Leafs, Canadiens look for fresh starts in new season
Toronto goals much more modest than rivals in Montreal
It begins with the most traditional of hockey matchups as the Montreal Canadiens and the Maple Leafs lift the lid on a new National Hockey League season at the Toronto's Air Canada Centre Wednesday night (7 p.m. ET). Naturally both teams have high hopes for the year ahead, but the extent of those expectations couldn't be much more different.
The Canadiens, perennially Canada's best bet to return a Stanley Cup final (1993 was the last) need to take advantage of a once-in-a-generation goaltender in Carey Price, while the Maple Leafs, who have but one playoff appearance in a decade, have assembled a front office of heavyweight proven winners. In president Brendan Shanahan, general manager Lou Lamoriello, and coach Mike Babcock the Leafs are hoping for a better season than ignominious 2014-15 campaign they suffered through.
They'll try to move to a position where they can view a future playoff team, while the Canadiens search for the little bit extra that can deliver them back to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 1993.
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price enjoyed a career season in 2014-15, winning the Hart and Vezina Trophies and the Ted Lindsay Award. He also shared the William Jennings Trophy with Chicago's Corey Crawford.
Price led the league in goals-against average (.196) and save percentage (.33) while setting a franchise record in wins (44), with four coming during the Canadiens' sweep of the Maple Leafs last season.
"Ask anybody around the league. [Carey] is not a flash in the pan," Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin told reporters. "Carey Price is among the best, if not the best."
While Montreal advanced to the second round before getting upended by Tampa Bay, Toronto saw the bottom fall out in a hurry last season and spent the summer making significant moves in a bid to get back on its feet.
The Maple Leafs signed Babcock to an eight-year deal, brought in Hall of Famer Lamoriello, and sent five-time 30-goal scorer Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh.
Sizing up the teams
Montreal (2014-15: 50-22-10, 1ST in Atlantic): Max Pacioretty, who became the third American to be named captain of the historic franchise last month, scored a team-leading 37 goals and finished plus-38 to share the league's top honours with Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov. Pacioretty's output notwithstanding, Montreal struggled to light up the scoreboard and mustered just 221 goals — the fewest among teams that qualified for the playoffs. The Canadiens attempted to address that issue by signing free-agent forward Alexander Semin, a seven-time 20-goal scorer who is coming off a disastrous six-tally season in Carolina.
Toronto (2014-15: 30-44-8, 7TH in Atlantic): With Kessel in the Keystone State, James van Riemsdyk (team-leading 27 goals) will be looked upon to carry the load for Toronto. Tyler Bozak added 49 points, with five (two goals, three assists) coming against the Canadiens. Jonathan Bernier has been confirmed to start the season opener but lost all four meetings with Montreal in 2014-15 and fell to 1-5-3 with a 3.07 GAA in nine career starts versus the Canadiens.
Montreal veteran C Tomas Plekanec scored four of his 26 goals last season versus Toronto.
- The Maple Leafs converted just 15.9 per cent of their power-play opportunities in 2014-15, tied for fourth-worst in the league.
- Canadiens RW Zack Kassian, who was acquired from Vancouver in the offseason, entered a substance-abuse program after being involved in a car accident on Sunday.
With files from SportsDirect Inc.