Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Boston Thursday, 6pm

Game 2 in Boston Saturday, 7pm

Game 3 in Toronto Monday, 6pm

Game 4 in Toronto Wednesday, 6pm

After all the whining, moaning, and kvetching, they are still going to play this series and not reschedule the Leafs against a team their media contingent deems is a better matchup for them. At some point, either the Leafs are good enough or they aren’t, and whether they spit it in the first or second round really shouldn’t matter. But any slight is a massive injustice to those clad in blue. In reality, this is a team they should be getting past, no matter the history. But thanks to their mental fragility and bed-wetting, they may have turned the Bruins into such a monster in their own heads there’s no way by.

Goalies: The other thing Leafs Nation seems unwilling to admit to itself is that no matter who the opponent, Freddie Andersen is as likely as anyone to clown it up but good. He fell apart in Game 7 last year versus these same Bruins, just as he’d done three years prior against the Hawks, just as he’d done the year before that when John Gibson took his job. He is basically the biggest question mark for the Leafs, and that’s on a team with no top-pairing d-men. He also went to pieces in the spring with a terrible March, though the Leafs are hoping his small recovery in April bodes well. It doesn’t. That said, the Leafs’ style put Andersen under mass amounts of pressure all season and he was just shy of Vezina-level. If it’s ever going to happen for him…

On the other end, you pretty much know what you’re getting from Tuukka Rask. He was a touch north of league average this year, which is basically where he’s lived the past few years. His playoff record is pretty glittering, somewhat marred by the Bruins being overmatched by the Lightning last year. There’s very little chance that Rask is going to upend his own team, and a better chance he is a major factor to the good in this series. And even if he does misstep, the Bruins have a pretty stout safety net in Jaro Halak, who’s been marvelous all season and has his own playoff history to work with. The only concern is if Bruce Cassidey wants to get cute early and heaps too much pressure on both goalies and tenses up the team, but that’s not all that likely.

Defense: As has been the problem for years, you might have heard about it, the Leafs blue line doesn’t come anywhere near matching the quality of the forwards. Jake Muzzin has been an all right addition, but hasn’t really locked anything down. Nor was he ever going to. This is an outfit still giving meaningful minutes to Ron Hainsey, who can regale you with tales of cars without windshields. Jake Gardiner is back, which apparently counts for something. I don’t know what. Morgan Rielly is good pointed one way but not the other. The Leafs are best off just going for broke, trying to get up the ice as much and as fast as possible and trying to take their d-men out of the equation as much as they can.

The thing is, it shouldn’t be that big of a disadvantage against the Bruins. Because I don’t think there’s a lot here. Zdeno Chara has been able to strip down his game and be effective at his advanced age, but that only makes him a second-pairing player. Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy are offensive weapons but specialize in the Lemeul Stinson trail-technique whenever asked to defend anyone. Brandon Carlo is….fine? Maybe? Do we even know? I’m sure I don’t care. Somehow they make it work, because they give up the least amount of attempts, shots, and chances in the East. It can’t be all Bergeron…can it?

Forwards: This is where it feels like the Leafs have a huge advantage. But it felt that way last year and look how that went. The Leafs have been showtime at times this year, and that’s with William Nylander getting seriously wounded by the SH% Dragon (BABIP Dragon’s sister). Remember, their second center has 47 goals this year. And neither Tavares or Matthews were the leading scorer on the team. Nazem Kadri is a hell of a weapon, both scoring-wise and annoying-wise, to have on your third line. Only Tampa can boast more, and at least forward-wise, it’s closer to a push than you might think.

We’ve been convinced for years that the Bruins are nothing more than Bergeron’s line plus David Krejci. But much like the defense we can’t comprehend, it keeps working. They were somehow shocked to discover that Charlie Coyle sucks. Jake DeBrusk gives Krejci at least half of a player to do things with, but beyond that there is nothing here. But because of Bergeron’s dominance there doesn’t have to be. The Leafs aren’t going to have any answer for Patrice and Marchand and Pastrnak. Matthews and JT can’t do the defensive work and there’s no pairing up to the task.

Prediction: On paper, there’s no excuse for the Leafs losing this. But there’s more at work here. Much like last year, the Leafs just don’t have an answer for Bergeron, and the questions about their defense are slightly louder than the ones about Boston’s. The questions about their goalie are much louder than the ones about Boston’s. Still, with that firepower the Leafs should be able to simply outscore the Bruins. Even if Rask plays well the Leafs could, and probably should, get three goals or more per game. And the Bruins would be hard-pressed to match that. In a vacuum. But this isn’t a vacuum. And it feels like the Leafs have been looking for an excuse to shoot themselves in the face again. This one’s got a familiar ring to it…

Bruins in seven.

