Game 52: New York Islanders vs Toronto Maple Leafs

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By: Spencer Lussier

Fresh off another break for the All-Star festivities, the Toronto Maple Leafs kickoff their final push into the playoffs starting with the New York Islanders tonight.

Toronto was rolling heading into the All-Star break, with two big wins on the road in Chicago and Dallas. The offence seems to have found a spark with Mike Babcock tinkering his lines, most notably the offensive presence Mitch Marner on the second line with Patrick Marleau and Nazem Kadri. That line has combined for five points in those two wins, with many more scoring opportunities accounted for as well. It will be interesting to see if that line picks up where they left off or are cooled down as a result of the break. Jake Gardiner has been another Leaf on a tear lately with nine assists in the last five games, and will look to be getting some friends back too on the blue line. Both Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev was back at practice Tuesday, and seems likely they will return to the lineup this week. Zaitsev is the most likely set to return tonight, as he was slotted next to Travis Dermott on the second pairing in practice yesterday. Zaitsev has missed the Leafs last 17 games with a broken foot.

Scouting Report

The New York Islanders have been a pretty inconsistent all season long and as a result sits in second last in the Metropolitan division. Despite their struggles, the Islanders own one of the most dangerous offensive units. They are ranked second only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for goals for with 170 so far this season. Obviously with names like Tavares, Barzal, Eberle and Lee, it’s not hard to understand why the Islanders offence is so potent. Yet the offence haven’t been able to outscore their issues on the back end and in net. They are ranked first in the league for goals allowed with 183, 15 more than the second-place Arizona Coyotes. Another reason for the very high goals allowed total is that the Islanders have the second worst penalty kill in the league. So that looks like a biggest mismatch tonight as the Leafs own the sixth best power play. It is essential for the Leafs to limit the offence on New York, who will be looking to bounce back in a big way after a 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers last night.

Player to Watch on New York: Josh Bailey

With John Tavares being the Islanders most impactful player, it would be easy to have his name as the player to watch, but everyone knows that. Instead the player to watch for the Islanders tonight is Tavares’ running mate Josh Bailey. After a career high 56 points last year, Bailey has continued his phenomenal play entering his name into the race for being one of the best playmakers in the game. Bailey currently sits with 55 points in 47 games this season and has already tied his career high in assists with 43. His most dangerous weapon is his vision, being able to pass with ease through tight lanes becoming the perfect complement to John Tavares. The Islanders also have a lot of faith in the 28-year-old on the power play with 22 power play points, Bailey acts as the “quarterback” on the man advantage with the power play going through him.

Watchability Scale: 7/10

I am expecting a pretty high scoring game tonight. I think the Leafs offence has a lot of faith in their new roles that will translate into more scoring, and the Islanders are looking to bounce back after a terrible game last night. I am expecting a good night for the Leafs, as they should be able to take advantage of the Islanders depleted d-core. I give this game a 7/10, as I expect it to still be a good game, but the first period will be slow, with the Leafs coming back from their break and the Islanders playing last night.

Lines:

Leafs:

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Islanders:

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 Buy your tickets to our next show on Feb 15 here:  Puck Talks Toronto    Spencer Lussier is a second-year student at the College of Sports Media. Follow him     @SpennyLuCSM

Buy your tickets to our next show on Feb 15 here: Puck Talks Toronto

Spencer Lussier is a second-year student at the College of Sports Media. Follow him

@SpennyLuCSM

Friday 4-For-Four

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By: Spencer Lussier

The Player: Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel earns player of the week honours for his performances in Buffalo’s three wins this past week. Buffalo kicked off their week in Western Canada with a win over Calgary, their toughest task the entire trip. Eichel scored the game winner in overtime, which capped off a solid game for the 21-year-old. He played the most of any forward in this game with a game high seven shots on net. The next night Jack Eichel took his Sabres into Edmonton where he would face a familiar face. Whenever Edmonton and Buffalo squares off it always becomes Eichel vs McDavid. Eichel won this edition between the top two picks in the 2015 draft as not only did the Sabres shutout Oilers 5-0, but Eichel had his impact on four of five goals, scoring once while adding three more assists for a four-point night. Buffalo would then go on to beat Vancouver 4-0 a couple nights later, and even though Eichel failed to record a point, he was still a threat on offence and had quite a handful of chance. With Eichel being in Buffalo and how bad they have been since Eichel’s debut his talent gets clouded. This season Eichel has quietly put up a point per game clip with 49 in 49 games, which is pretty impressive since there isn’t much on Buffalo. This is best shown by the 13-point difference from Eichel, to Evander Kane who sits in second on the team with 36 points.

The Trend: Brad Marchand's Antics

Brad Marchand is up to no good once again. In a game earlier this week against the New Jersey Devils, Marchand connected with Marcus Johansson with a blatant elbow to the back of his head. Johansson who already spent a better part of a month this season with a concussion, left the game and did not return, and as a result of the hit suffered his second concussion of the season. For his efforts, Marchand was suspended five games which leads me to the trend of the week which is Marchand’s antics. The Bruins' star has previously been suspended five times and fined three times in his nine-year career, and this is his third time being suspended for a hit to the head. Marchand is a special player, being one of the game’s best goal scorers over the past couple of seasons, and with Boston on an incredible run, it would be a shame if one of the team’s best player’s ruins their almost historic run because of his poor decision making.

The Surprise: Gardiner one of the hottest player's last week?

Leaf fans have voiced their opinion about defenceman Jake Gardiner, his inability to tighten up his defensive play and his lack of focus when skating with the puck to point a few out. However, this past week the Leafs defenceman has stepped up in the absence of Morgan Rielly. The surprising part about Gardiner’s play in his past six games is that he has nine points, all of them being assists, and is actually tied for the most points in the league during that span. While he is putting up the points it almost goes unrecognized because of how critical people look at Gardiner’s play. Regardless it is a surprise that statistically Gardiner has been one of the league’s hottest player’s yet he really hasn’t played like it.  

The Read: PK Subban on The Daily Show

The read of the week actually is recapping what you can say was a historic appearance on television. Earlier this week The Daily Show hosted by Trevor Noah had a Nashville Predators’ PK Subban on the program. Satchel Price of SB Nation wrote a piece about how Subban’s guest role on the late-night TV program highlighted the defenceman as the NHL’s biggest philanthropist. Subban talked about a wide range of topics such as his charity work and why he donated that much money to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, his time in Montreal and his how Nashville has so far. This can be looked as historic when you consider that PK Subban is the first hockey player to be on the program. The Daily Show has seen its fair share of polarizing figures, many politicians, actors and actresses and musicians, and it’s very rare to find any athlete on the program let alone a hockey player.

Check out the article here

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Spencer Lussier is a second-year student at the College of Sports Media. Follow him

@SpennyLuCSM

Game 51: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Dallas Stars

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By: Spencer Lussier

The Toronto Maple Leafs are back in action once again, after a 3-2 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks last night, which is the first Leafs win in the Windy City since 2003. They come into Dallas tonight to play a very edgy yet skilled team before the All-Star break.

