|Defenceman Jeff Finger will play tonight for the Leafs against the Canadiens in Montreal. (Sun Media/Dave Abel)
MONTREAL -- Defenceman Jeff Finger replaces the injured Carl Gunnarsson tonight, but that's the extent of changes in this 699th regular season meeting of the Maple Leafs and Canadiens.
General manager Brian Burke has no call-up plans for the balance of this three-game road trip and, as far as making a trade, is saying that he’ll likely stick to a personal holiday roster freeze around Dec. 9 or 10. That comes 10 days before the NHL puts a halt to any trades or demotions for Christmas.
Finger comes back in on defence after the rookie Gunnarsson suffered what looked to be a severe shoulder injury last night when he was ridden hard into the glass in the 3-0 home loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
Burke said there is still no update on Gunnarson's condition.
Finger, who had a knee and charley horse issue that sidelined him for four games, has 38 blocked shots as one of the best Leafs in that role. He comes off the injured list ahead of Garnet Exelby, who was bumped to the press box when Gunnarsson made a great impression on the coaching staff during Mike Komisarek's three-week absence with a quad muscle injury.
The Canadiens are seven points ahead of Toronto in the standings, but getting some of their own injured players back tonight, such as Scott Gomez and Matt D'Agostini. Of course, everyone wants to be in the lineup for Friday’s home game against Boston, when the Habs conclude their 100th anniversary celebration.
“They’re tough,” Finger said of Montreal’s offence. “It’s a matter of keeping a tight gap in the neutral zone.”
Tomas Plekanec has two goals and six assists in the last six games and is Montreal’s top producer with 25 points. Winger Max Pacioretty has points in five of the last six games with two goals and four assists. Carey Price makes his ninth straight start in goal for Montreal.
“We still have a few guys out,” Montreal coach Jacques Martin said, refering mostly to Hal Gill and winger Andrei Kostitsyn. “Hopefully, we get them back in future.
“It will be a tight affair. Toronto won two and (against Buffalo) the difference was (Ryan) Miller.”
The Canadiens will be wary of Toronto defenceman Tomas Kaberle, who has five points in two games in this year’s set and 46 in 55 games against them overall.
Rookie Jonas Gustavsson starts his season-high fifth straight game in net for Toronto.
“I hope my young spirit gives me some energy (for a long run),” Gustavsson said with a smile. “The games are tighter together here (as opposed to Sweden), but I’m just happy to get the chance to play.”
His record is 5-5-5 with an .898 save percentage.
“I know that Montreal-Toronto games are one of the biggest you can play,” he added. “Everybody cares, fans care and it’s the same thing in our building. It’s a great building here and I’m looking forward to playing here (for the first time).”
But Vesa Toskala is almost over a groin injury that saw him go on short-term injured reserve. He should come off IR either Thursday in Columbus or Saturday in Boston, which would see Joey MacDonald sent back to the Marlies.
“I’m much better,” Toskala said after tending goal for about 10 Leafs who went on the ice for an optional skate at the Bell Centre. “It was a minor tweak. I just have to get it out of my head that I’m not afraid to jump on that side. That will come with practice.”
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Alexei Ponikarovsky-Matt Stajan-Phil Kessel
Niklas Hagman-Mikhail Grabovski-Christian Hanson
Nikolai Kulemin-Wayne Primeau-Lee Stempniak
Jason Blake-Jamal Mayers-Colton Orr
Francois Beauchemin-Ian White
Mike Komisarek-Tomas Kaberle
Luke Schenn-Jeff Finger
Mike Cammalleri-Tomas Plekanec-Sergei Kostitsyn
Max Pacioretty-Scott Gomez-Travis Moen
Matt D'Agostini-Glen Metropolit-Kyle Chipchura
Tom Pyatt-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan White
Roman Hamrlik-Josh Gorges
Ryan O'Byrne-Paul Mara
Marc-Andre Bergeron-Jaroslav Spacek