'You get excited for this game': Habs eager to open season against rival Leafs
It’s been 307 days between regular-season games in the NHL.
The last regular-season game was played on March 12, 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down until the NHL’s Return to Play for the playoffs on Aug. 1.
Now it’s Jan. 13, coincidentally Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid’s 24th birthday, and the puck is set to drop for the 2020-21 season with a rivalry game between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs on tap.
For the 18th time in the history of their rivalry, the Habs and Leafs open their seasons against one another, this time in an all-Canadian division format.
Auston Matthews has a history of scoring on opening night. He is one of four players in NHL history to begin his career by scoring in four consecutive season-openers. No player has ever extended that streak to five. Matthews has eight goals in his past five home games against the Habs, with the Leafs holding a 4-0-1 in those games.
The Habs went 3-0-0 against the Leafs in 2019-20, going beyond regulation twice. They bring a revamped lineup into the season, adding new faces such as Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Joel Edmundson and Jake Allen. Carey Price has 26 career wins against Toronto.
Also on the schedule to start the season is a game between Pennsylvania rivals Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers and the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning hosting the Chicago Blackhawks. McDavid and the Oilers take on the Vancouver Canucks in the other all-Canadian matchup of the night, and the St. Louis Blues are in Colorado to face Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche.
The Penguins went 2-1-0 against the Flyers in their three meetings last season. Pittsburgh brought in the likes of Kasperi Kapanen, Cody Ceci and Mike Matheson in the off-season while the Flyers stood pat after making it to the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Flyers have won four consecutive season openers.
The Blackhawks and Lightning split their two meetings in 2019-20, with Chicago beating Tampa Bay on the road. With six straight wins on opening night, the Lightning currently have the longest active streak. Some familiar faces will be missing from both lineups as Chicago is without the services of their top-two centres in captain Jonathan Toews (medical reasons) and Kirby Dach (injury), while the Lightning will be without leading Nikita Kucherov for the regular season due to hip surgery.
The Canucks and the Oilers meet in the second all-Canadian division matchup. In four regular-season meetings last season, both teams went 2-2-0. Both teams also introduce new players to the lineup as the Canucks added goaltender Braden Holtby and defencemen Nate Schmidt and Travis Hamonic, while the Oilers signed Tyson Barrie, Kyle Turris and Dominik Kahun. Since 2015-16, McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have 27 and 20 points respectively in 21 games played against Vancouver.
The Avalanche and Blues round out the opening night slate. They split their two meetings last year 2-2, with the Avalanche going 2-0 at home. Colorado is 3-1-1 in their past five game against the Blues in Denver. The Avalanche added Brandon Saad and Devon Toews via trade in the off-season, while the Blues signed defenceman Torey Krug in free agency as former captain Alex Pietrangelo joined the Vegas Golden Knights.