The line juggling seems to have showed some promise in last night’s game for the Leafs. The main purpose for the shake-up was to generate more offence for a team that averages just two goals a game in 2018. Well, they only scored twice once again in regulation before the Nylander’s overtime winner, but at least these newly formed lines are more suitable for what the team is trying to accomplish. Mitch Marner scored a goal in this one, after he was moved up to Kadri’s line in place of Leo Komarov. He proved to be the shot of energy to a line that has been struggling on offence for quite some time. Frederik Andersen was spectacular last night once again. Freddie made 34 saves for the win. He will give up the crease in tonight’s matchup to Curtis McElhinney, who is making his first appearance since December 20th.

Scouting Report:

The task is daunting for the Leafs tonight as they play one of the hottest teams at home dating back to last season. Dallas is 21-8 in their past 29 home games and more recently 10-1 in their past eleven. To make matters worse is the Stars are 5-0 in their last five meetings with Atlantic Division opponents. The Stars are in a middle of a bounce back season, currently locking down the first wild card spot. The biggest need was a starting goaltender and they accomplished that in the offseason, picking up Ben Bishop. The Stars have always had offensive threats and owns the best offensive duo in the game with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but what was holding them back was the uncertainty in net. Now Bishop hasn’t been his Vezina candidate self this season but he has done what Dallas needed him to do which is be consistent in the net. They are a fast team with youth and speed all over the lineup, but they play a real gritty way with lots of pressure, which is not good for a beat-up Leafs defence.

Player to Watch on Dallas: Alex Radulov

I made mention of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn who each have been among the offensive leaders in recent years, but the person to watch for tonight is their line mate Alex Radulov. He broke the hearts of many Habs fans when he signed with Dallas this off-season, but Radulov has been money well spent for the Stars half way into the season. Radulov is the leader in points amongst the forwards with 47 in 49 games. The 31-year-old has eight goals and 18 points in his last eleven games. He will be involved once again tonight, being one of the few players to play the Leafs a lot last season. Radulov’s game makes him effective every night. As we see now, he has been carrying the offence for Dallas since 2018 started, but if the offence was to go away, he is a very aggressive player that isn’t afraid to mix it up physically.

Watchability Scale: 6/10

It almost seems like every night I anticipate a high-flying speed and transition game. That is certainly Toronto’s strength to play that way, and Dallas has the personnel to play that way too. However, the Stars are a bigger, stronger team that like to bang and crash on the boards and establish the cycle game, which can prove to be an issue against a worn-down team like Toronto. Especially with the All-Star break looming, I think a lot of players will already be on vacation mode. I don’t expect much from the Leafs in this game, making this a 6/10 on the scale.

Lines:

Leafs:

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Stars:

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Spencer Lussier is a second-year student at the College of Sports Media. Follow him

@SpennyLuCSM

Game 49: Colorado Avalanche vs Toronto Maple Leafs

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By: Spencer Lussier

The Toronto Maple Leafs snapped their four-game losing skid against the Ottawa Senators, and have a chance to make it two in a row as Nathan MacKinnon leads the Colorado Avalanche into the ACC tonight.

Toronto is coming off one of their best games in 2018, turning the table on their recent trend of third period blow ups. Down 3-1 at the start of the third, the Leafs were the ones to storm back and complete the comeback. It was also the first time since December 28th that the Leafs scored more than three goals in regulation, which showed the offence might be heating up once again. Mike Babcock continued to shuffle his lines during the game on Saturday, and I expect it to continue until the Leafs get on a winning streak. The Leafs need to make sure that their offence comes to play on five-on-five to have any success tonight, as the Avalanche owns the second best penalty killing units in the league. This will be the final meeting between these teams this season as Colorado looks for the season sweep, after a 4-3 win in overtime against the Leafs on December 29th.

If it wasn’t for Vegas, Colorado would be the surprise in the NHL. After having one of the worst seasons in modern day history last year, Colorado has turned their season around this year thanks in large part to the run they are on now, winning their last nine games. A lot of credit for the Avalanche success this season falls on Nathan MacKinnon, who has single handily brought this team to success. MacKinnon currently is two points back of Nikita Kucherov for the league lead in points with 59 points in 45 games played. What is arguably more impressive is what he has been doing during their current nine game winning streak, as he has 19 points of his 59 points in his last nine games. Certainly, not what Toronto fans wants to be facing during this tense part of the season. Also, worth noting that Jonathan Bernier will be forcing his former club tonight. He has been a big part in the Avs nine game winning streak, earning the victory in eight of nine games and failing to allow more than three goals during this run.

Player to watch out for on Colorado: Mikko Rantanen

Obviously, it will be Nathan MacKinnon who is hitting his number one overall potential this season. However, another player to watch out for on Colorado is Mikko Rantanen. The 21-year-old winger is already putting up career highs in almost every offensive statistical category. Rantanen was also a top 10 pick in the 2015 draft is hitting his stride in his second year in the NHL. It helps that he is playing alongside MacKinnon, but Rantanen has 46 points in 45 games this season and has five points in his last two games. He is a big winger, listed at 6’4 and plays to his size well making it hard to take the puck away from him. He can make skilled offensive plays with his hands and vision while also being able to bury his chances with his quick release. Both MacKinnon and Rantanen has seemed to excel playing together and look like a dangerous duo for years to come.

Watchability Scale: 8/10

I am really excited for this game. Matthews vs MacKinnon will be fun to see them trade chances in the offensive zone. Both goaltenders are playing well heading into this game. The Leafs have some momentum coming into this one with a win in last game, but it will be challenging once again tonight against a team who had the longest winning streak in the NHL this season. Like I said, I am excited to watch tonight as both teams have the make-up to put on a spectacle. 8/10 on the scale for this game tonight.

Lines:

Leafs:

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Game 48: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Ottawa Senators

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By Spencer Lussier

The Toronto Maple Leafs hobble into the Nation’s capital for a showdown with provincial rivals the Ottawa Senators. Toronto have hit rock bottom this season, losers or seven of their last nine. The frustration of losing is starting to show on players as a soft-spoken Frederik Andersen put his team on blast post game on Thursday. The Leafs best player during this tough stretch questioned his team’s willingness to complete, along with throwing shade to more aspects of the Leafs game. The Leafs issues don’t stop there as the Leafs looked like the most potent offence in the league earlier in the year, now it has done a full change the opposite way. Once the highest scoring team in the league, the goals have dried up with only 12 to show for in 2018. Another alarming issue, and maybe the most important has been the continuing trend of blowing third period leads. During these past nine games, we have seen the Leafs cough up leads in the third in almost every game including the previous meeting with Ottawa when Morgan Rielly committed a bad pinch that eventually found Tom Pyatt for the game winner. Rielly took a spill in Philly last game and left before the second period concluded. He returned for the third but obviously it is still sore as his status for tonight is questionable. Leaf fans if you are hoping for a reason to believe tonight, take into consideration that the Leafs are 10-4-2 in their last 16 Saturday games.

Ottawa comes into tonight matchup on the heels of a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues. Before that the Sens offence was starting to hit their stride, scoring 18 goals in their last four games prior to the Blues loss. Although the offence is starting to pick up, the Sens continue to struggle falling closer to the bottom of the standings. One thing going for Ottawa is that earlier this month they beat the Leafs 4-3, in a game they never trailed in. A large part was Craig Anderson’s play but the offence looked good in that game.

