The Toronto Maple Leafs have started the season very strongly indeed, winning six of their seven National Hockey League fixtures so far. After a difficult 2016/17 campaign, Canadian fans will be quietly confident of a much improved year given their solid efforts – head coach Mike Babcock will be demanding that his players maintain this intensity for the duration of the regular season.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators have been a bit of a mixed bag; winning three, losing three in overtime and losing three outright. Defensively, they have outperformed their opponents – Ottawa have conceded 18 to Toronto’s 22 but the Maple Leafs have shone in attack. On paper, this could be a very exciting contest and it is hard to pick a winner.
Ottawa defied the odds to advance all the way to the Conference finals last season but came up short against eventual Stanley Cup winners Pittsburgh Penguins. Should the Senators hit top form, another deep run towards the postseason looks likely. The Maple Leafs are far from the finished article and Ottawa could enjoy plenty of divisional success this year. This certainly isn’t clear cut by any means.
The Senators have lost their last two NHL games on the bounce and plenty of punters will be expecting Ottawa to turn their form around sooner rather than later. With Erik Karlsson on the roster, the Atlantic Division outfit should be relatively solid defensively and it will take a strong attacking unit to break the Senators down if they attempt to shut up shop. Currently, you can take the Canadian side at best odds of 36/1 with 888Sport in the Stanley Cup outrights.
KEY MAN: Craig Anderson. One of the best in the business. Anderson has been busy during the opening stages of the season but his statistics are still relatively good. With a .917 save ratio, he is up there with the top rated goaltenders in ice hockey and he could be ready to record his second shutout of the 2017/18 campaign here.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Unfortunately for Anderson, he will be going up against one of the strongest forward units in the National Hockey League. The Maple Leafs are clear at the top of the rankings in terms of goals scored (34) so far this year and it would take a brave man to back against Toronto in what could be an entertaining fixture. The Maple Leafs are at 17/1 with Coral for the Stanley Cup this time around.
It may turn out to be low scoring but Babcock will be urging his side to take the game to the Senators. Ottawa are likely to adopt a conservative approach in an attempt to slow the Maple Leafs down early on but that may backfire. This Toronto offense will break through at some stage – they have scored at least twice in every game so far this campaign.
KEY MAN: Auston Matthews. A no-brainer. Matthews, selected with the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, has blossomed into an elite talent and it is easy to forget that he is still just 20 years old. In his rookie year, Matthews recorded 69 points in 82 games – a sublime record for a newbie. So far this campaign, he has 10 points (six goals, four assists) in seven appearances. He will be key in this contest.
Take your pick – this could genuinely go either way. Matthews is the main difference maker in this affair and he is the main reason why Toronto have the slight advantage. The Maple Leafs are on the verge of something special and they could continue their excellent run of form with a victory here.
SENATORS 1-3 MAPLE LEAFS