This season went by far too quickly. It feels like just yesterday that we watched the Leafs open the season with a 7-2 drubbing of the Winnipeg Jets, who are now considered a true contender for the cup. Way back then the NHL was a different place. The Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens were expected to make the playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers were expected to compete for a cup, and the Leafs, many thought, were going to be in the same place they were last year, going down to the wire to clinch a wildcard spot and squeak into the playoffs.
Their blueline is too weak is the general consensus still. “How can they handle the best teams in the league without a true #1 defender?” is what we all ask ourselves. Well, they’ve been doing just fine in that regard. With 2 blueliners over 50pts for the first time since Kaberle and McCabe were in blue and white, and a +43 goal differential, I would say things are looking pretty okay.
Way back then, when the Leafs beat the Jets, they rolled out the exact same top 4 of Rielly, Hainsey, Gardiner and Zaitsev. The bottom pairing has changed though. Andreas Borgman started the season with Connor Carrick on his right, now it’s Travis Dermott with Roman Polak. The kid can skate with the best of them while the veteran is just about the last player you’d want to meet up with in the corners. What I like about that pairing is that the sum is greater than the parts. Dermott can feel free to wheel because he knows his ass is being covered. Polak, when in his own zone, can look for Dermott to distribute and/or skate the puck out of trouble. They lean on each other and that’s a great thing if you ask me.
The forwards have changed a little as well. The top 9 is mostly the same, the only real difference being Leo Komarov, who, having started the season on the right side on the Kadri line, is now back on the left and on the 4th line. It’s that 4th line that has changed so much. Eric Fehr started the year as the centre there and Matt Martin was on the left side. Dominic Moore eventually took the job from Fehr, and was then later replaced by deadline acquisition Tomas Ple… ugh…. Gross. Anyway, Matt Martin has only played 3 games since January 22nd, which is a surprise to me, but I guess the flies are gone? I don’t know. Either way, it is very exciting to see the speed and skill being infused into the lineup through the likes of Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson (the other two players fighting for 4th line minutes), and it’s tough to imagine that other teams can truly hold back the depth the Leafs bring as they march into the post season. Their 4th line is as good as most 3rd lines in the league and some 2nd lines as well. Speed is the name of the game right now and they bring that in spades.
This is a game day report though, so enough about that.
Last game, against the New Jersey Devils, the Leafs didn’t have much to play for. The score stayed close but they didn’t look good at all to me.
Tonight, with a win, they will accomplish two things. First, they will set the record for the most points in a season in Toronto Maple Leaf history. Second, with a win tonight, Frederik Andersen will set the record for most single season wins by a goalie in franchise history, surpassing Ed Belfour and Andrew Raycroft, with 38.
They have something to play for, if simply beating the Habs wasn’t enough already. So let’s get to it!! Get through this with a win and without injury and I’ll call it a massive success!! Then it’s onto the post season and (probably) the Boston Bruins!!
GO LEAFS GO!!
#Leafs lines at morning skate:
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) April 7, 2018