Player to Watch on Ottawa: Matt Duchene

Ottawa’s deal for Matt Duchene earlier this year has come with some criticism considering how poorly the team has played since his arrival. I am here to squash the stigma surrounding Duchene being the issue for the Senators as his play along with the entire offence has improved. Duchene has become more comfortable in the offence and it is showing in his play. The former third overall pick has seven points in his last five games and has started to work well with winger Mike Hoffman. The two were a big part in Ottawa’s win against Toronto, as Duchene has two assists including the primary on the game winner. Duchene has excellent vision, a pass first player with great hands and I believe he could be an issue for the Leafs tonight.

Watchability Scale: 9/10

For me when it comes down to rivalry games I rarely look at each team’s prior games. Both these teams are struggling and are not generating a lot of offence or exciting plays lately that draws viewers in. All that aside this game still will be awesome to watch with a lot of physicality and extra-curricular activities in front of the goalies all night. Both offences have the potential to put a good game together, it is just a matter if they show up and we know both of the Anderson/Andersen goalies will show up as both have been each team’s best player in recent weeks.

Lines:

Leafs:

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*Just speculating but if Rielly plays it looks like Borgman will be benched

Sens:

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*Nate Thompson left last game and did not return. Ottawa called up Colin White from Belleville, meaning if Thompson doesn't go tonight, expect White to fill in

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Spencer Lussier is a second-year student at the College of Sports Media. Follow him

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FRIDAY 4-FOR-FOUR

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By: Spencer Lussier

The Player: Mathew Barzal

Mat Barzal has become a name in the NHL to watch out for every time he steps foot on the ice. This past week, the New York Islanders rookie was a prominent force in their two wins over Montreal and the New York Rangers.  In Saturday’s beat down of the Rangers, Barzal finished the night with five points. In the process Barzal jumped Vancouver’s Brock Boeser for the rookie points lead. Not only did he help his case for the Calder Trophy this year, but his five-point performance was also something not many players have done in the NHL. Earlier in the year, Barzal put another five spot on the Colorado Avalanche earning five primary assists, which is impressive in itself. Tuesday was Barzal’s second five-point performance which made the 20-year-old one of only five rookies in the post expansion era to have multiple five point games in a season. Currently, Barzal has 48 points through 47 games, eight points clear of Boeser for the lead, but if Barzal continues this current pace he can continue to put his name in the conversation for one of the NHL’s greatest rookie seasons. Since the lockout of 04-05, the NHL has seen its fair share of high scoring rookies, with 18 rookies reaching the 60-point mark. Barring anything crazy, Barzal should reach that milestone relatively quickly, but if he continues his point-per-game clip he could become the fourth rookie to reach or surpass 82 points in their first season, the others being Sidney Crosby (102), Alex Ovechkin (106) and Evgeni Malkin (85). There were a lot of what if’s for Barzal to have one of the best rookie seasons in recent memory, but one thing is for sure, his nine points in four games this past week makes him our player of the week.

The Trend: Leafs Third Period Issues

The Toronto Maple Leafs have fallen apart since their hot start to the season. Looking like a force to be reckoned with in the Atlantic, the Leafs overall play has slowed down substantially. Since the mid-point of December, the Leafs have been one of the worst teams in the league. What is more alarming are the games that were within reach but eventually slipped away, which leads me to the trend of the week: The Leafs third period issues….again. The Buds are losers of seven of their last nine games, and are on a four-game slide. In those four losses, the Leafs allowed goals in the third period to either let the opposition tie the game up and force overtime, most recently being last night in Philly. Or the alternative which is flat out losing the lead in regulation. Even the Leafs two shootout wins early in 2018, the extra frame could have been avoided with the Leafs blowing the lead late in the third. This issue is nothing new for the Leafs. In fact you could compare this issue Montreal’s lack of scoring, as both franchise have dealt with these issues each season, yet never correct the problem. Toronto issue has been the late game collapses, and if they legitimately believe they are Stanley Cup Contenders, the Leafs need to quickly address this trend.

The Surprise: Boston Bruins

In that same time frame that’s seen the Leafs struggling, Boston has been excelling, making the Bruins the surprise of the week. Even though Boston has been dominant since mid-December, this past week continued to surprise me. Boston is the hottest team in the NHL with only one regulation loss in the last month. This has helped them climb the rankings and overtake the Leafs for second in the division. Injuries hampered Boston early in the season, but with their full lineup back, the chemistry is starting to form on all four lines, especially their top line which is considered by many to be the top unit in the NHL. The unit consists of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. It’s not just those players though, they’re getting production from rookies like Danton Heinien and Charlie McAvoy, who have asserted themselves as two of the league’s top young threats. Everything is going right for Boston at the moment, and it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down any time soon.

The Read: Florida's Great Hope To Matter Again

There have been a lot of articles that caught my eye this past week, but the one that stood out to me the most was one done by Greg Cote of the Miami Herald. What made his article the read of the week was how he looked at where Florida is as a hockey city, and how Aleksander (Sasha) Barkov is the link to make hockey popular again. Barkov was a gamble at the number 2 overall selection in 2013 ahead of names like Jonathan Drouin and Seth Jones. Being selected as high as number two instantly makes you the focal point in what the team hopes to be a successful core. Now, in his fifth season, Barkov has been selected to his first all-star game and has met, if not surpassed expectations for the organization. Thus, Barkov is a centre piece for Florida if they want to become more relevant across the NHL again.

Click here for The Read of the Week

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Spencer Lussier is a second-year student at the College of Sports Media. Follow him

@SpennyLuCSM

Game 47: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Philadelphia Flyers

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By Spencer Lussier

The struggling Toronto Maple Leafs have a rare road game in January, as they travel to the city of brotherly love to take on the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Leafs are hoping a change of scenery will change their recent funk with the club entering this game losers of six of their last eight. This season the Leafs have not played their best hockey away from the ACC sporting a 12-10-2 record, while The Flyers don’t have the flashiest record at home (11-8-4), they enter this contest 7-2 in their last nine at the Wells Fargo Center. Both teams meet for the final time this season, with the Flyers beating the Leafs 4-2 the other two times this season. You could even look to the Leafs last lost against the Flyers about a month ago as the start of the Leafs losing ways at the end of 2017 and early on in 2018. This year’s edition of the Flyers has been the best we’ve seen in recent years. Aside from the 10-game losing streak in November, Philly has been known to play the best teams tough. Both offences are comparable 5-on-5 but the Leafs have a huge upper-hand with the man advantage with the 10th best, compared to the Flyers who are 29th.

Tonight, is a special night in Philly as before the game the Flyers will be retiring former captain and NHL Hall of Famer Eric Lindros’ number 88. Lindros played 13 season in the NHL mainly with the Flyers, but also played for the Rangers, Leafs and Stars. Lindros was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016.

Player to watch on Philadelphia: Sean Couturier

Claude Giroux has had a re-emergence this season with the team lead in points with 54, which also puts him towards the top spot in the entire league. Part of the reasoning for Giroux success is because of the rise of Sean Couturier. The former first rounder is having his career best season, reaching a new career high in goals with 25, and is on pace for 40 goals this season. With Couturier’s hot start, Head Coach Dave Hakstol had no choice but to promote him to the first line, bumping Giroux over to the wing. Couturier enters tonight’s game with seven goals in his last five games and continues to elevate Philly’s first line into the conversation of the best first lines in the game.

