Toronto will host one of their most feared foes tonight, the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins are 5-1-1 this season, while the Leafs were able to get a game over .500 Thursday night. But it’s the past meetings that have likely had the buds tossing and turning in their sleep.
Boston dominated the men in blue last year, winning all six games and scoring 26 more goals than the Leafs. Having said that, I’m a big believer in the past truly being just that, the past.
This is a new season — a short season — which has breathed new life into teams like Toronto. Playing 82 games hasn’t been on the Leafs’ to-do list the past few years, but the focus has certainly funneled with the 48-game season.
On the other hand, the Bruins, for the most part, have the same roster they used to spank the Leafs last year. Even worse, Tuukka Rask may even give bean-town better goaltending this time around. Considering the fact Toronto could only muster 10 goals in the six games last year, this could mean trouble.
It gets worse…
Two huge parts of Toronto’s offense have been sidelined with injuries. Clarke MacArthur’s lacerated pinkie has him listed as questionable for tonight’s game. Mike Komisarek is also questionable with an eye injury… not that most Leaf fans will be sorry to hear he won’t be playing.
As most already know, Lupul will be out for a while, but this only spells bad news for the buds against Boston.
He is probably the biggest part of Phil Kessel’s success offensively, and with Kessel struggling to find the twine, things could only get tougher against a stiff defense.
To say Kessel has been snake-bitten in the early going this season would be a huge understatement. Thursday night was proof of that.
Kessel rung the goal post on a point shot early in that game, which would become the theme of his night. He had countless opportunities on the Capitals’ doorstep, the closest of which went off his stick, up in the air and on top of the net. If that wasn’t bad enough, the empty net even eluded him in the dying seconds.
It’s hard to knock the way he’s playing, as he tops the NHL in shots on goal, but that first goal is still pending. Wouldn’t it be poetic to get it against his former team? The squad he’s struggled so much against since leaving?
The Reim Minister of Defense
Optimus Reim has been given the nod once again, and rightfully so. Sure, he’d like to have that Ovechkin goal back from Thursday night, but his confidence is clearly showing. He is tracking pucks extremely well and controlling rebounds like he did before the Francois Allaire Project that nearly ruined him.
It appears the goaltending carousel has finally slowed down and the question in Toronto is no longer about goaltending, but the scoring.
Who To Watch-Out For
In the absence of Kessel goals, the offense has been kept afloat by two men who barely cracked the roster.
Nazem Kadri only made the team after GM Dave Nonis dealt Matthew Lombardi and got rid of Tim Connolly. But since scoring the first Leafs goal of the 2013 campaign, Kadri has shone. And in the absence of Lupul, entered the Leafs’ current leading scorer who was cut from the team before the season.
Matt Frattin has always been an electrifying offensive player. Evidently, he’s passed the test after being sent down by head coach Randy Carlyle to re-discover his touch. In just four games, Frattin has notched as many goals. This ties him with James van Riemsdyk, who has played in all seven games, for the team lead. He’s certainly running hot with three of them coming in the last two games.
Kadri and Frattin consolidated their chemistry Thursday night with a dandy passing play, which saw Frattin take a cross-crease pass from Kadri for the eventual game-winner.
For the Bruins, David Krejci and Nathan Horton are both riding five-game point-streaks. Needless to say, shutting the two down should top the gameplan’s priorities for Saturday night. After scoring two goals last game, Brad Marchand has five on the year and leads the team in goals.
As stated, the Leafs will likely be without MacArthur and Komisarek for tonight’s tilt. Mike Brown is also nursing a shoulder injury, while Lupul still has a broken arm.
For the Bruins, Shawn Thornton will not play after being concussed last game in a fight with Sabres big-man John Scott. Jamie Tardif will play in his first NHL game as a result. Daniel Paille is also rumoured to have sustained a concussion against Buffalo. He took a high stick to the head from the other Sabres giant Tyler Myers.
Keys To the Game
The Leafs need to play team defense against a very deep Bruins squad. Reimer will have to make multiple big saves and the Leafs can’t allow the first goal. Special teams will be a huge factor, as it usually is, but Toronto can’t throw away opportunities like they did against Washington and expect to beat Boston. It will be a tough task versus the number three penalty-kill in the league.
The Leafs just need to play a very simple game. Dump-and-chase and for the love of everything holy, shoot the puck! Even if Kessel is looking for his first goal, JVR absolutely cannot pass up a shot on a two-on-one like he did against the Caps. Rask is having a mediocre start to the year, so the pressure needs to be put on him to make save-after-save.
The puck drops shortly after seven on Hockey Night In Canada. Will the Leafs finally exorcise the demon, that is the Bruins?