Everything Else

At some point we’re going to have to rename the team in Toronto “The Poochies,” because it seems the hockey world can’t spin unless we check in on the Leafs first. Only after they’ve been bookmarked is everything allowed to continue in its normal fashion.

In case you somehow have just the right type of noise cancelling headphones that pick out the exact frequency of loudmouths in their mom’s basement drinking their own piss, the Leafs have lost four of five. That’s after going 6-1-1 in their last eight, but we have to ignore that fact because it doesn’t convey the right state of panic everyone clad in blue needs you to know they’re in. In those four losses, two were unsightly as they were to the Hawks and Senators, and the other two were to the Lightning and at the Predators last night, which happens. Sandwiched in there is a pretty comedy-sketch of a win against the Flyers where they gave up six goals.

26 goals surrendered in five games isn’t exactly thrilling our confidence inducing, but pretty much everyone has a stretch like that (or if you’re the Hawks, a month or two). Before this rupture of a defensive artery the Leafs were about 10th in the league in GA/g, at 2.85, and now have risen all the way to 3.00 which ranks them 16th. Right behind the Penguins, and also ahead of the Capitals and Sharks who are considered Cup contenders by some or most.

More importantly, the only games the Leafs have looked truly second best in were the ones against Tampa, which is an affliction 29 other teams have, and the first 30 minutes against the Hawks, which isn’t acceptable. What the Leafs are really going through is Freddy Andersen having a Game 7 spasm in March. Maybe that’s scary, but it shouldn’t be unexpected.

If it took these five games for the Toronto media to figure out their team sucked defensively, then I don’t know what to tell them. The Leafs rank 29th in shots against at even-strength, and 26th in scoring chances against. This was all masked when Andersen was near Vezina level, and that mask fell off with a ground-shaking thud when his level dropped.

While those with press passed decked in blue have gone all gaga for Morgan Rielly’s counting stats or Jake Gardiner’s impending free agency, they tried to fool themselves into thinking this blue line was any good. It never was, and that hasn’t changed in the past five games just because they gave up 39 shots to the Hawks (what?).

The blame is going to Mike Babcock, but he seemingly is doing what only available open to him, and that’s playing as fast and loose as the Leafs can to try and impose their forwards on almost every other team that can’t match them. That’ll lead to bad weeks every so often. Yes, using Ron Hainsey a lot is a weird choice, but again, the options aren’t exactly flowing especially with Gardiner hurt. There are actually Leafs fans clamoring for Justin Holl, because if you’re a Marlies legend it obviously means you’re a celestial being that only Toronto residents can recognize.

It’s really no different than the mewling about the playoff format, which will see the Leafs turned into a party hat by the Lightning in the second round at best. I’ve never understood what the difference between losing there or the third round would be, and even under the old system the Leafs couldn’t really avoid Tampa in the second round anyway. Either you’re good enough or you’re not.

But Toronto’s problem is everyone’s problem, or at least they’re going to make sure that it is. At least when the Yankees and Red Sox’s following turn their angst over their sixth-inning reliever into national news, they have the jewelry to back it up. But the Leafs use that vacuous trophy case as just another reason to amplify their noise across the land, because this is a crisis that must be solved after all.

There has been nothing new learned about the Leafs in the last week and a half, other than Andersen was never going to be around .930 for a whole season consistently. Perhaps the pain for Leafs fans is what they shielded their eyes from since September finally couldn’t be ignored anymore, and they’re just mad at themselves.

I eagerly await a first-round flameout followed by a Babcock-Quenneville switch, and then see what Q does with this blue line with no new additions. We have plenty of evidence that he can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit, and I wonder how Toy Boy would handle seeing Trevor van Riemsdyk getting second-pairing assignments. It’ll be excellent theater.

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 30-30-9   42-22-5

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN

THE ABYSS: Pension Plan Puppets 

During the Hawks first “streak,” it was obvious they were benefitting from a softening of the schedule. Even when they played barely real teams, they were simply outclassed. We don’t know if this is a new “streak” yet, three in a row hardly constitutes that, but whatever it is is unlikely to continue tonight. The Hawks are playing one of the few REAL-ASS teams in the league, and we know how that’s gone. And they’re facing one that’s probably going to have an edge/snarl to it.

