RECORDS: Maple Leafs: 26-18-5 Hawks 22-19-6
PUCK DROP: 7pm
YOU RUINED MICHAEL BRADLEY: Pension Plan Puppets
The homestand that was supposed to be the turning point of the season has proven to be just that, except not in the way the Hawks assuredly hoped. They’ve mangled it just about as badly as they could, with only a victory over the Jets standing out as anything worth remembering. The Hawks might not have completely fucked themselves over yet but let’s just say they’re awfully contorted. They won’t be getting much sympathy from tonight’s opponent either.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have spent a fair amount of time lately going, “This is not my beautiful house,” as well. This was supposed to be “their year,” but both Tampa and Boston have domed them in the standings and they are buried in third in the Atlantic, where they’re likely to stay.
The thing is, the Leafs are a little better off than they were last year at this point, it’s just there are better teams in the division this time around. Secondly, all the joy has been seemingly sucked out of them, which has a lot of knives and arrows pointed at Mike Babcock. It might not be fair.
The Leafs aren’t quite the same, good-time-boys act they were last year when they seemed NBA Jam on ice at times. But they’re creating the best chances in the league, they’re just not burying them as much as they did last year. They also aren’t very sturdy defensively, despite Babs’s best efforts, so it’s not like Leafs games are completely boring. There’s a lot of action in both ends.
But that hasn’t stopped the players themselves from sniping at each other, with both Frederik Andersen and Auston Matthews wondering what the give-a-shit level is from their teammates in their own end, and overall, in the press. It’s just not a terribly happy bunch. Throw in Babcock’s love affair with Roman Polak and Leo Komarov, and you can see where the angst level has gone in the red in T.O, a place where the angst level is always high to begin with.
The Leafs of late haven’t been helped with injuries, as both Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev are out. This wasn’t a great blue line with them, lacking a true #1 pairing, and their absence has made that clear. It has forced them to call up Travis Dermott, probably their best defensive prospect which has quieted the rabble a little bit. The fear is that when the top two return he’ll still sit behind Polak, and having watched Polak do his circus bear act in St. Louis you probably understand how frustrating that can be.
For the Hawks, looks to be that they’ll roll the same lineup out as Monday’s loss to Tampa, and that’s probably as it should be as it was a good effort that just ran aground against the league’s best team. But we don’t know when Glass Jeff will be Glass Jeff again, and against this firepower that the Leafs have you’re still not awfully comfortable. Saad-Toews-Duclair will get another chance to impress, and they’ve looked good without scratching in the past two games. But that’s been the story the whole season, ain’t it? And what does it matter if you don’t have the end product? No one wants to hear about the labor pains they just want to take their picture with the baby and such (unless you’re my mother who never hesitated to make it clear how much pain I caused, in labor and beyond).
All may be lost as is. Seven points is a massive gap in this participation-trophy-NHL. But if the Hawks are going to make anything of this, and they don’t really have a choice because there isn’t a path to “giving up” or “selling,” it has to be right now. Get something going into the All-Star game and come roaring out of it. The schedule after the break is not exactly forgiving, but the Hawks biffed all the other chances when the schedule was soft. This is your charge, accept it or don’t.
Game #48 Preview