A lot of stories tonight.
John Tavares will face off against the New York Islanders for the first time since he signed a 7 year, $77M deal this past summer.
Barry Trotz had some words to share:
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 29, 2018
Some might agree that John Tavares didn’t want to have those players as teammates anymore. On the other hand, you could say he decided to chase an opportunity for less money, and that Barry Trotz, a guy that left a Stanley Cup champion team for a team that isn’t close to being considered a contender, but agreed to pay him more, bailed on his team for nothing more than financial gain….. so maybe shut up, Barry?
In other news, starting goaltender Frederik Andersen is out with a groin injury. The entirety of Leafs nation is praying this doesn’t turn into a long term situation. Andersen has arguably been their MVP this year (thanks Lou), so an extended absence would be extremely tough on the overall standings.
This is a great opportunity for Garret Sparks to prove the naysayers wrong by stringing together a few good games. He’ll have to do it under tough circumstances, as he played last night in Columbus and will man the crease again tonight in Toronto, but excuses can’t be made. Simply put, he needs to stop pucks and his defense needs to help him as much as possible against a team that wants to win this game more than just about any other. Kasimir Kaskisuo has been recalled on an emergency basis to back him up tonight.
On the heels of the Frederik Andersen injury the Leafs made a trade. Going to the Florida Panthers is a 2020 5th round draft pick, while the Leafs get back goaltender Michael Hutchinson.
Hutchinson has 106 NHL games to his name, mostly with the Winnipeg Jets, with mixed results. At this point I’d describe him as a 3rd string goalie. A solid option at the AHL level, while being able to help with spot duty in the NHL. Considering the Leafs’ need at the position, the players history, and the price paid, I think this is a terrific deal for the Leafs. When Andersen returns this will help to stabilize the position throughout the organization.
The last story, and one that is being overlooked at the moment, is the return of Matt Martin and Leo Komarov to face their former teammates. A lot of respect goes to these players around these parts and rightfully so. They were great teammates on and off the ice, and during a time where “team toughness” is being debated regularly, it’s clear that for a large faction of Leafs nation their presence is missed.
On to the game:
If the Leafs want to win tonight they’re going to need to neutralize the Isles top end talent of Barzal, Bailey and Lee. They don’t have a blueline that’s overly dangerous offensively, but still have some players that can bite you if you let them (Pulock, Leddy). They have more than a few players with size, and one of the best 4th lines in the league (apparently). At the end of the day this isn’t a flashy team, but they’re well coached and can grind out wins.
For the Islanders to be successful tonight they’re going to have to shut down the neutral zone. They can’t cope with the speed of the Leafs, and they don’t have the offensive depth to trade chances, but if they can play a chippy game and take advantage of a tired goalie they have a chance. Getting timely saves from Robin Lehner would go a long way as well. With a 0.920SV% on the year that might not be a tough ask.
Tale of the tape:
Leafs – 54
Islanders – 42
Leafs – 3.79
Islanders – 2.92
Leafs – 2.76
Islanders – 2.72
Leafs – 24.3%
Islanders – 15.6%
Leafs – 80%
Islanders – 77.6%
No lineup changes are expected for the Leafs after their win over the Blue Jackets last night.
#Leafs in warmup:
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) December 29, 2018
#Isles in warmups
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) December 29, 2018
My prediction: 5-2 Leafs. What’s yours?
GO LEAFS GO!!