LGD: Don’t Poke the Bear

With the Toronto Maple Leafs sitting in 24th in the NHL (and looking devastatingly average in the process), they’re being hosted by one of their divisional rivals in what may end up being a relatively well-matched game. 

Toronto offers flashes of brilliance from Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner on the blue line, then a whole host of forgettable faces from the offensive corps to complement Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, and James van Riemsdyk. 

Their opponents offer some brilliance up front, and one of the most dominant veteran blue liners in the league – but the rest of their back end doesn’t look much better than Toronto’s, and a whole host of injuries on offence has Max Talbot drawing into the lineup on Saturday evening. 

Goaltending is always a question for Toronto, but it’s a question for this team as well this year. Coaching is old vs older, and the two management styles are youthful brain trust vs someone who’s either a crazy genius or just flat-out crazy – no one’s really sure yet. 

That’s right – it’s Toronto vs. Boston, and it’s going down tonight. 

The Leafs

Screenshot (123)

Screenshot (124)

Roman Polak continues to draw into the lineup, which is fine – but the interesting line here is the top offensive line. Leo Komarov, who started out the year on the fourth line with Mark Arcobello, is now flanking Nazem Kadri on the other side from JVR; things have certainly changed over the last two months. 

The lines may look a bit like Babcock is just blindly throwing combinations together and hoping they stick, but it’s more than that. The team is working off possession figures and chemistry, and it’s certainly working in their favor; they don’t look like a playoff team, but things certainly look better than they did in the final months of last year. 

The Bruins

Screenshot (125)

Screenshot (126)

Joe Morrow won’t be in on the fourth line, as Max Talbot has been recalled from the Providence Bruins to fill in that fourth line role. The entire fourth line for Boston is a tire fire, with Zac Rinaldo actually seeing ice time (in case you missed Shawn Thornton on a line for the divisional rivals), and Tyler Randell – who you probably know about as well as I do. 

The first three lines look acceptable, but the speed and spark that David Pastrnak brought to the lineup is missing with the sophomore’s foot injury. 

Then, there’s the defense. The defense is… well, you can be the judge when you watch the game. It’s been something. 

Starting Goalies

James Reimer vs. Tuukka Rask

Normally, this would be a case of the backup vs. the franchise starter – and a somewhat painful backup vs. starter for Toronto fans, because Andrew Raycroft. 

Instead, Reimer has been lights out for Toronto – and Tuukka Rask has been slightly short of hot garbage for Boston, posting a raw save percentage of .890 and losing more games than he’s winning. 

I’ve always been of the belief that Tuukka Rask is a very excellent system goaltender, so it’s hurting him that he’s playing behind an unstructured and somewhat unspectacular defense in Boston this year. Beyond that, though, he’s actually looked poor in the times I’ve watched him live this year – he’s been sow to track the play, over-athletic on his first saves, and prolific with his rebounds. All those factors have combined for a less than stellar season for the former first round netminder, and that could be Toronto’s saving grace tonight if Boston can’t structure their play enough. 

For Reimer, there’s not much to say. He’s been at his best over the last handful of games, and it’s paying off – if Toronto can play even a 50% possession game, the former 1B backup could walk away with yet another win. 

Where to Watch

The game will be broadcast on NESN and CBC at 7:00 PM EST tonight. 

What to Watch For

  • The Boston Bruins, as mentioned above, are missing a whole slew of supporting cast members in their forward lines. David Pastrnak, last year’s late first round pick, is out with a foot injury. Alexander Khokhlachev just had hand surgery. Chris Kelly’s season is over with a broken leg. Frank Vatrano has an upper body injury suffered on Thursday. Seth Griffith is still in the AHL, coming off an injury during the preseason. 
  • That leaves very few new faces to watch for on offense for the Boston Bruins. Scoring will have to come from the usual suspects – Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci – or one of their new power forwards, Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes. Call-ups Tyler Randell and Max Talbot could contribute, but there’s not much to look forward to. 
  • The Leafs are continuing to plod along, getting slightly better possession-wise while the defense learns how to operate and the core pieces figure out where they belong moving forward. Nazem Kadri finally broke his scoring slump, Tyler Bozak has started to heat up, and Leo Komarov is back to pre-concussion Leo Komarov – but the entire team is more or less secondary scoring, and that’s nothing new. 

Oh, and James Reimer. Watch for James Reimer, who’s looking to be the next Devan Dubnyk, apparently.