Habs visit Leafs in Boxing Day Tilt

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The Canadiens will try and make it 4 straight tonight as they visit Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Rivalries will be renewed tonight on CBC in this all-Canadian, Original-Six match-up. It has been well documented by myself and others this season that this rivalry has kind of slowed down in the last few years, especially now that the rosters for both teams have changed quite a bit.

Anyone will tell you that the Leafs and the Habs need a playoff round to get things going between them again, but with both teams flirting with mediocrity, that is unfortunately easier said than done.Still, when the Leafs visit the Bell Centre, or as it is in this case, the Habs visit the Air Canada Center, it is usually pretty special and usually some exciting hockey.

The Habs had 2 one-goal wins against the Leafs in October, including winning their first game of the season 4-3 on October 1st. The Habs were then embarrassed on December 1st in a 3-0 shutout loss. While the Canadiens struggled in early December, they have since rebounded to win 3 straight, thanks in part to the surprise early return of Andrei Markov, and he emergence for Jaroslav Halak, who's made a whopping 137 saves in this 3 game stretch and has caused one hell of a goaltending controversy amongst Habs fans. He will get his 4th straight start tonight, and he's earned it.

And while the leafs sit in 14th place in the West, the Habs know they are not an opponent to be taken lightly. They are 5-4-1 in their last 10 and have been playing well, and they certainly pull out all the stops against the habs.

Tonight will either be a tight game or a complete blowout. The Canadiens will have to rely heavily on Halak and their powerplay (assuming players suck as Komisarek can't keep their emotions in check) if they stand a chance of winning, and they will have to score quickly and early into the game.

Here are tonight's stats:

*Note: Injured players are ommitted from stat leaders.

-- HABS LEAFS
Goals: Cammalleri (18) Hagman(16)
Assists: Plekanec (36) Kaberle (31)
Points: Plekanec (43) Kaberle (34)
Pluys/Minus: Cammalleri (+12) White (+6)
Time on Ice: Spacek (22:43 per game) Beauchemin (25:09 per game)
PIMs: Gill (43) Orr (82)
Shots: Cammalleri(126) Blake (121)
SVP: Halak (.916) Gustavsson (.923)
GAA: Halak (2.57) Gustavsson (2.85)
Record: Halak (9-5-1 15GP) Gustavsson (7-6-6 20GP)
Injuries: Gionta (foot, day-to-day)
Hamrlik (knee, day-to-day)
Mara (wrist, day-to-day
Van Ryn (knee, done)
Mitchell (knee, indefinitely)
Gunnarsson (elbow, January)
Stalberg (upper body, D-T-D)
Last 10: 5-4-1, won 3 5-4-1, lost 1
Standings: 18-18-3, T8th, 39 points 13-17-8, T13th, 34 points
GF/GA per game: 2.51GF, 26th/ 2.72GA, 13th 2.79GF, 12th / 3.49GA, 29th
PP/PK %: 24.6%, 1st(!) / 83.9%, 7th 19.0%, 13th / 72.3%, 30th

WHAT THE STATS SAY:

Obviously the Habs are going to win this one by scoring goals. Plekanec is on a tremendous hot streak, with a goal and 8 assists in his last 3 games. Kostitsyn (Andrei) has 3 goals and an assist in his last four games and has 13 points in December. Scott Gomez is coming off a 3-assist performance on Wednesday and that's just 3 of the players (not to mention Bergeron, Markov and others who have been producing wonderfully). With the Leafs PK as bad as it is, and the Habs powerplay at the top of the league, it's all about special teams tonight. It helps that the Leafs allow the most goals in the league as well.

With the way the Leafs/Habs tilts have gone this season, predicting this one would next to impossible, but nevertheless:

FINAL PREDICTION: Habs 6 - Leafs 5

Enjoy it! Hope everyone had a good Christmas!

Prax
www.thecheckingline.com
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