The return of Josh Leivo will have to wait as the former Toronto Maple Leaf is out with an upper body injury. He’s fit in well in Vancouver by all accounts, and that’s great if you ask me. Josh never won over Mike Babcock in Toronto but was always a good teammate. I wish him luck.
Jacob Markstrom gets the start tonight for Vancouver. Markstrom has won 9 of his past 11 starts, and the two losses can’t be placed on his shoulders as he allowed a combined 3 goals on 51 shots.
Elias Pettersson, the extremely skilled rookie centre, also won’t be in the lineup. That’s great news for Toronto goalie Michael Hutchinson and the rest of the Leafs, as a ton of their offense runs through him. He was injured on Thursday in a game against the Montreal Canadians, so thanks for that Montreal.
If the Canucks want to be successful tonight they’re going to have to clog up the neutral zone and transition quickly. Getting a ton of rubber on net would also be a great idea. They have some veteran defenders like Edler, Tanev and Gudbranson to lean on, but those guys will have to bring a solid game to keep the Leafs to the outside. Lastly, they simply can’t take penalties. Their penalty kill hasn’t been up to snuff this season, and the Leafs’ powerplay will make them pay if they get into penalty trouble.
Michael Hutchinson is getting his second consecutive start with first and second string goaltenders Frederik Andersen and Garret Sparks out of the lineup. He looked calm in his first game with the Leafs. Other than the one goal that got through 5-hole, the goals against were well earned by Minnesota, and even that goal was the result of Jared Spurgeon being in a prime scoring area unencumbered. The main thing is he gave his team a chance to win, and that’s all you can really ask for.
Outside of Andersen and Sparks they’re healthy enough to compete. Zach Hyman and Tyler Ennis are still on the shelf, but there is still plenty of fire power to provoke fear in their opponents.
If the Leafs want to win they’re going to have to choose their spots when it comes to the stretch pass. Teams are shutting it down too easily now. Without Frederik Andersen in net it’s coming back to bite them as teams are easily transitioning to offense from neutral zone turnovers and making them look silly. I’m not saying they can’t go for it at times, but the forwards need to put themselves in areas for short outlet passes for controlled zone exits more often than they have been. If they mix it up and get into Vancouvers heads a bit then they may find they can get away with the stretch pass with more success. They also need to use their speed, as that has been what makes them so dangerous all season. Vancouvers defense, overall, isn’t a fast group, so while this seems like a silly and obvious thing to point out, tonight more than ever, it rings true.
No lineup changes are expected.
Hutchinson starts, Kaskisuo backs up, no changes expected up front either. #LeafsForever
— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) January 5, 2019
My prediction? 4-2 Leafs.
GO LEAFS GO!!