The Leafs had something of a “test” on Monday, and they got absolutely horsed by the Lightning at home, 6-2. If they had won that game or even been close, you might be hopeful of catching them with their focus elsewhere. Probably no such luck tonight. Maybe if the Bruins had beaten the Jackets last night and moved six points ahead of the Leafs, they would have decided there’s nothing left to play for and would have spent the last 13 games looking at their watch. But with a four-point gap and a game in hand, the Leafs can reasonably think that home-ice is still on the table and worth chasing (which is debatable). So the combination of frustration and motivation should have the Leafs antennae up, which is hardly good news.

There’s also the small matter of Morgan Rielly, which shouldn’t matter but will in the sense that he will get a standing ovation from the frothing, rich aristocracy that fills the Whatever It’s Fucking Called Now Center, because…he might…not have…used a homophobic slur? They won’t know why, they’ll just clap like the trained seals all fans become in situations like this. Either way, he and the Leafs will be happy to have a game to play to distract from whatever the last two days were. All of this does not add up to a pleasant night for the Hawks.

And even without all that, this is a team so far beyond the Hawks you wouldn’t want to drive it. In games against the league’s penthouse residents, the Hawks have generally been embarrassed. The Lightning have dribbled their head like a basketball twice. So have the Sharks. The Jets took them seriously for like a combined 12 minutes and got three wins out of it. They were with the Bruins in South Bend when the Bs were in their worst stretch, and then nowhere close in Boston. They’re 0-3 against the Flames. It’s not an enviable record.

And though they may finish third in their division. and though their media and fans refuse to shut up about anything, this is still an unholy offensive force. John Tavares has 76 points, and he’s the second center. There are three lines here better than the Hawks can muster with one, and when they get rolling no one can live with it (except Tampa, apparently). The Hawks were able to put up six on this team in the home opener because they got a look at Garret Sparks. They’ll find no such refuge here. The Leafs will want a recovery from Monday, which means Andersen, who’s been one of the better goalies in the league.

If the Leafs have a weakness it’s a defense that still is short, even with Jake Muzzin, but you have to get the puck first which is the real trick. Sure, if the Hawks can get DeBrincat or Kane or Saad or Toews bearing down on Hainsey or Zaitsev or whoever they might find some joy, but getting to those spots takes more than a smile. It’s also a beat-up blue line as both Gardiner and Dermott are out.

For the Hawks, shouldn’t be too many changes. Crawford will start, and the lines should look the same (go pound, John Hayden). The expectations for this one should be nil. If the Hawks can get a win in Montreal against a Canadiens team fighting it, this trip will be a success. After that, it’s the Canucks, Flyers, and a home-and-home with the Avs. Basically it would be set for the Hawks to perform one last death rattle if they get out of Canada alive.

And if not, they are who we through they were anyway.

 

Game #70 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

But how does this affect the Leafs?

Any time literally anything in hockey, or sports in general happens, the Canadian Hockey Media and 95% of Canadian hockey fans pen either short or longform thoughts on this exact hypothetical. Maple Leafs fans are the most populous group in the sport, and they are also the most vocal and the most incapable of dealing with other human beings on any real level. They have made a ball hockey playing Baby Huey, a face painted cigarette smoking sexist, and an actual psychopath shrieking in front of his action figures in his basement “experts” via social media. Those that don’t even fall into those extremes are far more concerned with salary cap ramifications than the realities of actually winning a championship because doing so would completely strip them of their narcissistic, cloyingly self-deprecating, head-up-their-own-ass fandom. The latter tendency has led them to form a cult around a Rivers Cuomo looking ass motherfucker of a GM, whose sexual politics might actually be worse that Rivers’ in simply brushing aside a sexual assault scandal when he was in charge of a junior team. But hey, he hired a woman and bloggers for the front office, and a Candian junior team needs to have a bus accident to avoid having a sexual assault scandal of one form or another, so Kyle Dubas is a beloved figure kind of by default. It’s a goddamn shame that the on-ice product will probably be some of the most watchable hockey in the league, because all of the bullshit around this team is enough to gag anyone whose face isn’t painted blue and white.

