January 15 2016 07:48PM
When the Toronto Maple Leafs hit the midpoint in the season last year, the full-on spiral into darkness was already under way.
This year, we expect them to be bad - so losses are supposed to be learning experiences, not so much things to be ashamed of. Morgan Rielly scored, so we should be fine with this loss - in theory.
Of course, that was before we realized that Patrick Kane earned a hat trick in this game...
To everyone in the stands who threw hats on the ice for Patrick Kane pic.twitter.com/LuCYztlm9o— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) January 16, 2016
It's tough to talk about wins with Patrick Kane this year, particularly when he's absolutely killing the game, because the start of the season saw an off-ice incident put the former first overall winger in a position where many believe he committed an irrevocably terrible crime. Watching him light the lamp is tough for a lot of hockey fans, so that makes this a tough win to talk about.
From an on-ice standpoint, though, Patrick Kane brought exactly one thing to Toronto - and that's a glimpse at what the Leafs need to hope that Mitch Marner turns into.
Whether you love Patrick Kane or hate him, he ran Toronto's show tonight. He's unbelievable, rookie Artemi Panarin is unbelievable, and the Chicago Blackhawks as a whole just won their tenth consecutive game - coming off a back-to-back, nonetheless - for a reason. They're a club that has the perfect mix of offensive prowess, two-way talent, and defensive awareness; even forgetting about the fact that Patrick Kane is a tough player to like, you have to admit that he's magic with the puck.
In Toronto's defense, though, they didn't let themselves get as steamrollered as they could have been. Chicago has been a good possession team with strong goaltending behind a mature, well-established defense - and Rielly found the back of the net anyway. This is the same club that lost 7-0 to the San Jose Sharks barely a few days ago; losing 4-1 isn't fun (and it's even less fun when it's the Blackhawks you're losing 4-1 to) but it could have been worse.
Not Toronto's worst game statistically, but come on. Patrick Kane took enough of those shots that you knew how this was going to end.
Let's Talk About Matt Hunwick.
Bold defensive strategy, Leafs. pic.twitter.com/bNLU6z35fh— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) January 16, 2016
I'll confess. I liked Hunwick's mentality at the start of the year; he's a real go-getter with some passion and what seemed (at the time) like marginal replacement-level bottom pairing talent.
Tonight was a pretty good indicator that this just isn't the case.
It's clearly not just him, in his defense - and the Leafs have seen Mike Babcock work some serious magic on them by getting them to win as many games as they have this year, given the roster that's being iced. Any mistakes made are a learning experience, the young guys aren't being too sullied by a terrible season, blah blah blah. I get it.
Matt Hunwick was one of a handful of Leafs players tonight, though, that just didn't look like NHL-caliber talent. It hurts, but it's true.
I'm giving it to James Reimer because he never gets nice things, including a decent penalty kill in front of him.
It's Kane again. Another 20-cent effort by the Leafs penalty kill. pic.twitter.com/DuB8FFAliM— The Leafs Nation (@TLNdc) January 16, 2016
On to the Next One
The Leafs are back in action again tomorrow against the Boston Bruins. The bad news is that they won tonight, but the good news is that they've been pretty terrible lately otherwise - so hope is not all lost.