Thursday, October 07, 2010

Habs and Leafs in Hogtown

A Preview

The season is upon us. There's a game at noon! So we need to get ready.

For you here is the first game preview of the season.

I figured, you knew the lineups, you knew the lines that would last for the first 5 minutes and you knew all the basic news, so I thought I'd try to look at things differently and add: Key match-ups, Momentum, Players the other side covets, Ready-made excuses, and the ultimate Impact of this result.

Key match-ups

Kessel and Auld Price
Kessel shoots from just about anywhere, and the Habs defence let up shots from just about anywhere as a strategy. It will be down to Kessel's accuracy vs. Auld's Price's positioning and size.

Komisarek and Moen
Komisarek is still looking to prove to Montreal TV audiences that he intimidates people. Last season, he opened with 15 PIM, including a double minor for high-sticking and a fight with Travis Moen. His final penalty led to the tying goal and ultimately the first Leafs loss of the season. Moen is the only player on the Habs who "can" fight. The team once again chose to recognize that 84% of NHL teams don't even have a fighter, so Moen can get pummeled in Toronto if it means having forwards on the roster. Should be fun for him.

Gionta and Phaneuf
The new captains will be squaring off for the HNIC spotlight on opening night for the season. Gionta is already under pressure to learn how to speak French. Phaneuf is already under pressure to learn to skate backwards.

Todd Warriner and Patrice Brisebois
Habs and Leafs fans both have reason for optimism as victory on the ice actually seems within reach this season. Alums Todd Warriner and Patrice Brisebois both survive to skate against Kelly Chase another day on Battle of the Blades. Needless to say, there's work to be done for both. For Warriner, learning to speak French could help him with Isabelle Brassuer. For Brisebois, learning to skate backwards is still on the do list.


In reality: none. Training camp is a farce and I can hardly believe it is televised.

In fantasy world, the Leafs are counting on the "strong finish" from last season to spur them to at least three October victories. Similarly, the Habs believe that playoffs rounds 1 and 2 (all the same players, almost, remember) is their impetus going forward.

Leafs the Habs covet

Phil Kessel
Phil really stands out on the Leafs for possessing exceptional natural talent. On a roster laden with guys who want to push the net over the puck, Phil shines with the quickest of releases teamed with sharp accuracy. He'd be an expensive addition to any team (see no draft picks for a few years), but guaranteed scoring is worth it.

Tomas Kaberle
Even as he greys a little on top, he is still one of the smoothest and canniest passers in the league. Perhaps he doesn't fir the Leafs plans for their own reasons, and might not fit other teams because of defensive concerns, but with skills like his, you make allowances.

Habs the Leafs covet

Mike Cammalleri
More than anyone on the roster, Cammalleri is the one they longed for. The Habs signature of the Toronto sniper not only deprived the Leafs of a season with forwards, but also ultimately led to the fiasco that was the Kessel trade (even though we admire Kessel, a free agent would have allowed the MLs to keep that top pick, and the next top pick).

PK Subban
The Leafs' parent club Boston Bruins are looking to accept draft picks and a good prospect in another annual trade, but they are asking for a decent defensive prospect. Sadly the Leafs might have to look elsewhere to dump their selections in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 drafts. Subban might have been the ticket.

Ready-made excuses

In Toronto and Montreal, the only sport more popular than hockey is scapegoat hunting. Over the years, this has led to players, trainers, coaches and managers adapting the uncanny ability to wriggle free like earthworms trapped in the maw. I figure to do this, they need some excuses ready. Luckily, they've had a whole summer to think of these.

If Montreal lose:
- Markov is injured
- The goaltending coach is working hard on that every day
- This new group of guys really needs time to gel
- Our defensive strategy relies on a lot of luck, sorry
- Halak lost too

When Toronto lose:
- We had a strong finish to the game and that will provide our momentum going forward
- We thought the fans were booing us, so we stopped shooting high glove side
- Kaberle is distracting us
- You can't judge this team during the portion of the season where the refs ref, it wasn't built for that (see: strong finish)

Impact of this result

In Toronto, fans really are a bit more even-keeled than in Montreal. They will give the team plenty of leeway this season to grow and take advantage of the deft maneuvering that created the defense that boasts five potential 30-point men, to go with the two they have at forward. A win will be greeted with knowing nods and uneasy optimism. A loss with knowing nods and familiar pessimism. Either way, Kaberle really must go.

In Montreal, I expect everything will be viewed through the in-net camera. The Halak trade made an already focused group into one completely obsessed by goaltending. If Auld should win, the inevitable cascade of praise will lead to questioning of Carey Price. If Auld should lose, the hand wringing will be followed by the questioning of Carey Price.

Sometimes, you have to wonder if they even need to play the games. Both teams could really use the points, however. And, in all seriousness, these 2 points look to be deciders for these teams that fancy themselves contenders.

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