Watchability Scale: 7/10

Tonight’s game should be fun to watch with both offences having the potential to score lots of goals. Both team’s weakness is on defence which means the offences should be able to capitalize. Lately we have seen the goals dry up for the Leafs which can prove to be costly against this Flyers team who have been tough at home. It will come down to Philly’s discipline tonight. Both teams are comparable on offence during 5-on-5 play, but the Leafs have a significantly better powerplay which could open this game open if given the chance. I rate this game a 7/10 on the scale.

Lines: 

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Game 46: St. Louis Blues vs Toronto Maple Leafs

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By: Spencer Lussier

The break is done and the unofficial start to the second half begins tonight for the Maple Leafs as the St Louis Blues are the latest to visit the city. Both teams entered the league mandated break losing their respective games, which should motivate both teams to start the second half in a positive way.

The Leafs closed out the first half struggling, dropping six of their last eight games, despite strong overall performances. The Leafs recent issues translate to prior issues last year which was holding a lead late in games. Obviously, this issue is highlighted by the Columbus loss last week, but in their two shootout wins they also let in goals late to force overtime. The Leafs are in a good situation being in a weak Atlantic Division, and have a favourable schedule in the second half with 37 games spread out over 82 days, so rest won’t be an issue for the Leafs. The Leafs however now find themselves in a battle with the Boston Bruins for the second spot in the Atlantic and the ever so important home ice advantage.

St. Louis provides an issue for the Leafs as the bring speed and size which has been the subject of issues for the Leafs of late. The fore check has taken a toll on the Leafs defence core, forcing their subpar unit to make costly turnovers. The Blues are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games but are losers of their last three after a big 2-1 win the game before against the Vegas Golden Knights, and have the overall tools to play a competitive game tonight against the Leafs.

Player to watch for St. Louis:

Brayden Schenn is the player to watch for on St. Louis. The Blues traded for Schenn in the offseason, and this move now is considered the best offseason acquisition. Schenn has fit well in St. Louis, instantly finding chemistry with Tarasenko and Schwartz, forming one of the best first lines in the game. Schenn has 44 points in 46 games and will look to continue improve on his best first half of his career.

Watchability Scale:

Now for 2018 we have developed a criteria to meet basing each game off of these five categories: Pace of Play, overall offensive skill, Goaltending, Physicality and Special Teams. For this game against the Blues, I have to give this game a 7/10 on the scale because I am anticipating a fast game against two skilled teams. Both teams have an automatic draw which are their two star players which are Auston Matthews and Vlad Tarasenko for the Blues. The Leafs have significant edge in special teams with both penalty kills being average but the Leafs have the 9th best powerplay compared to the Blues who are in 29th.  Especially being the first game back, I am sure a lot of Leafs fans will be tuning in because they just went the past six days with out their dose of Blue and White.

Lines:

LEAFS:

Hyman – Matthews – Nylander

Marleau – Kadri – Komarov

JVR – Bozak – Marner

Martin – Gauthier – Brown

Rielly – Hainsey

Gardiner – Carrick

Dermott – Polak

Andersen

BLUES:

Barbashev – Stastny – Tarasenko

Jaskin – Schenn – Steen

Sobotka – Berglund – Thompson

Upshall – Sundqvist – Thorburn

Gunnarsson – Pietrangelo

Bouwmeester – Parayko

Edmundson – Bortuzzo

Allen

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Friday Four for Four

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Spencer Lussier

For a new weekly segment, I will be discussing a player that has surprised me over the past week, a trend to keep an eye out for in the coming weeks, a surprise from the past week in the NHL and finally an article that caught my eye during that week.

Since it is the first one, I decided to kick it off by doing a mid-season reaction:

At the half way point of the NHL season there have been so many surprises and disappointments. Whether it is a new player flourishing into one of the game’s best or a team with Stanley Cup Finals aspirations falling flat on their faces, this NHL season so far has been quite interesting.

The Player:

Nathan MacKinnon has put the NHL and their fans on notice demanding for attention. The former first overall selection has seemed to get the Avalanche back on track after a rough couple of seasons. You would think trading away a player of Matt Duchene’s caliber would make a struggling team worse, instead MacKinnon has completely taken over. Since Duchene’s departure MacKinnon has scored 38 points in 27 games, leading the Avalanche into playoff contention. The 22-year-old is second in league scoring with 52, which is one less than what he had all season a year ago. His play has even landed him into the Hart Trophy conversation.

The Trend:

One trend that has really bothered me has been this bogus offside replay. So far in the NHL there have been 143 coach’s challenges, 33 of them being for an offside call. 13 times they have been upheld, but 20 have been overturned to a “no goal”. Most of the time the call doesn’t have a directed impact to the game which is frustrating to teams losing out on a chance to win games. We saw Connor McDavid voice his displeasure when the Oilers were on the wrong end of a reversed call that would have tied the game. I think the replays take too long to begin with and the NHL are being counterproductive in their effort to generate more scoring.

The Surprise:

I mean it has to be the Vegas Golden Knights right. There has never been an expansion team that has succeed so quick after their birth. Vegas is the second-best team in the league with a 29-10-2 record, helped by their sparkling 18-2-1 record at home. Wonder why? Plans have quickly shifted from being a team that will need a couple years to gain their feet in this league to Cup Contenders. Even the NHL counted them out, making it fair for the new team to have lottery picks. Imagine the Vegas Golden Knights winning the Stanley Cup while also taking a top five draft pick…

The Read:

I guess it is hard to pin point one thing that was head and shoulders better than the rest from the first half of the season, but the most news worthy storyline so far was the Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty comments about their upcoming contract situation. I found this shocking that two of the league’s best came forward in the middle of the season and said when we are up for a pay raise we are getting what we deserve. Essentially, they won’t be taking a pay cut to return to their respective clubs. Now that should be no issue for a franchise like Los Angeles, but a team like Ottawa in a smaller market may struggle to be able to keep Karlsson. Now that these comments are out there, it has put these superstars potentially into trade conversations.

 

Anderson, Duchene lead Ottawa to a 4-3 win in late game thriller

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Spencer Lussier

The Toronto Maple Leafs limp into the league mandated break as they lose their fifth game in their past seven in yet another late game breakdown to the Ottawa Senators.

The Leafs were clearly the better team all evening but ran into a hot goaltender in Craig Anderson. Clearly, he saw what I wrote about him prior to the game and wanted to prove me wrong. After both Anderson and Mike Condon each let in four goals on Tuesday, Head Coach Guy Boucher wanted one of his goalies to win the crease. Anderson clearly got the message and played spectacular making 45 saves and really was a huge factor in Ottawa’s surprising win.

