NHL Opening Night: 7 Maple Leafs to Watch

Adam DavisCorrespondent IOctober 6, 2011

NHL Opening Night: 7 Maple Leafs to Watch

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    Tonight I will be heading to the Air Canada Centre to watch my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs take on their long-time rival the Montreal Canadiens in the 2011-2012 season opener. 

    Considering the moves that the Leafs have made in recent months, and the makeup of the Canadiens team, it should be one hell of a game. 

    Being that this is opening night, a clean slate and fresh start, Toronto should be focused on getting the W and starting off the season with a bang. 

    All eyes in Toronto are on the Leafs tonight and the focus will fall on a number of key players on the team. These players have the pressure of a playoff berth on their collective shoulders and are crucial to helping the Leafs become relevant again. 

    Let's find out who's under the microscope tonight, as well as who am I excited to see back in action for this new season. 

James Reimer

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    I'm very excited to see Optimus Reim in net tonight for two reasons. On the one hand, the sophomore goalie is a dynamic player who (hopefully) will continue his excellent play from the end of last season.

    On the other hand, goaltending has been a major problem for Toronto in recent years and if Reimer doesn't perform the team's playoff hopes will start to vanish rather quickly. 

    Reimer will be squaring off against Montreal's Carey Price, who is a proven top goalie in the league and he will need to be on top of his game to outplay the Canadiens net minder. 

    I don't think Reimer has to shut out the Canadiens to ease the pressure, but he does need to pull out the win any way he can. A win in the first game of the season, against Montreal no less, will be a huge boost to Reimer's confidence and will go a long way to help ease the tension in the seats. 

Joffrey Lupul

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    Lupul came to Toronto last season and played in 28 games for the Leafs. He scored nine goals, and added another nine helpers. 

    Starting in his first full season as a Leaf, Lupul will have the ability to get off to a strong start and continue his solid play from last season. He is the top line winger and should prove tonight that he belongs in that role. 

Phil Kessel

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    Playing alongside Lupul is Phil Kessel, the guy who was supposed to help Toronto return to the playoffs, but he has unfortunately fallen short so far.

    The pressure on Kessel is huge and unless he performs from the first faceoff tonight, he will face the wrath of Toronto hockey fans. 

    If he plays well, he will hopefully make the trade that brought him to Toronto worthwhile. 

John Michael Liles

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    One of the main players who was picked up by the Leafs in the offseason is John Michael Liles. The veteran defenseman should help the Leafs power play unit and help bolster the overall defensive corps.

    At this point in his career, Liles can be helpful, although I'm not sure he is a sure bet. The fans should keep an eye on him to see if his contract was worth it. 

Matt Frattin

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    Rookie Matt Frattin netted two goals during preseason and seemed to impress the organization enough to keep him in the main roster. With Nazem Kadri sidelined by injuries, a door should be opened for Frattin to play tonight and impress the fans.

    It's never easy playing for the Leafs with the scrutiny that surrounds the team, but if Frattin manages to play well tonight he could really make an impact on the fans as well as the team itself. 

Dave Steckel

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    The Crosby Killer is the newest addition to the Maple Leafs, coming over in a trade this week. Hopefully his tenure on the Leafs will help people forget about that one body check that sidelined Crosby since January. 

    Steckel is a gritty player who is excellent in the faceoff circle—a very important skill that the Leafs could use. I'm excited to see the new Maple Leaf and am interested to see what he can do tonight. 

Jake Gardiner

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    Another exciting rookie in the starting lineup is defenseman Jake Gardiner. He must have really impressed in training camp to make the team over Keith Aulie and I'm excited to see just how good this kid is. 

    He has tremendous potential and can only go up from where he is. It should be an exciting game for him.