Toronto Maple Leafs: Ten Can’t Miss Games of the 2010-11 Season
With the 2010-11 season now just a few weeks away, many Toronto Maple Leaf fans have already circled several key matchups as can’t miss games.
For Leaf fans, games against their historic original six rivals— Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, and Chicago Blackhawks—instantly provides a spark to any game, regardless of where any of those teams are positioned in the standings.
Of those five foes, the Maple Leafs will play the Canadiens and Bruins a total of six times each, the Rangers a total of four times—including three games in October, with the Blackhawks and Red Wings playing the Maple Leafs just once each.
Outside of the original six match-ups, the Leafs have plenty of other key games and rivalries for Leaf fans to look forward to.
Without further adieu, let’s take a look at the ten games Maple Leaf fans can’t miss.
Thursday, October 7th—Toronto Maple Leafs (Home) Vs. Montreal Canadiens
The Toronto Maple Leafs dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the Montreal Canadiens on opening night last season, en route to one of the worst starts to a season in NHL history when the Leafs went 0-7-1 to start the 2009-10 season.
Anytime the Canadiens visit the Air Canada Centre, the atmosphere is electric. Winning the opening game of the 2010-11 season would go a long way in providing the Maple Leafs and their fans with a sense of confidence and could help set the tone for a successful season.
This will also mark one of the first real tests of the 2010-11 season for Carey Price—who has a penchant of coming up small in big games and the season opener in Toronto, no matter how you slice it, is a big game.
Wednesday, October 13th—Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (HM)
With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup, nobody needs any other reason to tune into a hockey game.
That said, the 2010-11 season will be very special for the Penguins and their opposing teams as they get set to open their new arena (the CONSOL Energy Center) on October 7th, 2010, when they will renew the battle of Pennsylvania against the hated Philadelphia Flyers.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will get their first glimpse of the Penguins' new digs on Wednesday, October 13th.
For the Leafs, it will be the first time they will set foot in the new arena, which often leads a few gaffs when trying to deal with unknown boards and bounces.
The Penguins should provide the Leafs with a stiff test, which, in turn, should give Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke a decent gage on how his team will stack up against one of the NHL’s elite teams in the early going.
Thursday, October 28th—Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Boston Bruins (Home)
No matter how hard Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli try to downplay the transaction that brought talented forward Phil Kessel to Toronto in exchange for what has already turned into super-star prospect Tyler Seguin going the other way, there is no denying, Burke and Chiarelli want nothing more than to embarrass their opponent when these two sides clash.
Burke continues to publicly state that, even with the benefit of hindsight, he would do the Kessel deal again. While the jury is out on whether or not Seguin will eclipse Kessel’s star status, Burke does not want to be in the same predicament next summer with the Bruins selecting another lottery pick at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
As such, every game against the Bruins is a “must-win” for the Maple Leafs and Burke as every win goes a long way in proving Burke made the right move, something he desperately wants.
Thus far, Kessel’s performances against the Bruins have been mediocre at best. If Seguin (who may or may not make the Bruins opening day roster) outplays Kessel you can bet that Burke will be answering questions from the media and fans for days—something that will not sit well with the moody GM.
Friday, November 26th—Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Buffalo Sabres (Home)
In what will be their second meeting of the 2010-11 season, the Maple Leafs and Sabres will collide in Buffalo on Friday, November 26th.
Any Maple Leafs’ fan that has ever made the trip down to Buffalo knows that Sabres’ fans are as passionate about their Sabres as they are about their Buffalo wings!
Needless to say, depending on what the scoreboard reads, things can get a little out of hand for the fans of the losing team.
Separated by boarders and what many perceive as very different social status, Toronto and Buffalo fans are like oil and vinegar—they were not meant to be in the same building!
If you are a Leaf fan and you don’t like being verbally assaulted, don’t go to Buffalo...enough said!
***And it doesn’t help that Leaf fans are amongst the biggest loudmouths in the entire NHL—at least outside of their own building!
Saturday, December 18th —Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Calgary Flames (Home)
Having sent the likes Matt Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Ian White, and Jamal Mayers to the Calgary Flames in return for Dion Phaneuf, Keith Aulie, and Fredrik Sjostrom, you just know Brian Burke is looking forward to his squad taking on his cast-offs.
Known as a warrior with a big shot, Phaneuf quickly endeared himself to Leaf fans and management, leading to his selection to be the Leafs captain and leader on and off the ice.
From the Flames point of view, the Leafs got a player who they deemed was in need of an attitude adjustment, a player who, while once thought to be the future of the Flamers franchise, became expendable.
