Team Canada, led by Toronto’s own Mitchell Marner, opened up action today against Belarus in a series of warm up games. For the young Canad….what’s that now there sir? Oh, it isn’t? LeafsHub you say? I see. Yeah, I can swing that. No worries.
Can any of you get a grasp on the Maple Leafs goaltending situation? I’m talking for the entirety of the year, at any point? I believe the kids would say “It’s been wiggity whacked.” Or maybe they used to say that and it’s on to something snazzier. Nevertheless, between the pipes has always been a talking point here, at least since the second lockout after the spoilings of Joseph/Belfour. The Maple Leafs once again find that the man occupying the net, whoever it may be, is their lead story. At times for the good and at times for the bad. Let’s start with the bad, with Bernier’s performance out of the gate prior to what’s transpired. So he dropped the ball to begin with and Reimer couldn’t get going. Optimus did eventually get himself rolling and when he did there was no messing around. Unfortunately after carrying the team to a run of victories, he’s on the shelf yet again. Now we add Garret Sparks into the mix. Sparks provided a heart-warming shutout and helped the Leafs secure a few points. He survived getting shelled, then was pretty good. All the while we had Bernier visiting the Marlies, where he shone and then limped back into the NHL. It looked like he was done. Fast forward to Thursday passed, a Sparks injury on the 2nd goal of a 2-0 game and this is what you end up with. By default, through almost no other option, Jonathan Bernier gets the nod. He’ll be your starter tonight. So what happens next?
Wouldn’t it be just like sports that Bernier finally wakes the f$#k up and puts the team on his back. After seemingly running himself out of chances, he has one last shot to be the goalie he is capable of being in Toronto. It may only take one win, and truthfully, he may never get it before he’s gone. I’m not trying to sell anyone on him. I do wonder though does he get his first in a series of wins tonight? And of all teams to get ‘er going against but his former club, the Los Angeles Kings.
Who knows, but that’s why we watch.Because we don’t know the outcome. The thing of it is, if this team gets top end net-minding they can win hockey games. Look at their record in non-Bernier games. What if it all evens out, a la RA Dickey’s 2nd half, and JB reels off a stellar back stretch. These are the hope-filled questions we ask this week, tune in next time to “As The Leafs Blow”.
When I look at the team, and more so individuals this season, these are the contests I look to. It’s maybe bad practice because you should value the consistency of night in night out, but I know everyone is ready for tonight. HNIC, just before Xmas, Leafs/Kings, a very solid match up and a real good opponent to measure yourself against. It shapes up to be a perfect evening for honest evaluations. On the bright side of Leafs life, I think they are doing alright. Hanging in there, and I really like their top 6 right now. Not that they are overly dynamic, more how they are playing in general. Joffrey Lupul took some spins with Leo and Naz last game. That could be interesting. 21/42/15 have looked solid and are providing a bit of offense. I definitely like the 3/51 pairing and their deployment. Polak and Grabner are raising their stock, could get some picks if all pans out. I’m very stuck in the middle because part of me wants to see them rewarded and rhyme off a few W’s, but that top 5 pick is certainly appealing. Hopefully we keep walking the fine line between loveable and dreadful. I commend Babcock on his commitment to giving his team the best chance they can to win each and every night, and conversely how management applaudes the team’s effort but will make it tougher and tougher for the team to win as the deadline approaches. Although there are some very hungry players waiting in the wings with the powerhouse Marlies squad.
As for the game at hand, TOR (10-13-7) vs. LAK (20-9-2), there are some key elements to look for. How will the Maple Leafs handle the Kings forecheck/cycle game. Simply put, they lean on you. The Kings impose their will on the opponent. The Bernier/Quick dynamic will be worth paying attention to, of course, but I think the game could be won or lost in the neutral zone. Toronto is doing a much better job slowing teams up as the come up ice and have less problem coming up the ice themselves as in years prior. They will have to impede the Kings attack and create some turnovers. A patient chess game where the Leafs use team speed is what I’m hoping to see.
The Los Angeles Kings have seen fire and rain. But kid you not, this is a very good club. For the Blue & White, you stand up tall and look them square in the face, get up nose to nose and start swinging. Will the Leafs end up on the mat? Who cares, as long as they just show up for the fight. At this point in what Toronto is trying to accomplish, is that not exactly what you want to see? It’s always going to be about winning, this game of ours. How you play the game….it counts for something. So maybe you are tuning into “As The Leafs Blow” today. If Toronto keeps showing up, sticking to the plan and following the process, we could all be watching while the wind doesn’t just blow us. Instead we will be turning the dial to “As The Leafs Soar”.
Let’s get in the Kings grill and let them know, Rocky style, “You ain’t so bad.” The Maple Leafs might be near the bottom of the standings but they aren’t rolling over for anyone anymore. We ain’t scared of the L.A. and I have full confidence Babcock’s Leafs will give the two time Cup champs all they can handle. Talent usually wins out, but I have a feeling we steal this one. On the back of Jonathan Bernier. Has he done anything to show us that will happen? Not necessarily. Again…this is why we watch. Lady luck could be his, at long last.
Go Leafs Go.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Grabner – Kadri – Komarov
Van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Parenteau
Winnik – Holland – Lupul
Matthias – Froese – Boyes
Gardiner – Phaneuf
Hunwick – Rielly
Marincin – Polak
Los Angeles Kings
Lucic – Kopitar – Gaborik
Pearson – Carter – Toffoli
Mersch – Lewis – Brown
Andreoff – Shore – Nolan
McNabb – Doughty
Muzzin – Martinez
Ehrhoff – McBain