ST. JOHN'S, Nfld. - It's been a difficult week, but the Leafs will finally play someone other than themselves. Toronto takes on Montreal in preseason action Monday and will find out to some degree how its revamped offence will fare.
During training camp, Leaf Coach Pat Quinn has put Mats Sundin, Mikael Renberg and Jonus Hoglund on the top line. While it was widely speculated that Gary Roberts would play with Sundin, the rugged winger has been playing with Alexander Mogilny and Robert Reichel.
"Preseason is just to show what you can do out there with your talent and abilities and I think all the guys want to put on a good show, so tonight (Monday) should be pretty fast," said Darcy Tucker.
The Leafs have put together two solid scoring lines and will be playing a Canadiens team that will be relying more on defence this year. The Canadiens had trouble generating any offence last season and with the terrible news that captain Saku Koivu has abdominal cancer, the commitment to defence becomes more important.
"We're going to have to play better defensively as a team and I think we're confident in the fact that we have two very good goaltenders in Jose Theodore and Jeff Hackett," said Canadiens Coach Michel Therrien. "Also, the schedule is tight this year with the Olympic break so we have to able to play both goalies and we are confident they can get the job done."
Defenceman Cory Cross is one Leaf who knows what the Canadiens are dealing with. Cross played with former NHLer John Cullen in Tampa Bay when the veteran forward battled and beat cancer. Cross also knows that Koivu's teammates will play an important role in his recovery.
"He needs support from his teammates as friends," said Cross. "He's a strong guy and he's been through a lot of injuries, he knows what it takes to get back and I'm sure he'll fight it (cancer) off and comeback. It's important for them (Koivu's teammates) to back him up. I know he has a lot of good friends on the team and around the league. People like that can help support him as he fights through this."
Both teams won't skate full regular season rosters on Monday night. While Reichel, Mogilny and Shayne Corson won't be playing, Sundin, Roberts, Renberg and Dmitry Yushkevich will all be participating. The Canadiens are content to play their younger players to see how they perform.
The St. John's fans may only recognize newly acquired Canadiens Joe Juneau and Chad Kilger. Veterans such as Brian Savage, former Leaf Yanic Perreault and Benoit Brunet stayed back in Montreal to take part in the Terry Fox Run in support of cancer research and their teammate Koivu.
Still, Tucker expects a quick start to the game.
"They're obviously a team that's trying to rebuild and get back into the playoffs," he said. "I think they have a smart coaching staff. Tonight is just a feeling-out process for both teams and I think in the first period you'll see a lot of action early and then things will calm down after that."