Toronto controlled the play for majority of the game, led by Tyler Bozak’s line with JVR and Marner who was buzzing around the Sens net all game. Van Riemsdyk scored a pretty goal around the net, but what was most impressive was his 10 shots and 15 towards the goal. The other goal scorers were Andreas Borgman and Morgan Rielly who had arguably his best game until the end of the game. For the second straight game, Morgan Rielly was careless with the puck and his positioning. Monday, we saw him throw a doughnut up the ice which was picked off by Seth Jones on the tying goal. Last night, we saw Rielly trying to be aggressive in the play with an offensive zone pinch that the Sens broke away on three on one for the game winning goal. Overall the Leafs were the better team and deserved to win but self-inflicted wounds and mental lapses cost the Leafs the win.

After being pummelled by the Blackhawks 8-2 the night before, the Senators came out with a bit of jump. Ultimately the Leafs overtook the game but the Senators capitalized with a Thomas Chabot pass in front of the net that went off Roman Polak and took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. For the Sens, they are hoping this is a turn of something to get back to their winning ways as this season has been a tire fire. Anderson played an integral part just like last season and it looks like some chemistry is starting to form in their new top six.

Performance of the Night:

Considering how I have already talked about how awesome Craig Anderson was last night, I will stay away from the consensus pick which would be the Ottawa goaltender. For me who stood out was Matt Duchene. The new Senator has been getting a lot of flak for how the team has slipped down the standings once the trade happened. However, hope is on its way as last night Matt Duchene looked like the player they hope to have received in the deal. Duchene was crafty with the puck, his passing was crisp and he was shifty in the offensive zone. He has six points in his last four games and has really developed a good chemistry with sharpshooter Mike Hoffman. Duchene had two assists, including making a play to bring Hainsey to him opening up the passing lane for Tom Pyatt who scored the game winner.

Watchability Scale:

This game was choppy to start off with as the Leafs were just in control and really was entertaining beating up on the lesser opponent.  Then Ottawa started scoring and the game got interesting as the Leafs were playing from behind. The ending was must watch with the late game theatrics, but I was expecting a little more or physicality than the 11 hits the Leafs accounted for and the 31 total in the game. 4/5 on the scale.

Game 45: Ottawa Senators vs Toronto Maple Leafs

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Spencer Lussier

After collapsing in the final five minutes of the third on Monday, and ultimately losing in overtime, the Toronto Maple Leafs renew hostilities with provincial rival the Ottawa Senators.

For the Leafs, they have been playing hockey that Mike Babcock surely isn’t happy about. Before Monday’s collapse, the Leafs were winners of consecutive games, but when you look at the way the team has played in the last week and a bit, the Leafs are losers of four of their last six. Late game collapses have been a theme for the Leafs lately as they have blown a chance to win in regulation in their two wins in 2018, but self-inflicted wounds have been the cause for the Leafs lack of closing out games. Another cause for concern for the Leafs have been their lack of goal scoring. With 134 so far, the Leafs ranked fifth in total goals, but in four games in 2018, the blue and white only have six goals in four games.

If you thought that was bad Leafs fans, I know you are happy seeing how provincial rival Ottawa Senators are free falling to the bottom of the standings. Ottawa have picked up two big wins against Tampa Bay and the San Jose Sharks, before last night when they got absolutely pumped by a struggling Blackhawks team 8-2. The biggest issue facing this Sens team has been their goaltending. Craig Anderson had a miraculous season last season, driving the bus for the Senators Cinderella run to the conference finals. Now Anderson is toward the bottom of almost all goaltending statistics and at the age of 36, his best days may be behind him.

Player to watch for Ottawa:

Erik Karlsson is obviously someone to watch for the Sens, but the biggest X Factor in this game for Ottawa is Mark Stone. The 25-year-old has been the lone bright spot in a season full of turmoil for the Senators. Stone currently 42 points in 41 games and leads the Sens is points, 12 points clear of Karlsson in second. Stone is also one of the best defensive forwards in the game as he has the most takeaways in the game the last three season.

Watchability Scale:

The rivalry is renewed between these two Ontario teams which is enough to get excited for. Despite both teams playing poorly heading into this game, I think the rivalry itself is enough to make this game “must watch”. Especially with how bad the Sens have been this season, Leafs fans should tune in if they want something to smile about tonight. 5/5 on the scale

Columbus rallies late and steals one in overtime against Toronto

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Spencer Lussier

In one of the most improbable comebacks in recent memory, the Columbus Blue Jackets were outplayed and outworked, yet still came away with the 3-2 overtime win in Toronto.

After beating Florida 3-2 in a shootout on Monday night, Columbus came out flying looking to make it two in a row. The Blue Jackets seemed to have shocked the rested Maple Leafs with their speed and hustle in the first period. The Leafs were heavily outshot for the better part of this game and once again got into penalty trouble. Luckily Columbus owns the league’s worst power play and failed to capitalize on their chances. Frederik Andersen was unbelievable making big save after big save keeping this game tied until James Van Riesmdyk tipped a Roman Polak shot past Sergei Bobrovsky for the first goal of the game. Columbus continued the pressure but the first line for the Blue Jackets ended up on a long shift which led to Josh Anderson taking a slashing penalty. It didn’t take long on the power play to extend the lead, as William Nylander fired a perfectly placed shot short side on Bobrovsky, showcasing his quick release.

The Leafs looked like they were well on their way to a 2-0 shut out win, as their best period of the game came in the third. The Leafs held Columbus to just four shots in the final frame, and Columbus even went a span of ten minutes without a shot on Andersen. Under five minutes remaining, Columbus got on the board with a greasy goal in the crease which was award to Nick Foligno. A minute forty-eight later Pierre-Luc Dubois would score the equalizer sending this game into overtime. Overtime was awesome per usual with back and forth chances for both teams, including on the final sequence. Sergei Bobrovsky made a big save on a Tyler Bozak breakaway, the play went the other way where Artemi Panarin would eventually score the overtime winner, making the Blue Jackets a perfect 6-0 in the extra frame.

Travis Dermott played in his second game and saw an increase in responsibility and minutes. On Saturday, he played 12 minutes and was the least used defenceman against Vancouver. Last night, he saw his minutes bump up to 16 and a half minutes and even got a shift in overtime. He was initially on the bottom pair with Andreas Borgman, but impressed early on in this game to the point where Babcock put him on his offside with Gardiner on the second pair, which Dermott once again handled with ease. We have seen two good games from the 2nd round pick, and it will be interesting to see where he fits in the second half of the season.

Performance of the night:

For the first time in PuckTalks history we have a repeat winner for performance of the night. Once again for Columbus Seth Jones played a vital part in their comeback victory and earns the performance of the night. Just like the last meeting, Jones played the most of any skater on both teams topping out at just under 28 minutes. He was also involved in the tying and overtime goal, as he stepped in front of the Morgan Rielly pass and went the other way to dish it off the Dubois and then he pushed the pace in overtime with an outlet pass to Werenski who eventually got it over to Panarin. Jones now has 12 points in his last 11 games and continues to evolve into an elite defenceman in the league.

Watchability Scale:

This game was fine to watch for the first two periods with both teams trading chances, and Frederik Andersen making some big time saves. Both Leafs goals were nice in their own way but this game really didn’t get exciting until the first Blue Jackets goal late in the third. The last bit of the game and overtime really helped bump the scale up, giving this game a 3/5.

