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Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) wears his new helmet during the last day of training camp in Montreal, on Tuesday, January 12, 2021.
Here are five things you should know about the Canadiens-Maple Leafs game in Toronto Wednesday ( 7 p.m., Sportsnet, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio ):
New division, old rival: This game marks the debut of the seven-team Canadian division and it will feature a Montreal-Toronto rivalry which predates the establishment of the NHL. The handicapppers have established the Maple Leafs as the favourite in the division while there is a consensus that the Canadiens are the most improved team but could still be in a battle for a playoff position. The form goes out the widow when these teams meet and there couldn’t be a more fitting matchup to kick off what promises to a unique season.
Getting to know you: With six new faces in the lineup, a short training camp and three young centres, the Canadiens will be learning on the job. The only forward line intact from last season has Phil Danault between Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher, and they be called on to a have quick start as the other lines come together. There has been a focus on Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkanemi, who will get a boost from the additions of Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli, respectively, but look for Jake Evans to surprise a lot of people. He joins Artturi Lehkonen and Paul Byron on a hard-working fourth line which is capable of turning defence into offence.
How good can he be? That’s the question people have been asking since the Canadiens selected little-known Alexander Romanov in the second round of the 2018 draft. There are some fans who see a Norris Trophy in his future. That may be overly optimistic but, if he puts up some offensive numbers, he could be in the Calder Trophy conversation this season. There are signs he has earned Claude Julien’s confidence. He has the left-shooting Romanov on the right side on the third defence pair and the 21-year-old is the lone defenceman on the second power-play unit.
Powering up: Speaking of the power play, there’s one advantage to playing the first six games on the road because the power play ranked in the top five in the NHL on the road last season and was last at home. Anderson and Toffoli add some punch to the power play and they’ll also take some pressure off Shea Weber. Jeff Petry will be the quarterback at the top and Weber will set up for his feared slapshot in the left faceoff circle, the area known as Ovechkin’s spot.
The other guys: Golden oldie Joe Thornton is hoping he has found the fountain of youth in linemates Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, who were infants when Thornton made his NHL debut with the Bruins in 1997. The Leafs have an explosive offence with Marner, Matthews, John Tavares and William Nylander, and added some power-play experience in veteran Wayne Simmons. There are ongoing concerns about the Leafs’ defence. Goaltender Frederik Andersen runs hot and cold, but he brings his A game against Montreal. He has a 7-3-2 record against the Canadiens with a .923 save percentage.
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