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