Tonight we’ll witness a battle of polar opposites.
Among the best in the league offensively, the Leafs will face off against the stingiest of defenses in the league. They’ll do it against a Predators team that is as healthy as they have been for a while. They’re still missing a significant piece of the puzzle in Kyle Turris, but their blueline is intact, their world class goaltender is expected to start, and perhaps their most dangerous offensive player, Filip Forsberg, is returning just in time for the game tonight.
Nashville can play the game at a very high pace and have a terrific transition game. If the Leafs continue with their penchant for the stretch pass, or think they can dump the puck out of their end and into the neutral zone to retrieve it, then they’re going to make things very tough on themselves. This will be Nashvilles game plan for sure. Stop the Leafs attack at their own blueline to create turnovers and attack using their highly skilled blueliners. If the Leafs do change up their usual attack then they have the skill to keep the Leafs to the outside when they attack and create turnovers.
Toronto has to change what they’ve been doing somewhat. While the Predators defense is very good, they may try to stand them up while entering the zone. I think their best chance to win is to hit the offensive zone with speed and to dump and chase. They need to get to pucks first and bring their best cycle game. Watch for Kasperi Kapanen to have a good game tonight as he is one of the best Leafs at getting to pucks first in the offensive zone corners. His teammates look for him often to break through the neutral zone with speed, and instead of hitting him with a pass they often dump the puck in, knowing he can use his speed to negate the icing call and start the attack. If Nashville is too busy trying to clog up the neutral zone, and the Leafs manage to exit the zone with control, then this could be their best chance at having extended offensive zone time. Throw in some controlled entries from players like William Nylander, who is terrific at doing just that, and they will keep the Predators defenders guessing.
Michael Hutchinson is starting again tonight. He looked absolutely terrific last game and will need to again if the Leafs want to win. Here’s hoping Kyle Dubas paid a 5th round pick for a guy that can string together a series of steady starts.
Leaf lineup intact from Saturday ‘s win over Vancouver. Hutchinson to make his 3rd straight start. Rinne in for Nashville, Forsberg a game time decision but very probable after missing last 5 weeks. #LeafsForever
— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) January 7, 2019
My prediction: 3-2 Leafs. What’s yours?
GO LEAFS GO!!