MAPLE LEAFS (22-14-9) at RED WINGS (20-19-9)
7:00 pm (SN)
I have to admit I am a fan. I know there are a lot of fans from other teams that despise this franchise but I’m not one of them. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the winged wheel and it’s storied history. Twenty five years straight without missing the playoffs. You’re bound to hear that from whichever broadcasting team you decide to listen to while taking in the game tonight, and likely more than a couple of times. It does deserve to be spoken of because it’s a monstrous achievement.
However, this season isn’t exactly one you’d call a success story just yet. The Wings are currently sitting outside of the playoffs and will need a strong finish to push their streak to 26 years. The final wild card spot is held by our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. The boys in blue are 4pts above the Wings in the standings and hold 3 games in hand. Not a pretty picture for Detroit to say the least. Yet the Wings trail the Bruins by 5pts and have 3 games in hand on them, so they aren’t out of it just yet, but they also didn’t do themselves any favours by coughing up a 3rd period lead last night to the Bruins and eventually losing in overtime. These points are already extremely valuable to the Red Wings and they know it.
Even if they made the playoffs they wouldn’t be most people’s pick to go past the first round. So why the regression? For starters, losing Pavel Datsyuk this past summer is a bit of a big deal. I mean, he’s kinda good. They also lost a pretty good coach a while back. So, while Jeff Blashill is a terrific bench boss, Mike Babcock is regarded by some as the best in the business. Maybe Blashill gets there someday, but that isn’t today.
They have also had little help from their goalies all season long. Petr Mrazek is having the worst year of his career. Jimmy Howard, while having stellar numbers, has been injured for most of the season, and Jared Coreau has been getting most of the start’s lately with mixed results.
The guys in front of them aren’t exactly lighting the league on fire either. Tomas Tatar is a threat to score but won’t come near his career best 29 goal, 56 point year. Gustav Nyquist, while having a solid 24pts in 47 games, once attained 48pts in 57 games, which is to say he isn’t fulfilling the scoring potential he was once thought to have right now. The bad news continues on with Dylan Larkin mired in a sophomore slump. Riley Sheahan, usually good for around 30pts a season, still doesn’t have a goal this year. Veterans like Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Niklas Kronwall have been injured for long stretches as well. This is just a taste of the bad story lines we could talk about. It’s really a wonder that they are even as close to the playoffs as they are… but they are close, because they are the Red Wings, and winning is what they do.
No respect from me is given, it’s earned. Captain Henrik Zetterberg has earned it in spades. At 36 years old he’s still one of the most dangerous players on the ice, no matter their opponent, and I have to admit I’d love to have him in Toronto for a few years to teach our young players a thing or two. He knows how to lead, and most importantly, he knows how to win. That’s why the Leafs can’t take this team lightly. When they have that presence on the ice, along with the offensive ability of guys like Thomas Vanek and Anthony Mantha, you need to be on your toes defensively. Likewise, when they have good veterans like Niklas Kronwall and Mike Green patrolling their blueline, you need to be creative offensively. This isn’t a slam dunk win just because they are below the Leafs in the standings. If our guys want these 2pts they will have to fight for it against a team that is desperate and just coming off a loss.
So what should that fight look like? Hopefully, for starters, we see Morgan Rielly back in the lineup, but that doesn’t sound likely right now. They have done an admirable job in his absence but it’s always a good thing to have a talent like Rielly on the ice instead of in the press box.
They also need to come out hot. The Wings played last night so they should be tired. The Leafs need to take advantage of that and jump on them early, take the body hard and often, and don’t give them any room to gain momentum. Lastly, they should get under the skin of Petr Mrazek, who I assume will start tonight, given that Coreau started last night. Mrazek hasn’t been great this year so they need to take advantage of what is essentially a teams backup tonight.
Apart from that they should just keep doing what has made them successful up to this point. The kids are creative, and Babcock has allowed that creativity to flourish. Combine that with our more veteran players thriving in their respective roles, and our starting goalie actually playing like a starting goalie (I know, weird to see this is Toronto right??) and they can pull out a win tonight.
I guess I should also mention the fact that Mitch Marner now leads the Leafs, and all NHL rookies, in points. His skating and hockey IQ are exemplary. He is everything I had hoped he would be when the Leafs selected him 4th overall in the NHL entry draft. His vision is tremendous, he always gives 100% effort and has a great attitude. Mitch Marner is quickly becoming my favourite Toronto Maple Leaf.
Enjoy the game folks!!
GO LEAFS GO!!
Projected Line Combinations
Toronto Maple Leafs
Komarov — Kadri — Nylander
Hyman — Matthews — Brown
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Martin — Gauthier — Soshnikov
Marincin — Zaitsev
Gardiner — Carrick
Hunwick — Polak
Detroit Red Wings
Nyquist — Zetterberg — Mantha
Athanasiou — Nielsen — Tatar
Abdelkader — Sheahan — Jurco
Miller — Helm — Glendening
DeKeyser — Green
Ericsson — Ouellet
Kronwall — Jensen