LGD: Hockey in the Desert

What’s up, Leafs Nation! It’s emergency backup goalie Cat here, reporting to you with the Toronto Maple Leafs pre-game from cold, rainy, Phoenix, Arizona. 

I know. Life isn’t fair for the Leafs. 

Today’s Forecast

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When the Washington Capitals came to town last year, Tom Wilson made sure the world knew how much fun it was to play games in Arizona. Apparently, the hockey gods don’t extend the same privilege to the Leafs. 

It was like, 75 here a few days ago. Thanks for the cold, Toronto. 

Game Day

For the last game before the Christmas Break, I’m taking my significant other to our first Leafs game. Yes, he’s a Coyotes fan, but that’s beside the point; it’s going to make my Toronto family oh-so-happy to see pictures of us at the game, and that’s what matters. ‘Tis the season, or something. 

The Leafs and the Coyotes are both coming into tonight’s game riding on strong wins and feelings of good cheer, so this game could go either way. The Coyotes are currently 15-15-2 on the year, while the Leafs are 12-13-7. One team is pushing to extra minutes (and losing), the other is just splitting those games between regulation finishes both in and against their favor. 

Both teams are outperforming the expectations many had for them heading into the year, and they’ve both been fun to watch play. Will things get a little dicey in net? Maybe. Will one of the youngsters on Arizona and one of the veterans on Toronto get a little chippy? Probably, Leo Komarov is seeing the ice quite a bit. Will the defense on both teams look like a giant question mark? Well, yeah. Matt Hunwick is on one team, and the other has exactly one guy over the age of 25. 

Will it still be a great game all around? You bet. 

The Coyotes

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Martin Hanzal is Arizona’s Joffrey Lupul, so he’s out injured again. That’s only his seventh game missed this year, but the concerning part is that none of his missed games have been for an explicitly identified, concrete-timetable injury; he’s just always sitting out for this or that. “He’s just not feeling well enough to play right now.” Sound familiar, Lupul? 

That leaves Arizona short up the middle, although recent pickup Viktor Tikhonov (who’s actually returning to the desert after bolting for the KHL years ago) has been versatile and effective as both a centre and a wing. The “8-9-10 Line” should get some action, with Tikhonov serving as pivot for Tobias Rieder and Anthony Duclair, but don’t be surprised if the team mixes things up mid-game. 

On defense, Jonathan Bernier’s worst nightmare is back, as Oliver Ekman-Larsson wound up at the blue line last season to beat Bernier short-handed. He’s being paired with youngster Connor Murphy, while the Coyotes could continue experimenting with a fresh-faced pairing of Klas Dahlbeck and Stefan Elliott. 

The Leafs

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After recording a hat trick against the Colorado Avalanche, we’re keeping Tyler Bozak on the top line. As per before, JVR and Parenteau will remain on a line together, as well. 

Frank Corrado draws back in, which is nice. I was beginning to wonder whether Lou Lamoriello had locked him in a basement just to taunt the Canucks. 

Starting Goalies

I’m a HUGE Louis Domingue fan for quite a few reasons, so I’m over the moon to see him in a second straight game. 

First, he’s a product of Patrick Roy, although it’s manifested in a pretty interesting way. He despises his former coach, calling him ‘one of the worst people he’s ever met’ and sounding off about how Roy puts so much pressure on his goaltenders to carry the burden of their team throughout the year. He’s still gotten into a goalie fight, though, and plays the puck well enough when he needs to, so obviously he’s got some of his former mentor in him. 

Second, he’s the polar opposite of regular Coyotes starter Mike Smith. Where Smith is reactionary, Domingue is calculated; where Smith is athletic to a fault, Domingue is technically structured and conservative. He’s got good timing and solid structure to his game, and that makes him fun to watch develop. 

Finally, he’s a Quebec native who admitted on national television to being a Bruins fan. Anyone who trolls the Habs THAT badly is a friend of mine. Add in that he won his first career NHL game in his first career NHL start last season playing Montreal at the Bell Centre, and we should all be Louis Domingue fans. 

Where he’s coming off a shutout win over the New York Islanders, Bernier is coming off a dirty (but effective) win over the Colorado Avalanche. Both goaltenders recorded shutouts this weekend, with Bernier earning his first win of the season over the Los Angeles Kings, but Domingue’s one start so far was a goaltending battle between himself and Jaroslav Halak. The game could get messy, but the intrigue for me comes when looking at what’s going to happen between the pipes. If one of these two is able to replicate some of his success from this weekend, the game’s in the bag for his club. 

Predictions

  • Leo Komarov and Tobias Rieder both get goals, because they’re relentless and are riding hot streaks right now. 
  • Oliver Ekman-Larsson scores from the blue line. Jonathan Bernier loses his mind, fights Louis Domingue, both get ejected. Antoine Bibeau and Anders Lindback have to finish out the game, much to my disappointment. 
  • Stefan Elliott and Frank Corrado will both have good games, but this will be the last time we see either of them until the new year. 
  • My boyfriend will, as always, complain that I order a Molson instead of ‘something American’. 
If you want to see fun pictures of the game and follow along with me tonight, find me on Twitter!

  • Gary Empey

    I’m feeling a loss tonight. playing s goalie in back to back games isn’t a good idea and bernier wasn’t good yesterday. hopefully bibeau isn’t thrown to the wolves even if bernier has another bad game.

  • Gary Empey

    Hunwick (illness) will not play on Tuesday.

    Looks like Corrado will be playing his spot beside Rielly. Cat has Corrado play on the left side. I read he will play his natural right side and Rielly will continue to play the left.

    Arizona is 9-1-1 in the past 11 games against the Maple Leafs, including three straight wins, dating to 2005-06.