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Improving Leafs head to Montreal

by Corey Masisak
MAPLE LEAFS (26-27-7) AT CANADIENS (32-22-7)

Last 10: Toronto 6-2-2; Montreal 4-4-2.

Season series – The teams have split the first four meetings with each club holding serve at home twice. Montreal defeated Toronto 3-0 in the last meeting at Bell Centre on Feb. 12.

Big story – The Maple Leafs remain on the fringe of the playoff race offloading some veteran players in a series of trades in the past two weeks, but they’ll be up against a Canadiens team trying to solidify its spot inside the top eight.

Team Scope:

Maple Leafs – Toronto is 3-0-1 since that loss at Bell Centre and goaltending has played a big part. Rookie James Reimer has been the goalie of record in all four with 5 goals allowed while starter Jean-Sebastien Giguere was lost to an injury and backup Jonas Gustavsson remains out.

Fellow rookie Keith Aulie has played more than 21 minutes in every game since being recalled to replace departed defenseman François Beauchemin. General manager Brian Burke has stated he wants to add another defenseman to help replace Tomas Kaberle, which could help keep the team within striking distance of the eighth seed. 

Canadiens – Montreal salvaged two points from the Western Canada trip by knocking off conference-leading Vancouver to end a three-game losing streak that included ugly losses to Edmonton and then Calgary in the Tim Hortons 2011 NHL Heritage Classic. The next three games are against Toronto, Carolina and Atlanta – all teams in the mix for the final couple of spots in the East and wins against them could distance the Canadiens from the dreaded ninth place.

The offense disappeared in losses to the Oilers and Flames, but goaltender Carey Price has had a strong month save for an 8-6 loss to Boston. He has a .963 save percentage against the Maple Leafs this season.

Who's hot – Toronto forward Nikolai Kulemin has 5 goals and 9 points in February, while Phil Kessel has 4 goals in the past 3 games. They combine with Mikhail Grabovski to give the Maple Leafs a trio of 20-goal scorers. Montreal rookie David Desharnais has 3 goals and 8 points in the past 7 games. Max Pacioretty has 4 goals and 8 points this month.

Injury report -- Giguere (groin) and Jonas Gustavsson (heart) are out, so Reimer will get the start and Ben Scrivens is up from the AHL to back him up. Tough guy Colton Orr is also out with a concussion. Montreal will be without three of its top defensemen. Andrei Markov (knee) and Josh Georges (knee) are out for the season, while Jaroslav Spacek (knee) is on injured reserve. Right wing Mathieu Darche (groin) could also miss this contest.

Stat pack – Reimer's .934 save percentage would be second to Boston's Tim Thomas if he had enough appearances to qualify among the League leaders. He has yielded more than 3 goals twice in 16 appearances. Price has already surpassed Jaroslav Halak's win total from last season and his .920 save percentage and 2.41 goals against average stack up pretty well to the departed netminder's numbers from 2009-10 (.924 save percentage, 2.40 goals against average).

Puck drop – Given the trades and injuries, there has been plenty of roster turnover for the Leafs but the 22-year-old Reimer has been the team’s constant and a big reason why the postseason is still a possibility. He was a fourth-round pick in 2006 and he has had to compete for playing time this year at the AHL, but he's now "The Man" in Toronto.

"I'm riding James," Toronto coach Ron Wilson told reporters. "He's a young kid and he wants to be in every game. I think our team deserves to get that kind of goaltending and he deserves to play."
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