After splitting the first two games of their California swing the Leafs roll into the SAP Center to take on the San Jose Sharks.
The Leafs continue to enjoy mid-season success sporting a 6-2-2 record over the past 10 games while the Sharks are 4-5-1.
In recent years the Sharks have been perennial Stanley Cup contenders. Alas time has caught up to the 2015-2016 roster. With Zubrus, Thornton, Marleau, Ward and soon Paul Martin being north of 35 years it is clear that dreams of a Stanley Cup landing in San Jose have now passed its expiry date. Conversely Stephan Robidas is the only Leaf part of the NHL geriatric crowd at 38 years of age. The Sharks missed the playoffs last season for the first time in 12 years and assuredly are heading in that direction again this season. It is the price a team pays for having so many years of at least regular season success.
The Sharks like to use the term reload instead of rebuild. Looking at players in the system the cupboards are not very well stocked. Again that is sometimes the price of success but the good news is the Sharks are currently positioned to have a high pick in this years Feb 29, 2016 draft. One can’t help but see the San Jose’s as sellers this year. The aforementioned players are still somewhat producing but Thornton’s salary cap hit of $7 million for this year and next would be a stumbling block. Same applies to Marleau, Martin and to a lessor degree Ward.
San Jose will continue to be handcuffed with difficult contracts between now and 2019 when Paul Martins salary cap hit of $4.85 million comes off the books.
The Leafs on the other hand are a team trending in the right direction. After a dismal October, the team has earned one of the best records for November and December in all of the NHL. Don’t look now but the Leafs are only 6 points out of securing the final wildcard spot in the east. The Leafs hold 3 games in hand on NJD who currently hold the second of two playoff wildcard spots.
The Leafs have split the 2 games played so far during their California swing. A convincing 4-0 Bernier shutout win against Anaheim was followed up by a closely contested 2-1 loss to the LA Kings 2 nights ago. The loss marked the return of James Reimer to the lineup after missing significant time rehabbing a lower body injury. The fact the Leafs had more than their fair share of goalie troubles this season and continued to win is a testament to the depth the Leafs brain trust has assembled.
Inspiring hard work has paid off for Leo Komarov and now he is heading to the All Star Game. His team leading 15 goals and 28 points (second on team) are career bests. Of course Uncle Leo was very humble in his comments regarding his selection preferring to deflect his success to having great teammates. Perhaps the Professional Writers Association will give serious consideration to Komarov when he is nominated for the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy.
The rest of the Leafs team continues to roll along and play good hockey. If the Leafs aren’t winning then they are in each game competing and creating worries for their opposition. There is no reason that the Leafs shouldn’t win tonights game. The Leafs are trending up while the Sharks continue a slide to that high draft pick. Game stats are very similar for each team. The difference maker could be the coaching of Babcock vs. DeBoer. The Leafs are supposed to be bottom feeding easy prey. They have been anything but this year. I like the chances the Bernier led Leafs have with Babcock behind the bench.
Enjoy the game tonight
James van Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – PA Parenteau
Michael Grabner – Nazem Kadri – Leo Komarov
Daniel Winnik – Mark Arcobello – Joffrey Lupul
Shawn Matthias – Peter Holland – Brad Boyes
Jake Gardiner – Dion Phaneuf
Matt Hunwick – Morgan Rielly
Martin Marincin – Roman Polak
Melker Karlsson – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Joel Ward
Matt Nieto – Tomas Hertl – Tommy Wingels
Joonas Donskoi – Chris Tierney – Dainius Zubrus
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun
Paul Martin – Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon – Dylan DeMelo
BABCOCK POST GAME JAN 7th