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Game on: Maple Leafs face Montreal in season opener Wednesday night

Last Updated Jan 13, 2021 at 6:29 am EDT

Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Nicholas Robertson (89) celebrates his first career NHL goal with teammates during second period NHL Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoff action against the Columbus Blue Jackets, in Toronto, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

If you’re looking for a much-needed distraction — the NHL season finally starts Wednesday night.

That includes the Maple Leafs’ season opener against Montreal.

Given what has happened around the world, it seems like a decade ago when the Leafs last played in the bubble, with a rare mid-January start and a shortened 56-game schedule during the pandemic.

To avoid crossing the border, the league’s seven canadian teams are just playing each other.

That means the Leafs face Montreal 10 times, including Wednesday’s game.

Leafs star Auston Matthews says this season, “every game is going to be tough, I mean we’re facing the same six, seven opponents every night, so we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other.”

This season will be impossible to predict with fewer games, the Canadian teams all playing each other, but one constant in the Six: high expectations.

RELATED: Maple Leafs granted permission to play NHL home games in Toronto

The Leafs roster has been tweaked to be more playoff ready, that includes veteran Joe Thornton. The London native debuts in the blue & white Wednesday night.

The 41-year old saw time on the first line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston says “seeing a couple of the practices, the way he’s on the ice sort of going and joking with everyone, having a kind word, just the infectious personality that’s been a hallmark of his.”

The schedule also won’t be easy, none of the seven Canadian teams are bad, even the Ottawa senators, who were near the bottom of the league last season, should be more competitive.

On paper, most experts have them near the top of the North Division. The true test will be whether they can win their first playoff round in 17 years.

Of course no fans at Scotiabank Arena, but the Leafs will try to replicate the full game experience.

For those watching on TV as best they can, it’s a 7 p.m. puck drop Wednesday on Sportsnet 590 The Fan and Sportsnet.

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