haven't been much better.
In 2016, the Leafs are averaging 1.78 goals per game — well short of the 2.63 league average. The Habs have only scored more than three goals in a game once since Dec.1, 2015.
It doesn't seem likely that either the Habs or the Leafs are going to go on a scoring spree any time soon. Watch to see if this trend continues tonight.