MAPLE LEAFS (23-17-9) at BRUINS (26-22-6)
7:00 pm (CBC-HNIC)
After being on the business end of 3 consecutive losses which featured two embarrassing routs, the Leafs prepare to take on the Bruins in what some are calling a must win game.
There wasn’t much to salvage out of the 5-1 loss delivered courtesy of the St. Louis Blues on Thursday. A team that has had more than its own share of adversity this season. Fresh off the firing of coach Ken Hitchcock, the Blues were looking to make a statement. Mission accomplished.
The game afforded us a rare, albeit brief glimpse of a visibly upset Mike Babcock. Who could blame him? Colton Parayko should not ever evoke thoughts of Bobby Orr going end to end through 5 players who were clearly not engaged enough to recognize and react to the danger. After all, you cannot shut down Colton Parayko, you can only hope to contain him. Kidding aside, it was an uninspired Leaf squad that took to the ice and the final score was a fair representation of what we saw over the course of play. One positive we can take away from the game was red hot rookie, Mitch Marner who found the back of the net on Jake Allen, bringing him to 13 goals and 42 points on the season. That’s good for the team lead in points and 2nd in NHL rookie scoring.
Tonight’s matchup pits two of the league’s best penalty kills, head to head for a battle with possible playoff implications. The Leafs sit 3 points back of the Bruins for 3rd in the Atlantic division with 5 games in hand. You know what they say about birds in the bush. The leafs will need to convert these games at hand to wins at some point for them to be as meaningful as they’ve been made out to be. Tonight’s contest presents a valuable opportunity for the Leafs essentially accomplish the same thing by gaining two points on a divisional rival, on Hockey Night in Canada no less.
A win this evening would likely calm the masses in Leaf land for now. A loss? Let’s just say that some are polishing up their finest 18 wheeler gifs like an old rifle placed on the mantle for just such an occasion.
“There’s no reason to be concerned,” reassured Morgan Reilly after their 3rd straight loss in regulation. “It’s a matter of getting our focus back and make sure we know what’s at stake and start playing our game again.”
The Leafs have a clear edge in offensive output from their young cast so far this season, sitting 6th in goals per game and sporting the 3rd best power play in the NHL compared with a fairly anemic offense from the Bruins that places them 23rd overall. The Bruins have allowed fewer goals however with the 11th fewest pucks in the back of their own net so far.
There is no doubt that the Leafs will be looking for a bounce back performance and although no single game or stretch should define a group, especially one so young, Babcock et al will be looking on closely to see how this team responds to a very unflattering 3 game losing streak coming out of the All Star break.
“No sense feeling sorry for yourself or being frustrated,” Babcock pointed out Thursday. “You’ve got to get your mind in gear and you’ve got to get your game right. We’ve got to play harder. When you do that, get your structure, you will be fine. In the meantime, it’s not going as good as we want it to.”
Frederick Anderson (21-11-8) should get the nod versus a likely start from Tukka Rask (25-13-4) who has been struggling with a groin injury. All indications are that he is ready to go in what the Leafs hope to be a bounce back performance from their emerging netminder.
Patrice Bergeron missed practice Friday with a leg injury sustained during Wednesday’s game against Washington in which he took a shot to the knee. He is listed as day to day so it probably isn’t too serious but that status can sometimes indicate the team is waiting on further medical appraisals. Any prolonged absence of the star pivot would spell trouble for a Bruins team that is in tough for a playoff berth.
There is never any shortage of drama when these two teams face off and the current standings elevate that element for tonight’s game.
Projected Line Combinations
Toronto Maple Leafs
Hyman — Matthews — Brown
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Komarov — Kadri — Nylander
Martin — Smith — Soshnikov
Gardiner — Carrick
Marincin — Polak
Marchand — Bergeron — Pastrnak
Vatrano — Krejci — Backes
Belesky — Spooner — Nash
Schaller — Moore — Hayes
Chara — Carlo
Krug — McQuaid
C. Miller — K. Miller
Mike Babcock — Morning Skate — 02/04/2017