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Original Six rivals open season in Toronto

by Mike G. Morreale
CANADIENS (0-0-0) at MAPLE LEAFS (0-0-0)


Season series:
The "Original Six" rivals meet in the first of six meetings for 2011-12. The clubs split the season-series last season, with the Canadiens earning a 4-1 decision in the regular-season finale in April behind a pair of power-play goals by captain Brian Gionta. Carey Price turned aside 27 shots in earning his 38th victory.

Big Story:
Can Carey Price pick up where he left off last season, when he finished with career-highs in wins (38), shutouts (8) and save percentage (.923), and a personal-best 2.35 goals-against average in 72 appearances? Price will need to prove himself when it matters most, however, and that's in the postseason. In 26 career playoff games, the 24-year-old goalie is 8-15 with a 2.84 GAA and .907 save percentage. He was solid despite losing a seven-game series to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the opening round last spring, finishing with a 2.11 GAA and .934 save percentage.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: The big news coming out of training camp is that defenseman Andrei Markov (knee) will be sidelined to start the season. Coach Jacques Martin said Markov is skating on his own and while he wouldn't be ready for the opener, his rehabilitation is on schedule. Scott Gomez should start the season as the team's second-line center behind Tomas Plekanec, but 25-year-old center David Desharnais might also be considered a candidate for the spot after scoring eight goals and 22 points in 43 games last season. Offseason acquisition Erik Cole will likely play alongside Plekanec and left wing Michael Cammalleri on the club's top line to start the season.

Maple Leafs: Toronto will be without forwards Clarke MacArthur, who is suspended for the opening two games, and injured Nazem Kadri (sprained left knee). That could provide an opening for rookie two-way forward Matt Frattin, who impressed during the preseason with a pair of goals. Despite the losses up front, Toronto certainly strengthened its defense in the offseason. Rookie Jake Gardiner made the team following a fantastic preseason and the acquisition of John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson should only bolster the unit in front of goalie James Reimer. Captain Dion Phaneuf and reliable Mike Komisarek, who shed 20 pounds and impressed during training camp, will also provide a stabilizing presence.

Who's Hot:
It will be interesting to see how well the 23-year-old Reimer holds up in a full season with the Maple Leafs after going 20-10-5 with a 2.60 GAA and .921 save percentage in 37 games following his call-up to the big club last December. Reimer wasn't exactly stellar in the preseason, finishing with a 3.29 GAA and .880 save percentage.
Injury Report: The Leafs are without Kadri until mid-to-late October with a sprained left knee and center Tim Connolly is on IR with an upper-body injury. … Markov, who missed all but seven games last season after tearing his ACL, is not ready to return to the lineup yet.

Stat Pack: The Canadiens need more firepower on offense if they expect to be considered a serious threat in the Eastern Conference -- only three players had 20 goals in 2010-11 (Plekanec, Gionta, Andrei Kostitsyn).

Puck Drop: "In 2009, we had a nice run to the conference finals, ran out of steam and ran into a good team (in the Flyers)," Gionta said. "Last year, we made some mistakes here and there, but had control of that series (against Boston) and they made us pay in the end. That's how close things are in this League. I like where we're at right now; so we'll take the positives and work to get better this season."

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