Blues (23-13-4) at Maple Leafs (14-15-7)
HNIC (7:00 pm)
Last calendar year was not a pleasant one for Leaf fans and player alike, as the team slumped through on of the worst stretches in team history. There have been some great additions (Babcock, Lamoriello, Marner) and notable subtractions (Kessel), but the time for change had arrived and so we held our breaths.
With 2016 now here, it presents the Leafs a new opportunity to right the ship and give the fans something to cheer about as well as look forward to the future. It begins tonight as the team looks to get their record to .500 against the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues are one of the most dangerous teams to face in the regular season, and the last few season’s records show that. In the past, the Leafs struggled mightily against the Blues, but that changed earlier this season with a dominating 6-2 win in which the Blues were very sloppy.
The Blues have improved in the time since that game, so the Leafs should expect a tough and hungry team ready to battle.
As the Blues are a big team physically, the Leafs need to do their best to match that with physical play and strong defensive play. By wearing down the opposition with the body, it will make the Blues more vulnerable to make a mistake as the game goes on and may provide the Leafs with quality chances the other way. Expect players like Dion Phaneuf, Leo Komarov, and Roman Polak to be more noticeable in the hit department tonight.
Goaltending for the Leafs is finally starting to turn the corner, as Bernier is starting to play his best more often. Such was the case on Wednesday against the Penguins, where Bernier played a masterful game turning aside 39 shots on 41 tries. As Reimer will not dress up tonight, Bernier needs to have another solid performance like he did against the Penguins. If he plays the way he did against the Islanders on Tuesday, the Leafs will be in for a long night.
Some key areas the Leafs need to improve upon are on the power play and in overtime. Lately, the power play has gone through a dry spell with very little goals to show for it. The effort that resulted in a hot streak not too long ago is still there, but the Leafs currently lack the finish. Perhaps a change in the power play lineup will help. If the Leafs are given the mad advantage, they need to take advantage of it.
Speaking of finish, the Leafs in post regulation mostly ends in the shootout. Overtime, on the other hand, has the Leafs as one of three teams in the league still searching for their first overtime win. They did look dominate in the preseason, and host a number of players that can put the puck in the net when it matters most. It will only be a matter of time before the likes of Nazem Kadri, James van Reimsdyk, P.A. Parrenteau, and Morgan Rielly find twine and end the overtime slump for the Leafs.
Nick Spaling and Byron Froese are still not 100% ready to return to the lineup as of yet, so expect no lineup changes. As the Leafs set off on the California road trip following this game, there may be a call up should the previously mentioned players, along with Reimer, are not ready to go.
Happy New Year everyone! And as always: Go Leafs Go!
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – PA Parenteau
Michael Grabner – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
Daniel Winnik – Peter Holland – Joffrey Lupul
Shawn Matthias – Mark Arcobello – Brad Boyes
Jake Gardiner – Dion Phaneuf
Matt Hunwick – Morgan Rielly
Martin Marincin – Roman Polak
Alexander Steen – Paul Stastny – Vladimir Tarasenko
Patrik Berglund – David Backes – Magnus Paajarvi
Robby Fabbri – Jori Lehtera – Troy Brouwer
Dmitrij Jaskin – Kyle Brodziak – Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester – Alex Pietrangelo
Colton Parayko – Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson – Robert Bortuzzo