After a frustrating 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs (1-1-0) will get a chance to righten the ship in a rare Sunday night game. It just so happens to be the second homecoming game of the season.
The Leafs hit the road to take on the Chicago Blackhawks (2-0-0) in the second half of a back-to-back, which begins a four-game road trip. This will also be Garret Sparks’ first start of the season and his first start against his childhood team.
The effort was there last night and the Leafs did look much better compared to Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens. Unfortunately for the Buds, the results didn’t really go their way as the Senators looked solid at times and left the faithful at Scotiabank Arena stunned.
All the top guns such as Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner had some notable moments (that Marner goal was fantastic), but the team as a whole was outworked at times. While the season is still young, it’s nonetheless never a good look to play that flat out of the gate.
The big key for them to have success against Chicago is to make sure Sparks doesn’t lose his composure by preventing stoppable pucks from going in.
One of the reasons the Leafs struggled to get back in the game Saturday was because Frederick Andersen looked shaky on a few goals against. It really affected the team’s momentum in the second and third period, which they ultimately couldn’t recover from.
For instance, the first goal from Dylan DeMelo was a wrister from the point that went through Andersen’s five-hole:
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 6, 2018
The same happened on this goal from Chris Tierney in the second period:
— Alex M (@nhlsensandstuff) October 7, 2018
And of course, the Leafs somehow made Thomas Chabot look like he was Erik Karlsson as seen on this goal and here:
Thomas Chabot making everyone in Ottawa forget about Erik Karlsson pic.twitter.com/lf51q37Q7S
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) October 7, 2018
For the Leafs to have better success against the Blackhawks, Sparks needs to remain sharp and not get weighed down by a weak goal against. Combining this with a better effort offensively and a more sound defensive game, it could go a long way towards getting the desired two points.
This isn’t to say the night was all doom and gloom, though. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Leafs were the better team in terms of possession, scoring chances, and the overall Game Flow.
While it is frustrating to see that effort go to waste since the Leafs came up short, this an encouraging sign at the very least that the Leafs showed overall improvements from their scrappy win over Montreal. For the sake of the fans (and my sanity), let’s hope that trend continues to go up and leads to better results for the Buds.
It goes without saying, though, that William Nylander’s presence would be a huge boost to this lineup and that was reflective in how the Leafs played. We can only pray at this point he finally puts the pen to paper in the coming days to help the team get back on track.
Overreactions aside, the Leafs campaign is still young and there’s plenty of time left to get their game in full working order. That must begin tonight when they take on their first Western Conference opponent this season.
As per Kristen Shilton of TSN, the lineup projections for tonight’s game are unknown though they should be similar besides a goalie change. We’ll update once we know further details.
Mike Babcock not revealing any lineup changes ahead of #Leafs vs. Blackhawks tomorrow (although Garret Sparks was previously projected to be starting). Said deciding on lineup is what video and the flight and a "good night's sleep" is for.
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) October 7, 2018
If I were to predict how Sunday’s game will play out, I do believe the Leafs will come out with a much better effort. There has to be a fire in their belly and they need to play a little scared to get their second win of the season.
After letting an easily winnable game slip away from them, that’s all you can hope for from the Blue and White.
What are your predictions for tonight’s game? Let us know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!