Maybe this is the 2016 World Juniors Championships talking, but Toronto needs to stop winning against NHL teams that are better than them. I mean, the 3-2 shootout victory over Pittsburgh on Wednesday night not only pushed the Leafs higher up the league standings but they also sincerely need Pittsburgh to make the playoffs this year. Remember – Toronto doesn’t get that Pittsburgh first round pick from the Phil Kessel deal this year if the Pens miss out.
Tonight, Toronto hosts the fourth-place St. Louis Blues; a team they’ve already beaten once this season. And Toronto needs to lose, damn it. I mean, did you see Patrik Laine this morning?
Listen, I don’t want to come across as a “nerd” or anything, but Mark Arcobello sported a Corsi For rating of 70% in just under 10 minutes of ice time last game, called up after scoring 27 points in 23 games for the Toronto Marlies. I’m not going to break down in tears of joy like my good friend Cat, but it’s good to see Marcobello back in the NHL and I expect more from the Leafs’ bottom-six when he’s in there instead of Byron Froese.
The Blues were already a good team, but they’re even better now with the long-awaited return of Patrik Berglund. He’s not flashy and doesn’t even score a lot, but Berglund is a very useful player. Berglund hasn’t played since the Blues’ last season’s first-round playoff series, so this is almost like a deadline addition for St. Louis. Berglund makes them bigger, deeper and scarier.
James Reimer and Garret Sparks are still on the shelf, so Jonathan Bernier will be between the pipes again this evening with Toronto’s fourth-string goaltender, Antoine Bibeau, holding down the backup duties. Bernier stopped 39 of 41 in Wednesday’s win over Pittsburgh, but he’s been up and down (mostly down) all season. Don’t call it a comeback.
Jake Allen will be in net for the St. Louis Blues. While he’s coming off a loss to Minnesota on New Year’s Eve, Allen has been one of the NHL’s best goaltenders this season. He’s 18-9-2 with a .927 SV% and 2.08 GAA, so we can expect a strong challenge for Leafs shooters.
I certainly don’t buy into any notion that just because Toronto has already beaten St. Louis this season that they could do it again. The Blues are an excellent team, and it would be highly unlikely for the Leafs to get the better of them twice in a row. Bernier will be ok, but Tarasenko & Co. will get a handful of pucks by him tonight. Blues win 4-2.