Game 44: Columbus Blue Jackets vs Toronto Maple Leafs

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Spencer Lussier

The Toronto Maple Leafs continue their season long six game home stand tonight as the Columbus Blue Jackets are the latest to visit the city. This is the second game of a three game season series, with Columbus taking the first matchup 4-2 in Columbus. This time however, the Columbus Blue Jackets will be the team on the second night of back to back games, as Toronto was in the same situation last time they met in December.

Toronto are on a two-game winning streak, but have yet to close out opponents in regulation, with both wins coming via the shootout. With that being said, I don’t think this is good news heading into tonight’s matchup against a much more comparable opponent than in the last two wins. Toronto has played well in selective periods but have yet to put in a consistent sixty minutes arguably before their road trip before the end of 2017.

For Columbus, they are on a similar trend as the Maple Leafs. They have been wildly inconsistent over the last 13 games with a record of 5-6-2 including a couple of blowout losses. Looking into the inconsistencies they have started the games out strong but lost momentum heading into the later periods of the game, setting up for either a roller coaster win or a heartbreaking loss. One aspect of their game that is trending upwards is the Blue Jackets have been better on the power play. After being the worst power play in the league for majority of the first half of the season, Columbus has scored at least once on the power play in six of their last ten games. Toronto will need to stay out of the box tonight if they want a shot at beating this tough Columbus squad.

Player to Watch on Columbus:

Last game I had Zach Werenski in this spot for the Blue Jackets, but he was a late scratch and missed it. So, for tonight’s game Zach Werenski will be the player to watch. Last year Werenski was one of the rookies that led the youth movement last season eventually finishing third in the Calder Trophy standings only behind Matthews and Laine. In his sophomore season, Werenski has dealt with injuries which has dialed back his overall points, but he leads the NHL in goals among defenceman, and his overall offensive skill makes him a threat every time he is on the ice. It also isn’t a coincidence that Columbus’ power play has been excelling recently since Werenski has come back to the lineup on a full-time basis.

Watchability Scale:

These two teams are separated by just one point and both sit third in the respective divisions. With both teams being comparable to one another I expect this game to be a fun watch. Elite talent will be displayed on both teams that will generate scoring opportunities, but if you can appreciate a fine goaltending performance then this game is perfect for you, with Sergei Bobrovsky and Frederik Andersen being arguably the two best goalies in the past season and a half.

Game 43: Leafs look to string together wins vs. Canucks

  Zack Cook   The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking for a little revenge after falling to the Vancouver Canucks 2-1 back on December 3rd. The Leafs are coming off of a 3-2 shootout victory over the San Jose Sharks, an affair that had plenty of different story lines. It will likely be talked about for the rest of the season, but Nazem Kadri ripping out a piece of Joe Thornton's beard in their fight was one of the strangest moments I've ever encountered while watching hockey. Maple Leafs 2015 2nd round pick Travis Dermott was called up and practiced with the team on Friday and he is expected to make his NHL debut. Andreas Borgman is likely to be the odd man in this contest.   Watch out for Canucks sniper Brock Boeser. Boeser has 21 goals on the season and is putting up similar numbers to that of Mitch Marner a year ago. After beginning the season strong and staying in the playoff mix, the Canucks have 2-9-1 since December 5th, mainly due to the injury bug up and down their lineup.   Watchability scale  Now the Leafs should be able to handle this injury plagued Canucks team without much trouble, but that will all depend on the goaltending we see from the Canucks. Last time these two teams met, the Leafs outplayed the Canucks but were dealt with a loss because of stellar goaltending. We'll see if that motivates the Leafs to get creative in this one. It's Hockey Night In Canada and the temperatures outside are disgusting. I think this has all the makings of putting some blankets on, drinking some hot chocolate and watching the Leafs/Canucks in an entertaining battle. I'll rank this 7.5/10.    Leafs Lines   Hyman - Matthews - Nylander Marleau - Kadri - Komarov van Riemsdyk - Bozak - Marner Martin - Gauthier - Brown  Rielly - Hainsey Gardiner - Carrick Dermott - Polak  Andersen McElhinney   Canucks Lines   D. Sedin - H. Sedin - Goldobin Vanek - Gagner - Boeser Granlund - Dowd - Eriksson Gaunce - Chaput - Virtanen  Edler - Stecher Del Zotto - Tanev Pouliot - Gudbranson  Markstrom Nilsson

Zack Cook

The Toronto Maple Leafs are looking for a little revenge after falling to the Vancouver Canucks 2-1 back on December 3rd. The Leafs are coming off of a 3-2 shootout victory over the San Jose Sharks, an affair that had plenty of different story lines. It will likely be talked about for the rest of the season, but Nazem Kadri ripping out a piece of Joe Thornton's beard in their fight was one of the strangest moments I've ever encountered while watching hockey. Maple Leafs 2015 2nd round pick Travis Dermott was called up and practiced with the team on Friday and he is expected to make his NHL debut. Andreas Borgman is likely to be the odd man in this contest. 

Watch out for Canucks sniper Brock Boeser. Boeser has 21 goals on the season and is putting up similar numbers to that of Mitch Marner a year ago. After beginning the season strong and staying in the playoff mix, the Canucks have 2-9-1 since December 5th, mainly due to the injury bug up and down their lineup. 

Watchability scale

Now the Leafs should be able to handle this injury plagued Canucks team without much trouble, but that will all depend on the goaltending we see from the Canucks. Last time these two teams met, the Leafs outplayed the Canucks but were dealt with a loss because of stellar goaltending. We'll see if that motivates the Leafs to get creative in this one. It's Hockey Night In Canada and the temperatures outside are disgusting. I think this has all the makings of putting some blankets on, drinking some hot chocolate and watching the Leafs/Canucks in an entertaining battle. I'll rank this 7.5/10. 

Leafs Lines

Hyman - Matthews - Nylander
Marleau - Kadri - Komarov
van Riemsdyk - Bozak - Marner
Martin - Gauthier - Brown

Rielly - Hainsey
Gardiner - Carrick
Dermott - Polak

Andersen
McElhinney

Canucks Lines

D. Sedin - H. Sedin - Goldobin
Vanek - Gagner - Boeser
Granlund - Dowd - Eriksson
Gaunce - Chaput - Virtanen

Edler - Stecher
Del Zotto - Tanev
Pouliot - Gudbranson

Markstrom
Nilsson

Andersen stands tall as Leafs prevail in the shootout

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Spencer Lussier

Frederik Andersen avoids another early puck handling miscue to play hero in the Leafs 3-2 shootout win against the San Jose Sharks.

The Leafs played with a jump all game and it was started off with a fight between unlikely suspects. After hacking at each other in the opening faceoff, Nazem Kadri and Joe Thornton decided to drop the gloves, which resulted in Kadri ripping a chuck of hair out of the grizzled vet’s beard. With the offence struggling in the past three games, Kadri’s fight is what they needed to see to play inspired hockey for the first time in 2018.

Auston Matthews opened the scoring with a deflection past Martin Jones, but the same issues surfaced once again as the Sharks capitalized right after tying the game at one going into the first intermission.  Kadri made his impact felt once again with a goal in the second, the first point for him in 12 games. But, as I said earlier, the Leafs issues would surface once again for a second time in this game, as just before the end of the second, Frederik Andersen had another miscue handling the puck which resulted in the tying goal. Andersen redeemed himself in the third, holding down the crease forcing the game into overtime. In overtime the Leafs penalty kill was tested, as Mitch Marner took a high sticking penalty to set up the Sharks powerplay to end the game. Once again Andersen was the best penalty killer and ultimately gave his team a chance in the shootout.