With all the bad blood between Phaneuf and the Flames, one can expect a huge effort from the former all-star in an effort to send a message to Flames GM Brent Sutter that he made a bad move when he let him go.
For the former Leafs, this game represents a chance to show Burke that he undervalued them, independently and collectively.
Both sides will want to win this game badly, which should see the two teams engage in a number of fights and some heavy hits.
This just might be the most anticipated game of the season for Leaf fans and management alike.
Monday, January 10th—Toronto Maple Leafs Vs. Los Angeles Kings (Home)
Blessed with one of the most talented rosters in the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings boast some of the most exciting young talent in the entire NHL.
Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jack Johnson, Wayne Simmonds, and Jonathan Quick, represent a handful of the young talent that, with a little luck, may lead the Kings to the Stanley Cup Finals this season.
The Leafs will also get a chance to get a look at former Maple Leaf Alexei Ponikarovsky, who signed with the Kings over the summer.
The game between the Maple Leafs and Kings will also be number 41 of the season, a.k.a the halfway point, where many GM’s start to think of making some moves to bolster their rosters for a playoff run and/or the future.
With that in mind, any Leaf players that are struggling might want to make an impression in this game...
Saturday, January 22nd—Toronto Maple Leafs (HM) Vs. Washington Capitals
In what will be their second meeting of the season, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will invade the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, January 22nd.
Arguably the most exciting player in today's game, Ovechkin will bring an impressive cast with him that includes, Mike Green, Alexander Semin, Niklas Backstrom, and many more.
With many prognosticators picking the Caps to win Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2010-11, Leaf fans will come out en-mass to see this talented squad, with the hope that the Maple Leafs will pull off another big win against one of the NHL’s elite teams.
For the record, the Maple Leafs beat the Capitals by scores of 2-1 (OT) and 6-3 in the early going of last season, only to get beaten like a rented mule by the Caps on January 15th, 2010 by a score of 6-1.
Which Leafs’ team will show up in 2010-11?
Saturday, February 19th—Toronto Maple Leafs (Home) Vs. Ottawa Senators
In what will be the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators fifth of six meetings in 2010-11, the two sides will likely be separated by very few points in the standings—that is if the Leafs can keep pace.
Ottawa and Toronto have developed an intense rivalry over the years, a rivalry that, regardless of the standings, seems to always carry with it some bad blood and some heated conversations between fans.
With the trade deadline just a few weeks away, one win or loss in the standings could be the difference between Burke dumping salary or looking to acquire some depth for a playoff run.
Needless to say, given the history between these two teams, both sides would love to help put the final nail in the other teams coffin. Look for this match to be a heated “Battle of Ontario” with both sides laying the body and giving 110 percent at both ends.
Saturday, March 26th—Toronto Maple Leafs (Home) Vs. Detroit Red Wings
While not an Eastern Conference foe, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs have a rich history between them that goes all the way back to the days of the Original Six.
It’s not very often that these two sides play each other any more, but with the Detroit boarder just a few hundred kilometers away, you can bet that Joe Louis Arena will be full of Blue and White sweaters.
With rumors of the “Joe” being abandoned by the Red Wings in favor of a new arena, this game may represent one of the last times these two great franchises play each other at the historic arena that has brought Red Wings fans so many great memories.
The Leafs and Red Wings will also be coming off the trade deadline, which could mean a number of new faces for both sides, which only adds to the excitement of this game.
If you have the means, get down to the Detroit area (I recommend Caesars Casino in Windsor) and get yourself a seat at the Joe—this game is bound to be a beauty!
Saturday, April 9th—Toronto Maple Leafs (Home) Vs. Montreal Canadiens
With many prognosticators projecting the Leafs to finish out of the playoffs, this, the final game of the 2010-11 regular season for the Leafs, may only represent an opportunity to crush the Montreal Canadiens dreams of being a playoff team.
History has shown us that the difference between making the playoffs and heading to the golf course early often comes down to one lousy point.
Last season the Philadelphia Flyers earned the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference by beating the New York Rangers in a shoot-out in the last game of their regular season.
The Canadiens lost to the Maple Leafs by a score of 4-3 (OT) in the final game of the season, a loss that almost cost the Canadiens a playoff spot. Montreal would finish the season with 88 points—just one point better than the ninth seeded Rangers who failed to make the playoffs.
Over in the Western Conference, the difference between finishing in fifth and seventh was two points—a further reminder of just how important a single point can be.
Needless to say, if the Leafs are in the playoff picture on the last day of the season, the atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre will be something to behold, as I suspect even the dormant Leaf fans will bring the house down, especially if the Leafs beat the Canadiens to make the playoffs.
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