Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: CSN, CBC, CITY, WGN-AM 720
Jeff Veillette and Steve Glynn Are Terrifying: Pension Plan
Sure, the Hawks have improbably vaulted themselves into basically a game and a half lead in the central as they close out their eastern Canadian swing tonight in the Dark Center Of The Universe that is Toronto, but they haven’t done it the right way. They take on too many shots, even though that’s a result of having leads, they capitalize on power plays, and they do so while paying players more than their entry level contract. All of these things are instantly disqualifiers for actual success, which is truly indicated by how much cap space a team has at the end of the year, thrown into a pivot chart against their possession stats and 5v5 goal differential, along with some other stupid fucking stats Steve Burtch made up in a craven, desperate, and pathetic attempt to get hired. And naturally, the Leafs are succeeding by all of those measures, and all the good stuff is because of Kyle Dubas (who shielded sex criminal players on the junior team he was GM for), and all the bad stuff is because of Lou Lamoriello. This is how Maple Leafs hockey works.
Of course, if all of that bullshit is stripped away, the Maple Leafs are basically right on schedule with a pretty transparently laid out plan with a lot of fun players. It just sucks that that has to be admitted through clenched teeth because their fanbase is full of actual fucking psychopaths, many of them adult men screaming into a camera with their hockey figurines on display behind them, and the severed heads and Tupperware containers full of their own excrement just out of the frame of the shot. The Leafs actively tanked last year, and it actually worked in landing them the top overall pick in Auston Matthews, who is every bit of the franchise center the Leafs needed despite the fact that he’s an American. Matthews is large, goes to the net, and has an underrated playmaking ability and has been carrying the play all while seeing the top defenders of the other team at 20 years old. He’s the real deal, and while the Calder race between he and Patrik Laine should be closer than it will end up being, Matthews will be 100% deserving in the likely event that he wins it. Mitch Marner and William Nylander are also rookies with first round pedigree making an impression on the Leafs top two right wing slots. Both have well eclipsed the 50 point mark this season, and each possess great hands and tremendous vision and creativity. And this is before even getting to James van Riemsdyk who is still only 28 and is on pace for a career best in points, and Nazem Kadri, who Sam profiled earlier and is quietly wreaking havok now that he has been properly slotted further down the Leafs’ center depth and has the benefit of a real coach maximizing his skills. Tyler Bozak and now Brian Boyle also man the pivots on the other lines, and while neither moves exceptionally well, both are tremendous at the dot which keeps the puck with the Leafs more talented young forwards.
On the blue line however, things are still very much a work in progress. Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly are solid, mobile puck moving defensemen, but both realistically top out as second pairing guys. Nikita Zaitsev has also impressed in his first season over with his puck moving ability, but ideally will be slotted down to bum slaying duty on the third pairing once genius shadow GM Kyle Dubas (and NOT Lou Lamoriello) decides how they’re going to procure a true #1 defenseman. Good luck to Dubas and about 24 other GMs around the league in doing so. The rest of the corps is populated by flotsam and jetsam castoffs Matt Hunwick and Alexey Marchenko (who could not get minutes on the Red Wing blue line), and the inimitable jowls of Circus Bear Roman Polak.
In net the Leafs have relied this year upon Frederik Andersen after seemingly a decade of the Jonathan Bernier/James Reimer drama. Andersen has been solid if unspectacular, giving putting up a .917 overall and a .927 at evens. And while the Leafs are a solid possession team, they’re also fairly high event, which makes sense given their youthful exuberance and uneven defense. Andersen sees 31.5 shots per game he starts, which is about par for the course these days, so he’s still asked to do quite a bit by the young team in front of him.
As for the Men of Four Feathers, with tonight being the last game of the mini-road trip, the hope is that the team actually remains focused on the task at hand, particularly with some serious batting practice coming up at home this week with the Avs, Canucks, and Stars all paying a visit to the UC starting tomorrow night. Marian Hossa will miss tonight’s game (and likely tomorrow’s as well it stands to reason) despite taking the morning skate today with his usual line. And while tonight is an opportunity to potentially put more distance between themselves and Minnesota as the Wild welcome a fast if imperfect Rangers team with Antti Raanta in net, the focus is still long term for this team, and particularly Hossa.
Corey Crawford will get the start tonight after sitting out Thursday’s game with a concussion despite the fact that no one with the organ-I-zation will admit that that’s what happened Tuesday night when the league-assigned spotter somehow failed to notice Crawford fall backwards onto his ass after taking a Shea Weber slap shot to the fucking face. Naturally, Crawford missed Thursday in Ottawa due to being “under the weather” (jack off hand gesture). Either way, he’ll need to clear the circling blue birds out of his field of vision, as the Leafs have plenty of players who can pick their spots no matter how bad the angle might look.
With last change, it’s highly likely that Jonathan Toews will get an ass full of Nazem Kadri tonight, while Boyle will likely try to lean on Schmaltz at the dot all night long. Ideally Quenneville would probably like Toews out against Matthews, but the next time Joel Quenneville gets a matchup he wants on the road against Cock Adams Winner Mike Babjack will be the first. The Leafs speed to the outside might be a problem for the Hawk blue line, but these players are built to try to make a play at the attacking blue line, and the Hawks defense is designed to stand players up there with back pressure coming from Hawk forwards. Either way, tonight’s game will be a fast paced, highly skilled and fun affair, even if the Hawks don’t really win unless they win in regulation, while outshooting and out attempting the Leafs at evens, and score no goals on special teams. Should the Hawks fail to meet even one of those criteria, it will result in a Leafs win in the minds of their front office executive in waiting fanbase. Let’s go Hawks.