The Leafs play last night was the best I have seen them play in a while. All four lines were rolling, Matthews had a great bounce back game after a quiet night against Tampa, Kadri brought his energy and grit to neutralize the Sharks best offensive weapon and Andersen helped steal a win for a Leafs team that was desperate for one, as losers of their last three and in specific to the Sharks, who the Leafs haven’t beaten at home since 2002.

Player of the Game:

This one was between Frederik Andersen and Nazem Kadri, but I give the edge to Kadri as he was the one to set the tone for the whole game right off the opening draw. With Kadri out of the lineup last week, the Leafs lost a character guy that brings a lot of energy to a young lineup. Kadri snapped his career worse 12 game pointless streak and was a force on the ice since the opening draw.

Watchability Scale:

This game had everything. Two fast offences trading chances and goals in the first two periods, superb goaltending in the third and some dramatics in the extra frame and shootout. The Leafs had a good bounce back game after a tough loss to Tampa, and finally broke a losing habit to the Sharks for the first time since 2002. This game was one of the best of the season and gets a 5/5.

Game 42: San Jose Sharks vs Toronto Maple Leafs

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Spencer Lussier

Toronto are losers of three straight and have the chance to snap their recent losing skid with a date against the San Jose Sharks.

If history repeats itself than Toronto’s losing streak will continue, as San Jose has won the last ten meetings against Toronto, with goaltender Martin Jones winning the last seven. The Leafs dropped the first meeting 3-2 but only put eighteen shots towards Martin Jones.

The Sharks are one of the top defensive teams in the NHL, with a top five team goals against average and a top five penalty kill. Unlike years past, the offence is the weakest aspect of this Sharks team with no player over 27 points in the season and a goals for average at just under three goals a game. Basically, if the Sharks score three goals in a game they usually win.

The way the Leafs have been playing lately, it could play into San Jose’s favour. The Sharks still have a big, hard checking forward group, that creates a lot of pressure on the fore check. In recent games, the Leafs defence have coughed up pucks which have found its way past Frederik Andersen.

Player to watch for San Jose:

Logan Couture will be the player to watch for San Jose tonight. Couture made his return to the lineup on New Year’s eve after missing four games with a concussion. He has been shaky in his first game back, but he showed in his last game that he was getting his legs back to game action. Couture remains the most dangerous scorer on the Sharks, with 15 already for the team lead and should be one of the main focuses for the Leafs game plan tonight.

Watchability Scale:

Despite the Sharks winning the past ten matchups, I think this could be an even matchup between two teams who are in similar situations in the standings. Both teams matchup evenly, but the Leafs offence was buzzing against the Lightning D which I think will be the deciding factor. The Leafs offence has been contained for the last three games given their last performance, I think this game against the Sharks could be the start of something. I give this game a 3/5 with Team Canada’s Junior team taking away some of the viewership

Lines:

Toronto:   

Hyman - Matthews - Nylander

Marleau - Kadri - Komarov

JVR - Bozak - Marner

Martin - Gauthier - Brown

Reilly - Hainsey

Gardiner - Carrick

Borgman - Polak

Andersen

Sharks:

Meier - Thornton - Pavelski

Hertl - Couture - Donskoi

Boedker - Tierney - Labanc

Sorenson - Ward - Karlsson

Dillon - Burns

Vlasic - Braun

Ryan - Demelo

Jones

Leafs and Lightning collide for Atlantic supremacy

  Zack Cook   The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet up for the first time this season tonight in Toronto. The Lightning hold a stiff edge on the Atlantic division, leading the Leafs by ten points with two games in hand. Toronto sits third in the division, tied with Boston, who has three games in hand on the Leafs. Despite being ten points behind the Lightning, the Leafs know that going into this contest a statement needs to be made, especially after their New Years Eve debacle against the Golden Knights.   This is the beginning of a six-game homestand for the Maple Leafs after finishing a five-game road swing with just two victories.   The Lightning went 2-1-1 against Toronto last season, despite not making the playoffs.   Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said it perfectly this morning “We’re playing the best team in the league right now and if you want to be the best you have to beat the best.”  The Leafs know that this is a measuring stick game for them, so expect for them to come out flying and for the Lightning to match the pace. This is the type of game players love to get up for, therefore look for a high scoring affair between two high scoring teams.    Leafs Lines   Zach Hyman Auston Matthews William Nylander James van Riemsdyk Tyler Bozak Mitch Marner Leo Komarov P. Marleau/N. Kadri Connor Brown Matt Martin Dominic Moore Josh Leivo  Morgan Rielly Ron Hainsey Jake Gardiner C. Carrick/M. Marincin Andreas Borgman Roman Polak  Frederik Andersen Calvin Pickard     Lightning Lines   Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Cory Conacher Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - J.T. Brown  Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman Braydon Coburn - Dan Girardi  Andrei Vasilevskiy  Louis Domingue   

Zack Cook

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet up for the first time this season tonight in Toronto. The Lightning hold a stiff edge on the Atlantic division, leading the Leafs by ten points with two games in hand. Toronto sits third in the division, tied with Boston, who has three games in hand on the Leafs. Despite being ten points behind the Lightning, the Leafs know that going into this contest a statement needs to be made, especially after their New Years Eve debacle against the Golden Knights. 

This is the beginning of a six-game homestand for the Maple Leafs after finishing a five-game road swing with just two victories. 

The Lightning went 2-1-1 against Toronto last season, despite not making the playoffs. 

Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said it perfectly this morning “We’re playing the best team in the league right now and if you want to be the best you have to beat the best.”

The Leafs know that this is a measuring stick game for them, so expect for them to come out flying and for the Lightning to match the pace. This is the type of game players love to get up for, therefore look for a high scoring affair between two high scoring teams. 

Leafs Lines

Zach Hyman Auston Matthews William Nylander
James van Riemsdyk Tyler Bozak Mitch Marner
Leo Komarov P. Marleau/N. Kadri Connor Brown
Matt Martin Dominic Moore Josh Leivo

Morgan Rielly Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner C. Carrick/M. Marincin
Andreas Borgman Roman Polak

Frederik Andersen
Calvin Pickard
 

Lightning Lines

Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Cory Conacher
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - J.T. Brown

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin
Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Dan Girardi

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

 

Karlsson’s historic effort gives Vegas Golden Knights 6-3 win against Toronto Maple Leafs

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Spencer Lussier

William Karlsson recorded the first ever hat trick in Vegas Golden Knights history as they doubled up the Leafs 6-3 in the final game of 2017.

Karlsson and his line mates Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith were a major factor in Vegas’ win yesterday. The line combined for eight points and dictated play every time they were on the ice. One thing Vegas has the luxury of is having four lines of legit NHLers that Head Coach Gerard Gallant can roll through and execute with an effective game plan without seeing a decreased effort between all four lines. The whole Vegas team was effective on the fore check, forcing the Leafs subpar defenceman to create bad turnovers or take costly penalties. Lately that seems to be the only way to beat the Leafs, is forcing their defenceman and capitalize on power play opportunities.

