Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto: A tale of three cities
Safe to say there are enough tasty, juicy bits in Canada’s east to fill up a large platter.
Tantalizing storylines from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto? As we roll past the quarter-mark of the National Hockey League season, the answer would be yes. So let’s delve in and see exactly what’s been served up so far in 2022-23.
This is almost ‘to-be-continued’ stuff.
This is indeed becoming a cliff-hanger.
Ottawa fans first better deal with the facts. No. 1 being the team has been a colossal slop-fest. All that sweaty-palmed promise being shouted from the rooftops back in September has turned mute, for the most part.
But here’s where things get interesting. The Senators have won back-to-back road games. Especially enticing is that late Sunday night win in Los Angeles against a more than decent Kings club.
It’s certainly not earth-shaking but it’s a start. It had better be because if the engine doesn’t keep revving high for the next couple of weeks it truly is bye-bye to the season.
It’s almost as if the cliff-hanger is here even as the opening credits roll. The Senators need BIG wins this week against the New York Rangers (twice) then a re-charged Erik Karlsson and the San Jose Sharks to have any life.
In their favour? New York is struggling; losers of three straight and sitting just a smidge above .500. Meanwhile, as zippy as Erik’s been, the Sharks are rebuilding.
A five-game winning string gets Ottawa in a stronger position come early December.
How’d they get to desperation mode?
As suggested in this corner last week a definite lack of ‘click’ has killed this team in many a tight game. When your top motor is a 34 (soon to be 35) year old winger, that’s trouble my friends. Claude Giroux’s been terrific as has Brady Tkachuk who’s earning all that cake being thrown his way. After that there’s been a large sack of disappointment and inconsistency. There’s a lot of should-have-been-playing-better-and-smarter in Ottawa.
Without a snappy turnaround, hope gets buried in a hurry.
The marquee heading into this season read: Le Stinko.
In fact, if Vegas had a derby bet going on who was going to win the Connor Bedard race, Montreal would be it. The consensus top pick at next summer’s draft was heading to Quebec if reality and a certain lottery ball fell into place.
As my dad used to say: “Hold your horses there!”
The storyline in Montreal so far is a simple one: Excitement. This young team has it in spades.
Unless you’re an absolute Habs-hater (and they’re a pretty ugly lot I tell you), there’s nothing but admiration for what this organization’s accomplished in such a short span of time.
Check this one out – Les Canadiens are two games over .500, 21 games into what was supposed to be a write-off year. Furthermore, check this one out too – Les Canadiens are turning the trick utilizing four rookie defencemen.
And what a crew. From the smarts and savvy of Kaiden Guhle and Jordan Harris to the size and hustle of Johnathan Kovacevic to the pure muscle of Arber Xhekaj (47 PIM already), it’s a marvel.
Add to the word ‘excitement’ the word ‘expectation.’ Montreal simply gets all the flowers here because – as written above – the belief was that this would be one stink of a year. Comin’ up roses so far.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages: The Toronto Maple Leafs have grown a set of stones.
Apologies, but how can you not be so graphic when watching this gang of misfits – missing all of its top three defencemen in Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and T.J. Brodie – play outstanding team defence.
“They’re playing the right way.” – That’s from my old radio co-host and now Sportsnet analyst Garry Galley immediately after the injury-devoured Buds plugged Detroit 4-2 Monday night at the Little Caesars Arena.
Four straight wins on the road without its three best blueliners is, in fact, the sign of a mature, capable bunch. So too is a 7-3-2 overall road record.
As a bit of a sidebar. Toronto regularly gets clocked in this space for playing soft and insubstantial hockey. We’re not claiming a Cup win but at least there’s a sense of ‘growth’ in the Maple Leafs to this point.
Leading the way? A re-juiced John Tavares, a netminder named Matt Murray and the seemingly ever-improving Mitchell Marner.
Not only is Marner on a 17-game points streak, but his defensive game is also second to none. The former London Knight is peaking at age 25 . . . and the view from up there is impressive.
Tavares is apparently drinking the same Kool-Aid as Erik Karlsson, averaging better than a point per game while adhering to a defensive conscience.
And we all got a good chuckle when GM Kyle Dubas collected fragile Matt Murray off Ottawa’s trash pile. The return has been strong (remaining cautious over here . . .), Murray’s 5-1-1 with a 2.44 goals-against average and healthy .927 save percentage.
So far so good right? Again – as my dad would say: “We’ll see.”
SENATOR’S WEEK AHEAD:
Wednesday, Nov. 20: NY Rangers at Ottawa (7 pm)
Friday, Dec. 2: Ottawa at NY Rangers (7 pm)
Saturday, Dec. 3: San Jose at Ottawa (7 pm)