Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the “Wednesday Night Hockey” games on NBCSN in his Weekes on the Web blog.
It’s an Original Six showdown when the Montreal Canadiens visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on “Wednesday Night Hockey” (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, RDS).
Toronto (26-10-3), which seeks its fifth straight win, is on an eight-game point streak (7-0-1) and is in first place in the seven-team Scotia North Division, six points ahead of the second-place Winnipeg Jets.
Montreal (17-9-9) has points in seven of its past eight games (5-1-2) and is fourth in the division. The top four teams in the division will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Here’s my breakdown of the game.
Pluses: It didn’t take long for Eric Staal to contribute in the lineup. In his first game since he was acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on March 26, the forward played 16:56 and scored in overtime in a 3-2 victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday. Staal is a leader and a winner, so this is a huge addition for the Canadiens.
This is a deeper Canadiens team than we’ve seen in some time. They have a legitimate goalie behind Carey Price in Jake Allen, a Stanley Cup winner with the St. Louis Blues in 2019. They have a stud in defenseman Jeff Petry, who is second on the Canadiens with 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists), one behind Tyler Toffoli. In his first season with the Canadiens, defenseman Joel Edmundson leads the NHL with a plus-30.
Minuses: Price is day to day with a lower-body injury. He’s one of the best goalies in the NHL, so it’s tough not to have him for this big game. The good news is they have Allen, who is more than capable of handling the load.
Montreal is without a true No. 1 center. Phillip Danault and Nick Suzuki mostly have filled that role this season, but each is better suited as a second-line center. The good news is the Canadiens do have depth down the middle with Staal and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, among others, who can play the position.
Lastly, Brandon Gallagher is out indefinitely with a broken right thumb. This guy does it all for them. As Allen said Tuesday, “He is the engine,” that powers the Canadiens. The forward drives offense and is a physical presence, so it will be interesting to see who steps up in his absence.
Pluses: They have one of the most offensively talented teams in the NHL. Auston Matthews leads the League with 27 goals and has scored 46 points in 36 games. Mitchell Marner (47 points), John Tavares (32) and William Nylander (30) also each has scored at least 30 points.
Veterans Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian have added experience and leadership, something the Maple Leafs needed after having not won a playoff series in each of the past four seasons. Bogosian won the Cup with the Lightning last season.
Goalie Jack Campbell has been outstanding in Frederik Andersen‘s absence. He’s 9-0-0 with a 1.53 goals-against average, a .944 save percentage and two shutouts in nine games. We know how much the Maple Leafs rely on Andersen, so to have that security now in a backup goalie is huge.
Minuses: For as much talent as the Maple Leafs have, the power play has been off lately. Prior to scoring a power-play goal in a 5-3 win against the Calgary Flames on Monday, Toronto was 0-for-27 with the man advantage in its previous 11 games. And their penalty kill ranks 20th in the NHL (78.1 percent).
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. How do the Canadiens fare without Gallagher?
2. Does Campbell keep his perfect record intact?
3. The Maple Leafs offense against the Canadiens defense