The atmosphere right off that top was electric, and something that really stood out to me. I even questioned how the Leafs were going to remain focus in enemy territory. Vegas scored just over two minutes into the game and the momentum from there was on Vegas’ side. Three goals in the first period set the tone early, as the Leafs were playing catch up against one of the league’s best.

Aside from the slow start which significantly altered the Leafs game plan, I thought the Leafs handled the Golden Knights fairly well in the final two periods. Auston Matthews certainly got the message after the 3 goal first period as he was the Leafs best player in the final 40 minutes of the game. Matthews scored twice against Vegas reaching career point 100 in 112 career games. Once again Nazem Kadri sat out yesterday’s game as he deals with an upper body injury. It definitely is no coincidence that the Leafs have lost both games that Kadri has been out, as his defensive abilities and Mike Babcock doesn’t have the same luxury to put him out there to match up against the other team’s best line.

Performance of the Night:

If it was a historical performance for your club, then it certainly deserves our performance of the night. William Karlsson has etched his name in Vegas history becoming the first player to record a hat trick in franchise history. He would have never been able to do so if it wasn’t for his line mates as the way all three of them were playing, you just could anticipate a big afternoon. The man known as Wild Bill has been the biggest beneficiary of the move to Vegas. In a log jam in the Columbus organization, Karlsson was never trusted with big minutes. In his two years in Columbus Karlsson recorded 15 goals, in half a season with Vegas as arguably their number one centre, he has hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career.

Watchability Scale:

I thought this game met expectations. I wish the game was still closer after the first to get more of an balanced attack throughout the game instead of one team playing catch up and the other locking it down. The atmosphere of T-Mobile Arena added to the whole feel of the game, as it has me convinced to make a trip down to Vegas to take in a game. Two of the best teams were on display yesterday and played an exciting game, which is why I give this game 4/5.

Game 40: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Vegas Golden Knights

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Spencer Lussier

The Toronto Maple Leafs finish 2017 against the newest team in the NHL the Vegas Golden Knights. Toronto are looking to rebound from Friday’s overtime loss against Colorado, but face their toughest task on this three-game road trip that finishes tonight in Vegas. The Golden Knights aren’t your ordinary expansion team, taking the whole NHL by surprise with an incredible start that sees them sit first in the Western Conference. Vegas enters this game winners of six straight, and are 9-0-1 in their last 10.

With Toronto having their first trip to Las Vegas, the team are taking all precautions to be away from the bright lights of Las Vegas. The team’s hotel is 25 minutes away from the Vegas strip. Good thing too because the Leafs are going to need to be on their "A" game if they want to steal one in Vegas. The Golden Knights are almost unstoppable at home, with a 15-2-1 record at the T-Mobile Arena. Tonight, may have a different feel to it, as it is New Year’s Eve and many Canadians and possible Leafs fans should be in attendance.

The last time these two teams met, Toronto came away with the victory, however Vegas forced the game to a shootout coming back from two goals down. In their past two games, Toronto’s defensive focus has been careless and against a Vegas team that ranks third overall in average goals per game at 3.4. that could spell trouble for the Leafs, who are making it a habit of letting teams back into games.

Player to watch for Vegas:

The Golden Knights have surprised a lot of fans with how they have been able to succeed in the first year of existence. One aspect that has certainly help is their offence. They have a very deep attack up from with six players who have at least 25 points this season. The man leading the charge is the player to watch tonight, and that is Jonathan Marchessault. The 27-year-old broke became one of the games newest goal scorers, reaching the 30 goal mark last season with Florida. For Vegas, he has continued his success, becoming the leader in points with 34 in 33 games this season. He has been the team’s hottest player in their past five games, recording eight points in those five games. The Leafs need to be aware of Marchessault, as he can doesn’t need a lot of space to hurt the opposition.

Watchability Scale:

Unlike the other two games on this road trip, I am excited for this game. The atmosphere should be intense with a lot of Leaf fans in attendance. I am counting on the Leafs to be a different version of themselves than how they’ve played this road trip. If they bring their A game, this should be a really fun matchup against two of the games best half way through the season. If the Leafs continue to play like how they have on this road trip, Vegas will be welcoming 2018 on a winning note

Lines:  

Toronto:

Hyman - Matthews - Nylander

Komarov - Marleau - Brown

JVR - Bozak - Marner

Martin - Moore - Leivo

Reilly - Hainsey

Gardiner - Marincin

Borgman - Polak

Andersen

Vegas:

Perron - Haula - Neal

Smith - Karlsson - Marchessault

Leipsic - Eakin - Tuch

Lindberg - Bellemare - Nosek

McNabb - Schmidt

Engelland - Theodore

Merrill - Miller

Subban

 

 

 

MacKinnon lead Avs past Leafs in Pickard’s debut

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Spencer Lussier

Nathan MacKinnon recorded three points as the Colorado Avalanche squeak by the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in overtime.

The Leafs were on the second game of a back to back and made a surprise move starting Calvin Pickard in net. Curtis McElhinney was scratched due to an undisclosed injury which gave Pickard his first start in a Leafs uniform and his first opportunity against the Avalanche, who he played his entire career with until last night. The 25-year-old was average in his start, making 24 saves. MacKinnon’s goal I’m sure is one he will want back, after not handling the dump in cleanly, but aside from that one, you can’t pin the others on Pickard. The Leafs as a whole really didn’t have much of a jump in this game. They never led once in this game and always was chasing the play, which should not have been the case against the clearly weaker team.

Nazem Kadri did not play in this one, as he was out with an upper body injury, stemming from the game on Thursday where he took an elbow to the head. The Leafs could have used a healthy Kadri tonight, as his line is the main matchup line, and would have had the task of containing Nathan MacKinnon. We have seen Kadri shut down other top centres in the league, and if he was playing, I’m not so sure MacKinnon would have exploded for three points.

You have to credit Colorado’s game in this one. They took advantage of a tired team coming into their arena and played hard. The energy and the pressure of the Avalanche made a tired Toronto team create turnovers and breakdowns in their defensive end. Seymon Varlamov played an important part in the win, making 31 saves for the win. They capitalized on another opportunity in overtime, after Connor Brown hauled down MacKinnon. JT Compher was the overtime hero, scoring with nine second left on the powerplay in overtime.

Performance of the Night:

Nathan MacKinnon earns the performance of the night. MacKinnon was the clear stand out from this game as it seemed that every time he was on the ice the puck found its way to him. MacKinnon makes everyone around him better as both Rantanen’s goal and Kerfoot’s probably wouldn’t have developed if it wasn’t for some slick passing by MacKinnon. MacKinnon was involved in all four goals, with three of them showing up on the score sheet, while the fourth was the fact that he was the one to draw the penalty in overtime. With MacKinnon buried in Colorado, I believe he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves and he was an absolute treat to watch last night.

Watchability Scale:

Again, I didn’t think too much of this game but I knew the Avs would have a chance to keep this game close, because of the Leafs fatigue from the night before. It turned out to be a decent game to watch as the Leafs kept falling behind by one but would continue to pressure to score again. The game never got out of reach which made both teams stay invested throughout. I give this game a 3/5 on the scale.