’17-’18: 49W-26L-7OT 105PTS 277GF 232GA 24.9%PP 81.4%PK 49.82%CF 9.01%SH .9287SV%

 

Forwards: Might as well switch up the format and get right to it here, because this was already one of the more stacked groups in the league, and it only got moreso by adding the biggest free agent since the last lockout in erstwhile Islanders captain and hometown boy John Tavares. But while the crowing masses already planning the parade down Yonge St. still love to squawk about Dubas’ being a BRAIN GEANIOUS, he still managed to throw the first ever maximum salary in the form of almost entirely lump sum signing bonuses at Tavares even when it probably wouldn’t have taken that much arm twisting to get him to want to play in his home town with the current roster. That’s not to say it’s not a brilliant contract, as the Leafs are one of maybe like 3 teams in the league that can possibly afford that much out of pocket and it’s tremendous leverage considering that money up front is always preferable for athletic contracts, but there’s no need to pretend like this is some small market coup as the masses did. The resultant flip side of that coin is that dynamic winger William Nylander is still an unsigned restricted free agent, and because most hockey fans are stupid and don’t realize that good players deserve to get paid, the line will likely be that he needs to take less money to keep this grouping together. Nylander still hasn’t reported to camp but he probably will, because nothing remotely interesting happens in these scenarios with the NHL’s boring ass GM’s. But even aside from Nylander, the Leafs have Auston Matthews to essentially be a co #1 center along with Tavares, which leaves the ever cantankerous and productive Nazem Kadri to take over the third/checking line assignment, where he will simply devour bums all season long. Mitch Marner‘s deft play making on the wing will make this top 6 arguably the best in the NHL, but there are still concerns here. For as much as everyone liked to talk shit, and deservedly so about Tyler Bozak‘s role in the Tronna offensive attack, he and the departed James Van Riemsdyk took a combined 98 points with them out the door to the Blues and Flyers respectively. John Tavares’ career high in point output is 86. So while this offense is certainly more dynamic, it might be running in place in terms of actual output, and preventing goals might be the bigger issue.

Defense: Now it gets fun. While Morgan Rielly (spell your name right dickhead) and Jake Gardiner are fine second pairing guys who can do a bit of everything alright, they’re not true #1 defensemen by any stretch of the imagination. Ron Hainsey is now 38 years old and will be asked to play more top 4 minutes. Nikita Zaitsev  needs to take a leap beyond being a bum slaying third pairing puck mover, but despite him being only in his third year in the league, he’ll be 27 next month, so at this point he kind of is what he is. Connor Carrick and Travis Dermott don’t really do anything for anyone, so compared to a lot of other groupings even in this division, the Leafs blue line is found wanting.

Goaltending: And here it is, the great undoing. Freddy Andersen probably doesn’t deserve this level of preemptive blame or responsibility, but deserve’s got nothing to do with it. Last year Andersen was completely serviceably average with a .918 overall and a .921 at evens, and proceeded to implode in the playoffs with an .896 in the Leafs’ 7 games of the first round. It’s not the first time Freddy has shat himself in the post-season, as a lifetime ago he sported a .901 in a 7 game Western Conference Final loss to the locals in red and black. “Frederik Andersen” is simply Dutch for “Evgeni Nabakov”- just good enough to break his team’s heart. He’ll be backed up at least to begin with by LOCAL GUY Garrett Sparks, whose 17 games of NHL experience came three years ago when the Leafs were willfully in the toilet trying (and succeeding) to tank for Auston Matthews.

Outlook: It’s a goddamn shame that everything else about this team sucks shit and is wildly irritating, because the process by which this team has been built has been as textbook as anyone could ask for in the modern NHL, and their forward grouping will be healthy if electric. But for all the bouquets thrown his way, Mike Babcock still has his blind spots and will find a way to get tomato cans into the lineup and coach conservatively despite having a trapeze troupe up front. But that may end up serving the team well given the state of things on the back end and in net, which will likely ultimately lead them to a second round out at the latest as other, more balanced teams within their division, specifically Tampa, will find ways to tear through the gaping holes on that blue line.

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Everything Else

We love to destroy idols around here. It’s kind of our thing. So we relish the chance to spread our fire (HEY BUDDY!) outside Chicago. And for the first time in a while, there are sharper looks being directed at Mike Babcock. Then again, everyone who works in Toronto eventually gets turned to ash. They all eat their young up there.

The Leafs are entrenched in third place in the Atlantic. They’ve been passed by the Bruins and are five points behind them and have played four games more. They won’t be caught by anyone either, but third place and a tricky first round matchup with Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron is not what Leafs fans had in mind when this season started. It’s probably not what they sold Patrick Marleau in July. The natives are a tad restless.

