WILD (5-6-2) at MAPLE LEAFS (9-7-0)
7:30 p.m. SportsNET
The Minnesota Wild roll into the centre of the hockey world tonight with a 5-6-2 record, back to back losses courtesy of the Hawks and Bruins, and a pin in their Auston Matthews voodoo doll that the entirety of Leafs Nation is hoping gets removed prior to puck drop.
That’s correct, Auston Matthews is slated to miss a game for the first time in his Maple Leafs career and I think I speak for everybody when I say two things. First, I hope it’s his last missed game ever. Second… DAMMIT!!!
The Toronto Maple Leafs have lost 5 of their previous 7 games and are now hoping to string together 2 wins for the first time since October 17th and 18th versus Washington and Detroit respectively. That seems like a very long time ago, as those two wins gave the Leafs a sparkling 6-1 record at the time. It’s their play since then that has made the weeks drag on though. Some questionable efforts and bad breaks have lead to the number in the losses column ticking upward.
With all of that said this is just game #17 of an 82 game season, of which there will be ups and downs. There were a lot of positives to take away from the last game against the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Dubbed the “hardest working team in the league”….. apparently, the Leafs took it to them in the 1st period and played a veteran, conservative game the rest of the way. A lucky goal from Ontario native (of course) James Neal and a fortunate bounce that landed Ontario native (of course) Reilly Smith another goal meant a visit to overtime. During that enjoyable gimmick period, and the less enjoyable gimmick that is the shootout, Frederik Andersen made up for a weak goal he allowed from Deryk Engelland by standing on his head and securing a much needed win and 2 valuable points.
All in all it wasn’t a bad game, it was just a rough way to win a game they deserved to win anyway.
So they have a starting point at least. Some momentum to take into tonight.
What should they expect from their opponent?
You’re about to watch a great goalie that has had an up and down year so far. At times he’s lights out and during other times he’s just not the Devan Dubnyk we’re all used to seeing. So expect him to be great because…. well, just because.
You’re also about to see a team that hasn’t been lighting it up offensively. If you ignore their 6 goal outburst versus Montreal (because you should, everybody is lighting up Montreal these days), then you see a team that has scored just 6 goals in their last 4 games. So expect an offensive outburst as well because… well, just because.
You should also keep an eye on players such as Eric Staal (Ontario born), Chris Stewart (Ontario born), Kyle Quincey (Ontario born), and Daniel Winnik (Ontario born, former Leaf (DOUBLE WHAMMY!!)) because….. well, just because.
What should we expect from our Leafs sans Auston?
Marleau will move to the middle to make sure everybody is completely confused about why they sent Kasperi Kapanen back to the AHL Tortonto Marlies, and called up 6’5” centre Frederik Gauthier. Why call him up at this point if you didn’t need a centre? We’re all stumped but I’m sure it makes sense somehow. Marleau, who has stated himself that he prefers the wing, has done a commendable job as a centre so far for the Leafs. I’m sure this makes Lou Lamoriello and co. breathe a little easier when they talk trades to other teams about Tyler Bozak, but that’s probably a discussion for another blog.
The rest of the centres will be the usual suspects, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Dominic Moore. I’m sure the wingers on each line will change as the night progresses but I will say that I’m a little disappointed that William Nylander isn’t getting a glimpse down the middle, as I still wonder if that’s where he plays the majority of his NHL career. It would have been a good time to give him a test run. With that said you should probably trust Mike Babcock more than me.
Auston Matthews or no Auston Matthews, we still have a very deep forward group that can score in bunches. So my hope is that they take care of their own end and make good on the opportunities they get against a very good team.