DUCKS (16-11-5) at MAPLE LEAFS(12-11-7)
7:30 pm (SN)
With a Saturday night win over the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, your Toronto Maple Leafs are currently sporting a 12-11-7 record and are 6pts out of the playoffs.
It would be easy to write this team off at this point. In today’s NHL, in all it’s 3pt game glory, it’s tough to cover ground if a team is even a few points ahead in the standings. We are also cheering for a team that hasn’t exactly been known for it’s winning streaks of late. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Year after year, it would seem, there has been at least one significant losing streak that has basically ruined the season. Whether it’s stumbling out of the gate, or driving off a cliff mid season, there always seems to be a streak of ineptitude from the teams in our beloved blue and white.
However, there have been exceptions. The lockout year was one. The team made the playoffs and played consistently good hockey. Some would argue they didn’t have time to go into their usual downward spiral. Instead, they ….. Oh nevermind, I think I’ll skip that particular storyline this time around, we’ve hear it enough haven’t we?
The other exception? Last season. That’s right, there were losing streaks last year, but I won’t lump last seasons debacle in with the rest. The team was consistently bad because it was a bad team. Plain and simple. However, they were consistent.
But I digress. It would be easy to write this team off because it’s been easy to do it for too long now. However, with high end skill on the offensive side of the puck, and a coach that sees where the teams strength lies and a willingness to exploit it, I wouldn’t write them off so quickly. The kids have shown their ability to take it to the opposition, no matter how strong, with more and more consistency as the season has worn on. All the while feeling comfortable with their games because they know the man at their end of the rink has their back.
This summer I wrote a couple of different articles about goaltending, and more specifically, who I thought the Leafs should target. Time and again I came back to the name Frederik Andersen. The disposable half of a great tandem in California, Andersen showed me great agility within the prototypical big body you want in your goalie. I saw in him a true starter, and the player the Leafs had been missing since the days of Joseph and Belfour. We’re really starting to see that now. Andersen stumbled out of the gate, and that must have made a lot of Ducks fans happy, but now settled in and in mid season form, he has been, in my opinion, the MVP of this team. In fact, I don’t think it’s even close.
I considered talking about the current Ducks tandem of Gibson and former Leaf Jonathan Bernier. I thought I’d tell you all about their combined 0.904SV% compared to Andersens 0.919SV%. I even thought I’d tell you about their combined 2.81GAA as compared to Andersens 2.63GAA. Figured I would write something about their being a contender and those numbers not representing that very well, while I threw in a quip about former Leaf bench boss Randy Carlyle also being in Anaheim. I swear, I fully intended to make a “Bobby” joke and imagined how we’d all laugh and laugh!!
Instead….. Oh wait, I guess I couldn’t help myself.
Today, we’re getting the better of the Andersen trade and I’m more than happy about that. I’m sure John Gibson will have a long, lustrous career, but right now? I think we nabbed the better goaltender, have the better coach, have the better youth and because of all of that, we have a brighter future.
Only time will tell though.
So, what say you Leaf fans? With all of this in mind, do you agree that it’s too early to write this Leaf team off? Are the playoffs a dream, an expectation, or a nice target that, if you miss, you at least gave your best to achieve? My two cents? I’m just excited to watch Andersen as he puts his old team to shame!!!
Go Freddie Go!!
It appears Tyler Bozak is suffering from a lower body injury that will keep him sidelined tonight. Ben Smith is also unable to go. This means we’ll be treated to the season debuts of two depth prospects, Josh Leivo and Frederik Gauthier.
Leivo used his NHL shot to net 5 goals in 12 games last season for the Leafs, while also putting up an impressive 48pts in 51 games for the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. In order for him to be successful he’ll have to use his big frame to get to the net as well as find open space to get his shot off. Being sound defensively is also going to have to be a given under Mike Babcock, especially considering how few chances he gives away.
Freddy Gauthier is an interesting case in my opinion. He found some success last season playing on a line with Nikita Soshnikov and Rich Clune. He’ll likely have a familiar face on one flank in Soshnikov all night while having the NHL version of Rich Clune on his other wing in Matt Martin. If that line shows chemistry it will be interesting to see what they do with The Goat going forward. Ben Smith is a favourite of Babcock, but we’ll assume that if the coach sees a 6’5” version of Smith he may be tempted to stick with him going forward. A strong first game of the season from Freddy could mean more NHL minutes going forward.
Projected Line Combinations
Toronto Maple Leafs
Komarov– Kadri — Shoshnikov
Hyman — Matthews — Brown
van Riemsdyk — Nylander — Marner
Martin — Gauthier — Leivo
Reilly — Zaitsev
Gardiner — Corrado
Hunwick — Polak
Rakell — Getzlaf — Perry
Cogliano — Kesler — Silfverberg
Ritchie — Vermette — Kase
Cramarossa — Shaw — Boll
Fowler — Vatanen
Lindholm — Manson
Theodore — Bieksa