The case against Babs: The strange use of his roster. Currently, the existence of Leo Komarov and Roman Polak has pretty much every Leafs fan putting their heads through various pieces of drywall. Polak has been terrible since about 2009. Komarov averages second line minutes with his one non-empty net goal at even-strength. He averages more time than Mitch Marner. It’s certainly grinding on some people.

Second, the Leafs have become a touch boring. They’ve scored more than three goals just once since the Christmas break. For a team boasting this much firepower, that sure does seem to be askew.

Third, Babcock’s rep may be overblown. He hasn’t seen anything past the second round since losing the Final with Detroit in 2009. And the thinking goes that with that roster, you couldn’t help but get to a couple Finals. And while he did get the Anaheim Ducks to a Game 7 in a Final once, that team didn’t finish with 100 points. As soon as his Detroit roster started to age and decline, he didn’t have many answers. A couple victories over the Coyotes doesn’t impress people much, nor does beating Bruce Boudreau at home in a Game 7 because everyone does that.

Still, it’s never that simple. For one, the Leafs have the best xGF/60 in the league. So they can’t be boring. Their shooting percentages in their last 10 games are as follows: 7.6, 11.1, 7.6, 0.0, 7.8, 3.2, 6.7, 5.5, o, 15.7. Only two of them are above their season rate, and they outchanced their opponents in seven of those ten games.

Secondly, even if Babs would like to be more boring, the Leafs have the third worst xGA/60 in the league, even worse than the Hawks. If Babcock wants to lock it down, he’s got a funny way of going about it. Then again, that’s probably a strike against him.

But with this blue line, there isn’t much for him to do. Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner are fine, but neither are top pairing material yet. Neither is Nikita Zaitsev. Maybe one or more will be one day, and now Reilly and Zaitsev are hurt. The forwards aren’t much help, given their youth and attacking instincts.

The fact that the Leafs are having to overcome their blue line shouldn’t be a surprise. It isn’t to many. And they’ve been bailed out as Freddy Andersen is having a wonderful season, so things could and probably should be worse.

Is Babs reputation maybe a little overstated? Yeah, probably. Try not to win a gold medal with the Canadian squads he’s gotten to coach. And he still thought Alex Pietrangelo was a better bet than PK Subban. He’s got one ring, though was inches from another. And as we know around here, rings don’t necessarily equate to genius, so much as good fortune.

Babcock will be judged by what goes on in April and May. And we doubt Leafs fans are going to be too pleased with Babcock’s now normal first or second-round ditch-out. Then again, Lou Lamiorello isn’t going to probably care either way, and for sure Brendan Shanahan won’t.

 

Game #48 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 at 

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.

Everything Else

oldschool at draft_lens1960363module9273829photo_1209145008daffy-duck-donald-duck

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: NBC, CBC, TVA, WGN-AM 720
Story Of My Life: Anaheim Calling, Battle of California

It has been 363 days since the Blackhawks lost a Game 7 in the Western Conference Final on home ice, blowing two separate two goal leads and a lead going into the third period. Tonight they will finally get a chance to take another step in righting the wrong that was last season, and all that stands in their way is the West’s number 1 seed on their home ice in the form of the Anaheim Ducks.

Everything Else

draft_lens1960363module9273829photo_1209145008daffy-duck-donald-duck vs oldschool

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, CBC, TVA, WGN-AM 720
Prison Bound: Anaheim Calling, Battle of California

Because seemingly nothing can ever be simple or straightforward with this iteration of the Hawks, they now find themselves in an unfamiliar situation under Joel Quenneville: being forced to win a Game 6 at home in order to force a Game 7 after tying the series at 2-2 on Saturday. And in their way remain the Anaheim Ducks, who are looking to punch their ticket to the Cup final while keeping themselves undefeated in regulation this post season.

Everything Else

draft_lens1960363module9273829photo_1209145008daffy-duck-donald-duck vs oldschool

Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio:  NBC, CBC, TVA, WGN-AM 720
All The Answers: Anaheim Calling, Battle Of California

In Joel Quenneville’s seven year tenure as the Hawks’ coach, there has not been a single postseason wherein his squad has not trailed in a series at some point, including twice in each respective year that ended in a parade. So tonight’s Game 4 at home against the Ducks is not new territory for his team. But Game 3 certainly rocketed up the charts as one of his all-time coaching boners in what is already a greatest hits collection. The Ducks took advantage, and now tonight results in a crucial, near must-win for the home team.